With the overwhelming popularity of MMOs like World of Warcraft, game addiction has become increasingly prevalent across many demographics. While the medical community continues to debate if it is a real condition, video and computer game addiction continues, if left unchecked, to destroy lives.
Here are some symptoms to look for:
- You are unable to stop thinking about playing your latest game.
- It is your primary, if not only, means of relaxation.
- You get restless if you haven't played in a while.
- It is one of your primary means of interacting with others.
- Your real-life friends have stopped trying to get you to reduce your time.
- The amount of time and money you spend on the game(s) increases over time.
Even if you're not addicted, your life can benefit greatly from simply reducing the amount of time playing these games. Sitting and staring at a computer screen or television degrades eyesight and health, late-night gaming sessions can disrupt bodily cycles, causing more health problems and chronic fatigue. Even constant keyboard and mouse usage can lead to cramping and possibly carpal tunnel syndrome.
Less acute, but no less powerful, is that the escape into a fantasy world that has instant gratifications and a gambling-based system of rewards can warp one's view to such an extent that one may not be able to draw satisfaction from interacting with the real world. Long-term investments, such as developing real skills or cultivating friendships, lack the colorful and buzz-inducing system of game achievement. As such, the so-called “real world” will, during total immersion in a fantasy world, seem tedious, boring, annoyingly distracting, and without purpose or fulfillment.
As games (particularly MMOs) are designed to constantly challenge the player without end, the ability to turn away from the game grows less in the face of those greater challenges. The following is a list of steps that might help you shatter the cycle of addiction and find the greater, infinitely more satisfying rewards the real world has to give you.
- Make the decision. Nothing will work unless you, personally, come to the decision to quit playing games and start living your life. Sometimes it can come suddenly, a flash of realization, or sometimes it can build over months or even years. However you arrived at the conclusion that the games need to stop, you must fully commit to seeing it through... remember, your life is at stake.
- Get disciplined. It is something every addicted person goes through: the decision to quit, followed almost immediately by “just one more, it won't hurt.” Being disciplined doesn't mean going cold turkey, however. It does mean that, by whatever means you choose to ween yourself, you stick to them. Get tough with yourself, set timers, pinch yourself if you go over, understand that once the power button goes to off, nothing has been lost and everything has been gained.
- Learn a new real life skill. Some people have spend more time playing games than they do working their jobs... but to what end? In the time spent leveling characters or beating bosses, you could have learned several languages. Or you could have learned an instrument and started a band. Or you could have saved your money and traveled to other countries. Maybe you don't believe you can have adventures in the real world like you can in a video game, but the first time your life is actually in danger, you may realize this is a good thing. As for adventure, you'll never know unless you actually get outside and start going somewhere...
- Re-establish your face-to-face social network. How many friends have you lost contact with due to video and computer games? Where are they now, and what are they up to? You may be surprised that your actual friends are involved in deeper adventures than your online “text friends” were. Go out to local events and concerts, try to find a person you don't know and talk to them. Start a book club, band, or jogging group. Remember, here in real life, the only thing standing between you and what you want is your own inaction. Get busy!
... And if things get difficult, there will be someone there to help you. Don't be afriad to reach out.
- Get rid of the games. At some point, if you are devoted to regaining your life, you'll notice that the desire for playing video games will slacken, and then eventually drop. It is a good idea, once the desire begins to wane, to get rid of as many games as you can. Addictive behavior can rise and fall almost randomly, and even months after quitting, you may be seized with a sudden desire to play again. Usually, the sheer re-installation times required for most computer games is enough for the desire to go away, by why walk down that path again? Without the games around to lean on, channel that desire into practicing one of your new real-world skills. Soon, within five to fifteen minutes, you'll find that desire has faded or outright vaporized. When that happens, smile and congratulate yourself... you've beaten the addiction!
With the desire to quit firmly in place, no amount of cravings should sway you from your path. If you are having difficulties, however, here is a small list to make the transition easier.
- Go retro. We all started somewhere, so return to your roots. 8 and 16-bit games can often be more fun and rewarding, without the total immersion demanded by newer games. They can also be turned on and off at any point in time without fear of losing progress.
- Return to the table. Table-top games, either role-playing or board games, have one large advantage: you must interact personally with other real people. As some people may enjoy the occasional poker game with friends, you can get your gaming-kick as a social weekly or bi-monthly event. The more friends, the better!
- Play your life. It may sound cute, but relating your life to role-playing games can be a real source of inspiration for self-development. Push-ups to up your Strength, learning to cook or pick locks as a cross-class skill, learning to sing or do storytelling to make yourself more Charismatic... you may find, upon waking some morning, that you've leveled!
Remember: A game is limited by the programmers, a digital prison where actions and movement are limited to an extreme degree. Actual life, on the other hand, is limited only by your imagination and drive...