Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Quest Not Found: Videogame Addiction

Hi, my name is Nick and I’m a former MMO addict. I haven’t played World of Warcraft for five years now. It feels good to be able to say that; to stand up here and admit to my fellow men and women that I have overcome my problem. Long gone are the days of staying up late to participate in raids, spending hours upon hours skimming through character builds and prospective loot. I no longer look forward to the daily grind after my daily grind while my girlfriend complains that we hardly ever daily grind anymore. It feels good.

To be honest with you, I had a problem and I wasn’t willing to admit it. It feels strange to pinpoint a video game as the source of an addiction, but that’s truly what it was to me. I began playing World of Warcraft at the age of 17, and as my high school years progressed so did my character and my addiction.  It started off as fun; I had friends who played it an introduced me to it, at school we discussed the game and how we were all finding it; we’d brag over loot, commiserate over lag and laugh over in-game social interactions. Though after a while it stopped being fun, it stopped being about the camaraderie and started becoming more about the character.

The character stopped acting as an avatar that reflected ourselves and soon became a trophy.  We’d adorn them with shiny gear to profess our prowess and fight each other as a showcase of our superiority. The bragging was replaced with a slow, sullen envy and the laughter quickly flickered into derisive, humourless snickers. We became enamoured with a selfish competitive desire to outdo each other and the fun we were once having quickly turned to bitterness.

Slowly they stopped playing until it was only me. Alone, and racked by selfish guilt.

I should have stopped then. I should have realised that the game was no longer entertaining, but a burden. I should have stopped then, but I didn't. Around this time I began to dislike school; friends were leaving or losing contact and I had no desire to be somewhere that was pushing me to better myself. This caused the addiction to slide deeper and consume more of my life until it became the only thing I thought about. I would still talk about it with friends, but it fell from excitement to a shallow, factual drone.

My grades slipped and my misery continued to climb. At the end of my high school days I left with nothing but regret and a feeling that I had failed myself, that I should have tried harder. That’s when I knew I had to change. What was I going to do? Support myself with my thousands of bags of gold? Raise a family in the stone huts of Orgrimmar? I made the decision to stop playing and never, ever look back. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Videogame addiction is plain and present; it might seem like a silly prospect, but it’s reasonable once you sit and think about it. Videogames give us an escape, they give us a place to be when we don’t want to deal with the real world. In Azeroth I was a hero, I was someone important who wore his armour like badges of honour and valour, but in the real world I was a cruddy teenager who got upset by cruddy teenage things.

Addiction is hard to break; it is a chain around your feet that doesn’t just make it hard to move forward, but pulls you back with every third step. Videogame addiction isn’t a substance addiction; it is an addiction to self-isolation. It alters your reality, it pushes away a world with difficult social constructs and a world in which you have to confront your own failures. 

It is the very definition of a "first world problem", but one that affects many. As far as addiction goes, it’s fairly placid and non-destructive, but that does not mean it isn’t unhealthy. There is a point when leisure becomes greed, when procrastination becomes obligation and when real life becomes a hindrance. That is the point of no return, and that is the point that you need to stop, look in the mirror and ask yourself: "Do I have a problem?"

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