Thanks in part to the internet expanding our knowledge and the popularity of shows like “Intervention” and “Hoarders”, people today are better education on addiction and all of it’s complexities. Even in this arena, video game addiction is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated addictions and it’s a growing concern among a population of gamers who are unable to balance their passion with their priorities. This is rather topical for me, since a friend of mine was a video game addict in the past and I am saddened to hear that he’s potentially fallen off the wagon again.
My friend, let’s call him “Rick”, is a great guy with an enviable intelligence and a natural charm that people warm to instantly. Admittedly, he is not my closest friend but someone I respect and enjoy hanging out with, but I’ve always known him to have an addictive personality. Compulsive shopping, sex addiction (no kidding) and heavy drinking were always addictions that he went through bouts of but always seemed to pull himself out of, but the most destructive in his life has been video game addiction. Back in 2005, at a time when he found himself in personal turmoil, he bought himself a Playstation 2 and got into Final Fantasy XI. Being a gamer myself, and having little knowledge of MMORPGs, I encouraged this and shared in his joy at the game he found a new love for. Unfortunately, his addictive personality took over and long story short, it got even further out of hand from there. He started cancelling on friends and family, missing classes, and putting other obligations on the back burner in order to have more gaming time. He accrued a large amount of debt, due to maxed out credit cards and a high-interest student loan, and he was unable to hold down a job for any length of time. The other shoe dropped and he lost his apartment, moving in with his sister and her husband because he had nowhere else to go. I lost touch with him shortly thereafter, but I heard from mutual friends that he came to the realization that he had a problem, dealt with it, and was back on his feet.
Flash forward to 2010, where we reconnect through Facebook and start a friendly dialogue as if the time had never passed. He is working full time at an insurance company, is in a committed relationship and is slowly paying down his debts and is planning on returning to school. He remembers his time playing games as “the dark days”, and while he owns a Playstation 3, he avoids the addictive RPGs and sticks to simple games that require little time commitment. By all appearances, he is putting his priorities first and he has learned from his past mistakes. Well, old habits die hard. I found out a few weeks ago that he received a gaming PC for Christmas and he bought both the Diablo and Warcraft “Battle Chest” collections (which contain the original games plus the expansions). Last week, I see his Facebook relationship status has changed to “Single”. Could this be the start of another downward spiral? Past experience has taught me that it’s likely and I have warned him about it, but he insists that he has it under control now and is not going back to his old ways. I am less optimistic, but fingers crossed.
Overall, I think gaming is a great hobby and it’s a big part of my “wind down” time. I love getting hooked on a game and spending hours just enjoying the experience, but I am also aware that there is life beyond gaming and one needs to keep their priorities in check. People are generally unsympathetic to video game addiction because the stigma surrounding gaming culture is generally negative, since people often view gamers as lonely social outcasts who will never amount to anything in life. Nothing could be further from the truth, since people I know in both real life and in the online gaming communities are some of the smartest, funniest and most down-to-earth people I’ve met. All of the gamers I know are responsible people who work, have social lives, and in some cases, are married with kids of their own. When one of these people gets addicted to video games to the point where it negatively impacts their life and others around them, it makes me question this hobby and why it can be destructive for some. My conclusion is that anything taken to extreme can be a bad thing, so the actual hobby of gaming is not to blame, rather it is in the personality of the individual to get hooked on it. People need to realize that video game addiction is a real problem, and like any other addiction, it can ruin lives in so many ways. If you can relate to any of the behaviours mentioned above, think long and hard about how gaming is contributing to your life and what it might be holding you back from. I love video games and I go through periods where I am heavily into them, but I always ensure my bills are paid, my job is secure and my friends and family have me around when they need me. My advice to anyone is to find that balance and ensure that you’re not falling into a pit, and if you feel you need help, seek it sooner rather than later.