Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Games For Matt: Days One through Three

My name is Matt. I am thirty years old, and I am a video game addict.

To be fair, I doubt I currently play games more often than the average American watches TV and movies, and certainly there have been many times in my life when I was playing even more than I am now. But that doesn't change the fact that what I always thought of as an entertaining pastime and a fun hobby has actually been dominating my life for the better part of twenty years now.

Playing video games is my default behavior - that is, it is what I will almost certainly be doing with every moment of my time in which I don't have to do something else. On my days off, during my free time, if I'm not at home playing games I start to get a slight itch that slowly grows into a low-level panic, feelings that invariable distract or ruin whatever else I happen to be doing. During intense gaming weeks I can clock up to 20 hours playing games, and the only reason it's not more is because of a full-time job and a long commute. 20 hours! And then I have the audacity to complain there's never enough time to do the productive things I've always been meaning to do, like writing a novel or practicing the piano.

So I had the idea to give up games for a while, and my first reactionary thought was (no lie): "No games!? What would be the point of living??" That's when I became certain that I have a problem.

Whenever I feel uncomfortable, anxious, depressed, uncertain, scared, or general dissatisfied, video games have become my easy go-to form of self-medication, a pattern which I can see in myself looking back to the very beginning when video games and I first met. While playing, I enter a state of no-mind, rather like a crude and less-wholesome form of meditation, in which the rest of the world disappears and I can forget about my problems. This is the behavior of an addict. I know people who have buried themselves in other habits that we more clearly recognize as addictions: alcohol, food, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Because those things are the most commonly discussed types of addictions and they were never a problem for me, I assumed I was above getting an addiction myself. And all along I was logging hours and hours and hours in front of the computer screen, oblivious.

The funny thing is I've actually met people with severe video game addiction, the kind that kept them from going outside, caused them to flunk out of classes and alienate all their friends, but I never thought to compare or relate myself to them. If anything, meeting them only further convinced me that that I didn't have a problem. I believed that because my gaming habit wasn't causing the same level of complications in my life, I must not be addicted. I know better now. I happen to have a strong support network and other commitments like my relationship, my friends, and my work that keep me somewhat balanced -- without these things, I have little doubt I'd easily become like the gaming addicts I've known.

Inspired by friends who were also trying to give up their "security blanket" addictions, I have decided to eliminate games from my life for one month. It's an experiment in self-control, but more than that I suddenly wondered what my life would be like if I no longer devoted so much time to this habit. I literally have no clue how else I will spend my time, but I am excited to find out.

I began on Friday, and already I have been amazed at how my resolution as affected my attitude. Instead of getting upset at being deprived, I have felt almost relieved as though a great weight has been taken off my shoulders. There's a sense of freedom, and I'm only now beginning to understand how an addiction can feel like a prison. Now, this feeling may not last. There will probably be feelings of withdrawal, moments of weakness and temptation, frustration and anger. That's why I decided to blog about it, to catalog my experience, to hold myself accountable, and to elicit support from friends and loved ones.

June is a no-games month! End of story! Oh boy.... here we go!