There is a debate raging in the gaming community right now. Everywhere you look, gamers and those who do not play are arguing over whether or not there is such a thing as gaming addiction. The studies are inconclusive; every time you hear about a study backing the existence of video game addiction, you find numerous stories debunking it. Even gamers seem to be split on the issue; while many want to argue it does not exist, others say they have experienced symptoms similar to that of other addictions.
So in the middle of all of the turmoil, the question remains: can someone get addicted to video games?
The Basics of Addiction
So what do we mean when we use the phrase “addiction?” I mean, we all have our own ideas of what an addiction is, but if we are going to get the the bottom of this, we need to have an agreed upon definition of the term itself. Dictionary.com defines addiction as:
the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
The state of being enslaved to a habit. That is a good place to begin. Addiction is a form of enslavement. This is something I would argue most of us have probably seen throughout our lives. Ever known someone who was addicted? Serious addicts ruin their lives as they chase after their fix. If you have ever known anyone who was addicted to serious drugs, you have probably witnessed this first hand.
Still, it does not have to be something like heroin or meth. I have known many smokers throughout my life who are enslaved to their cigarettes. They know smoking is killing them, they know the packs are costing more and more money, and yet they just cannot stop. Just as a slave must obey its master, an addict must obey his or her cravings. They are not impossible to beat, but you just cannot walk away from them either.
Addictions are not just limited to things that give you a physical sensation, however. Look back at the definition; addictions can include things that are psychologically habit forming. People can become addicted to porn, gambling, companionship or any number of other things. Anything you use as an escape from reality can become an addiction, even work.
So, if we are taking this view of addiction, you could argue that someone could become addicted to video games. Believe it or not, however, that is not the point of this article. We here at Everyday Gamers are not looking to prove or disprove to anyone the existence of video game addictions.
So what is the purpose of this article? Well, I want to tell you all a story. In order for you to fully understand this story, I needed you to understand what my stance on addiction is. I want you all to know what I mean when I say I consider myself to have been a video game addict.
The Story Begins
It was my sophomore year in high school. I was trying to figure out who the heck I was in the midst of the changing world around me. My mom and dad were divorced; my mother was actually just working on her second divorce, while my dad had just recently remarried. I was living with my dad, and at the time, my relationship with my step-mom was not the best. One of my best friends had just moved to Alaska, which was a heck of a long ways away from Albuquerque, NM, and I was trying to find a way to deal with all of the changes around me and the usually issues of just being a teenager. It was not a good time in my life, and many times I found myself needing some form of escape.
Around this time, I was really getting into running. Nothing seriously competitive; I just enjoyed going for runs, especially the occasional event style 5K run. Well, my dad and step-mom insisted that if I was going to do this, I needed to practice, which makes sense. There was a great bicycle/walking path not far from my house, so I would often head there and run a mile or two.
Well, this was 1990-1991, which if you remember from reading the Retro Active article on the arcades was just when they were seeing their resurgence. Not far from my house was a local arcade, and it just happened to be the same direction as this path I ran. As things got harder at home, I found myself going to this arcade instead of doing the running I was supposed to do. After all, this arcade had my favorite game: Street Fighter II.
That was how it started. I used the local arcade and that game in particular to escape the world around me. In the arcade, I was a decent player; not the best, but far from the worst. I was fairly respected among those who came there, and while I lost many battles, I put up a good fight. More than anything, I felt like I was among people who understood me. I felt safe.
The Plot Thickens
The summer after my sophomore year, everything changed. I had always spent the summers with my mom, but I had modified that agreement so I could stay in Albuquerque to get a job. I was hoping to get some spending money to get myself a stereo among other things, and the job would give me a reason to get out of the house, where relations were getting rough. It did not take me too long to find my first real job: working as a buss boy at the Steaksmith, a local restaurant attached to Coronado Mall. I made less than minimum wage with a cut of the tips of the servers making up the difference, something not uncommon in the restaurant trade.
Now image this, if you will: a teenager who is already using video games as an escape getting a job at a restaurant where he was paid at least partially in cash every day and that happens to be attached to a mall with a thriving arcade. If you are thinking this was a recipe for disaster, you’re right.
Video games began to consume me.
My shift at the Steaksmith did not start will 10:30 AM and ended around 2:30m PM. this allowed me 30 minutes before my shift to game, and often just a little time afterward to get some time in before I would be too late getting home to be able to hide what I was doing. That was all it was at first. In time, however, I was finding it harder to pry myself away from the games. While I was never quite late for work because of gaming, I came close on several occasions, and I started getting home later than I could really explain. On top of that, I started to take money from my checks to support my gaming habit.
Needless to say, I hit a point where I could no longer hide what I was doing. To say my dad and step-mom were ticked off when they found out what I was doing is an understatement. They started demanding to see my deposit slips to make sure I was actually putting my checks in the bank. They also tried to limit my ex[osure to games, but that was tough to do when I worked at a mall.
I remember when everything really came to a head. My dad and step-mom had just about had it with me, and they threatened to send me to live with my mom if I screwed up one more time. They were headed for vacation, and my grandmother was coming into town to watch me, since I had to stay for work. That first day they were gone, I stayed at the arcade till around 6 PM, finally calling my grandmother who was worried sick. I knew I had blown my last chance, and in pretty short order, I was packing to move to Phoenix.
So how bad did things get? Well, I cannot remember for certain, but in about 2 months time, I spent over $200 on coin-op video games, and this was back when the majority of the games I was playing were still 25 cents a piece. I was out of control. I was addicted.
Breaking the Cycle
You’ll notice that I used the past tense there. I am no longer addicted to gaming, though when I am not careful, I can get lost in them once more.
So how did I get past the addiction? There is no magic formula; all I did was what you would normally do when dealing with an addiction.
- Admit you have a problem: While I may not have been ready to step out at the time and state I was addicted, I knew something was wrong. After all, I had just blown and inordinate amount of money on arcade games, and though gaming was something I truly enjoyed, I knew there had to be a limit somewhere. When I moved to Phoenix, I think a part of me thought it would just go away, but it didn’t. I had to admit I had a problem, and I had to deal with it.
- Remove the temptation: So this part was relatively easy for me. When I moved to Phoenix, I was no longer working at a mall, and though I could get to one relatively easy, I did not have the money to spend. So, as you can probably see, removing the temptation was rather easy for me. Still, it was a necessary step, even if it was not one I took voluntarily.
- Deal with the issues that drove you to game: I’m not going to bore you with all the details of how I dealt with the pressures that were leading me to lose myself in video games. The fact of the matter is I did deal with them. I had been using the games as an escape, and the addiction was not broken until I dealt with what I was using them to escape.
Now I am probably making this sound much easier that it actually was. Though I was beyond the worst of it rather quickly, it took years to be completely over the addiction. I still remember spending $3o some odd dollars at the arcade at Disneyland on one of our church choir trips. Think about it: I was at Disneyland, and I was spending my time and money in the arcade. There was still something wrong with me for quite a while afterward.
In the end, I can point to one thing that really pulled me out of the addiction: my faith. I truly believe God was able to help me get past the addiction itself, allowing me not only to eventually return to playing the games I enjoy, but opening the door for me to write for Everyday Gamers, something for which I am very grateful.
So that is my story. I am not trying to convince anyone of the dangers of video game addiction here. I am just relaying my experiences with it in hopes that anyone else who might be struggling with it to see there is a way out. There are others who have struggled through it, and it can be beaten.