Dealing with video game addiction
Gentlemen, we are dealing with someone here who has absolutely no life…
I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid, it has been my favorite past time or hobby. When I was as young as maybe five years old, my father used to take me to his office, sometimes my mother too. This can be similar to what you can read on my other post: [post]. But the important thing for the matter at hand is that I was able to start playing some videogames on those Windows 95 computers. Later in my life, when I was around 11 years old, a dear uncle of mine gifted me an original [Xbox]. This was my first console and I had the fortune of playing many great games, like Halo 1 & 2 and Ninja Gaiden, come to mind just to mention some quick examples. Of course, I was also able to play many games prior to the Xbox era. You name it. NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, PSX, lots of stuff, thanks to emulators, playing at cousins or friends houses, or whatever. But I’ve always been mostly a PC gamer. You can’t think about early PC gaming without thinking of DOOM, Age of Empires, Quake, Starcraft, Warcraft, among others…
As I grew older, at some point I tried to get a more “refined” taste in video games, which is something that usually evolves into elitism or even a contrarian attitude towards certain products or other people and their tastes, it’s all really just a meme and not something that should be very important. When you have good taste it usually is wasted effort to try to communicate it, or share with others. You just end up looking like a pretentious idiot. Anyway, the point is I started playing what I considered are “better” games. I mostly played single player games with good art, and story. Later on, as I got better taste, I learned that gameplay is everything, but I still appreciate a good story, good music, good and atmosphere.
So there I was, playing games through all my childhood, my teenage years and early adulthood. I would be lying if I tried to deny that I’ve played games pretty much all my life.
Unfortunately some things that are normal or seemingly harmless for a kid or even a teenager, could be frowned upon for an adult.
Just like listening to music, at some point during my adulthood I stopped expanding my video game horizons and playing obscure, lesser known hidden gems, and instead just played whatever I liked, or whatever hooked my attention. It comes to my mind: I think San Andreas is the absolute best in the series, with GTA IV being a close second, but I still played the hell out of GTA V, without trying to be too critic towards it, unlike some die hard fans of the classic trilogy.
Some times I go back to some of my top 10 games, like Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines or Max Payne. Good stuff.
But, weirdly, my biggest hook is DOTA 2. Valve’s sequel to the Warcraft 3 mod. I started playing DOTA 2 when it launched, back in 2013. I was never too good at it and I would say I am still kind shit. The issue is that DOTA 2 is the most addictive game I have ever played. Through the years, I’ve taken many successful breaks from it. Some were only a couple of weeks long, some were months and even maybe one or two years long. Still, I always came back. Weirdly I never even played ranked games. Ever since the first time I played DOTA 2, I’ve always played unranked matches, and for the most part of this year, even turbo matches. That changed one or two months ago when I finally mustered the courage and tried ranked matches. It is silly to think about it but now it is kind of obvious that it was going to get me even more addicted to the game.
And that’s where I’m standing right now. Playing multiple DOTA 2 ranked matches a week, trying to get MMR and move up in ranking. Hell, I don’t even play that much. I’d say some days I am able to play only one match (ranging from around 30 - 60 minutes on average), and some days I don’t even play at all; but unfortunately, some days I squeeze in four to seven matches.
It is not as if everything is lost though, while it is true that I’ve had many ruts and periods where I do nothing but game, I have also applied some strategies over the last few months that have helped me focus, play less video games and do more work, or at least use my time on “better” hobbies, like reading books. Let’s take a look at them:
Establish a designated gaming day
This might be unrealistic if you have bigger, important responsibilities, for example a spouse, children, etc. Because of course you wouldn’t even have time to play at all through the entire week, so you would hardly have this addiction problem. But for everyone else with a little lighter schedules… I’ve found that picking a day of the week (fridays in my case) works well. Try to focus the rest of the days to work hard or to fulfill the activities of each day. Of course, every day we have to go to the gym, study, clean and take care of ourselves. We have to shop for groceries one or twice a week among other stuff; but the one thing we do every day is work. And even if you’re unemployed, you’re probably studying or working on projects with the objective of getting hired. So work every day and check all your activities as done. Pick a day of the week and schedule it as your gaming day. Like I said, mine is Friday. I wake up, go to the gym, clean my house, do my work, and at around 17:00 I forget about everything and play games. This keeps your productivity running and it also helps to prevent video game burnout. You will be working eagerly waiting for your game day. And you will have more fun compared to playing every day of the week and getting bored of the same dull stuff every day.
Treat video games as a reward system
This might be obvious and it is quite related to the last point, it might even be the same thing said using different words but I still think it is important to lay it out. Let’s pretend you do not implement the last point, so you play video games every day or maybe every other day. It could still be easy for you to get distracted and possibly stop focusing and end up playing all day or all afternoon instead of doing other important stuff. So it is key to always treat video games as the reward for finishing all of the activities of that particular day. This will make your gaming session be longer, because you’d work more productively knowing that you will be able to play games when finished. And also, you will feel less guilt when you’re finished, or no guilt at all.
Use the Pomodoro technique
Alright this one sounds silly because the pomodoro technique is used for work; but just try it. Time your gaming sessions with long pomodoro sessions. Maybe at first try for a 2hr session with a 30 minute break. Try to do something important or “productive” during those 30 minutes instead of scrolling on your phone.
Try to watch video games instead of playing them
Hear me out. A big part of playing video games is being a part of a community. We like being part of the “gaming” community. So we are part of that community when we watch other people play, even if we’re not playing the game ourselves. Otherwise, why is Twitch such a success? One day, try starting to watch your favorite streamer, or just anyone at random, playing a game you like. While you let that play on the background, see if you can do another activity at the same time, like writing code. I know this might be hard for many people because writing code needs focus, concentration, and for some, even silence. But I know there’s people out there that can pull this off. You will find that it kind of feels close to playing a game, while you were doing something else that, hopefully, was productive.
Get to know yourself
This could get deep so I’ll try to not elaborate a lot. Part of what makes us prone to not only video games, but any addiction, is that we’re sometimes not able to identify our emotions and how we react to them, which might lead us to negative behaviors. We should try to identify those emotions and those feelings in order to learn why we do the stuff we do.
TLDR: Maybe we need therapy.
Try using software to block video games on your PC
Now we’re moving on to more drastic approaches… I won’t elaborate a lot on this. You can Google for some more information on software/tutorials to do this.
Switch your Operative System. Ditch Windows
While many, many more games are now available to play out of the box on GNU/Linux (thanks to Steam), it is still the truth that Windows is unfortunately, the king for video games. If you stop using Windows you would imediately stop getting access to many games, most importantly, many multiplayer games (think of all the multiplayer games that rely on anti-cheating software). This could lead you to only play single player games, and those are easier to “control”, so to speak.
Pray to God
Hey, we have to try everything right?
If everything else fails: the nuclear option
Sell your damn graphics card.
The best way to avoid falling into temptation, is to remove all the sources of temptation. Sure, I know you could play emulators or many low requisites games on a PC without a GPU. So sell your PC, I guess?
Of course you (probably) can’t sell your PC. Your most certainly need it for work or your studies. So the point is, even if you try everything on this post, everything comes down to discipline. Imagine you sell your GPU, put a ton of blocking software on your PC that only allows you to play emulators or games prior to 2005, for only one day a week and you still binge the entire day away? You still need discipline even for that single day.
Anyway, I was really feeling like writing this out, hoping that it can help someone out there. How am I doing right now? Well, it is complicated. I’ve tried all the methods in this post (except for the GPU one) at different points for the last few years. Right now I’ve been binging a lot. I will try to keep back on track, and I surely will. That’s as much as I can say. I hope everything goes well for you.