Historically, I’ve been a pretty dedicated gamer. A hardcore gamer, if you will. When online gaming truly went mainstream, I first played Starcraft for a few years, then moved on to Warcraft 3 for its duration, then finally, once World of Warcraft was released, I was hooked. I played World of Warcraft daily from it’s release up through the vast majority of Wrath of the Lich King. I did top rated pvp, server-first raiding, achievement hunting, market manipulation, etc etc. You name it, I’ve probably tried it.
Sometime during WotLK, I lost interest, and moved on to Starcraft 2 instead, where I did the same thing. I went at it hard, and got up the upper echelons. I was never quite as good at SC2 as I was at WoW, but I still did okay. I was playing for several hours per day. I just had to chase the high that you feel when winning. I couldn’t stop, because if I stopped, my skill would decay, and if I wasn’t competitive, then what was the point of playing? Competing and defeating my opponents was at the core of who I was, and large parts of my confidence was derived from my skill in whatever game I was playing at the time. When I was doing well, I felt powerful. When I wasn’t, I was angry and depressed.
During this time, I sporadically played other games as well, but they were few and far between. I kept up with reading about games, and tracking releases, but I rarely actually played the games that interested me, part due to not buying new consoles, and part due to spending all my free time playing competitive games.
During this time, I began to take notice of how the competitive nature of the games I played were affecting my mental state, and how strongly they were tied to my sense of self. I didn’t particularly enjoy this insight, and ignored what I knew was true: they were a central part of a toxic lifestyle.
So after a particularly bad session of SC2, I decided that due to having to spend a lot of time studying at university, I simply didn’t have the time get my skill up to a level I could feel proud of. So I stopped, and chose instead to focus on single-player games for a while.
But you know what they say about addicts. Shortly after, League of Legends started gaining serious traction. As it was extremely familiar to a custom map I had played a ton of during my Warcraft 3 days (I’m referring to the original DotA (Not Allstars), which I played competitively during patches 2.0 to 4.0), I knew I had to get in on that. And soon enough, I was hooked again. I was playing LoL for several hours per day, trying to prove both to myself and everyone else that the skills I had developed during my WC3 time were still relevant.
Of course, I didn’t succeed. Instead, LoL became the next drug that fueled the toxic lifestyle of which I was willingly ignorant. The game changed, but the patterns remained. If I won, I was on top of the world. If I lost, I beat myself up horribly, both mentally and to a lesser extent physically.
This is where it finally ended though. Or well, partially ended. After some time playing LoL, I realized what I was giving up. Because I was playing so much, I was in part neglecting school, my friends, and also giving up the opportunity to play other games. The opportunity cost of playing League of Legends became unjustifiable, and I realized that this would be the case with any competitive online game that I chose. So I decided that competitive games could no longer be a part of my life, and stopped cold turkey.
This turned out to be a very wise choice. I began to rediscover my love for other genres, and immersed myself in the world of horror games. I also went back to my Nintendo roots and bought a Wii so I could play Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. This led to a huge upswing in my well-being. I was happier and more productive than I’d been in a long time. Times were great.
Then along came the next hit.
Path of Exile was released at 2013. I was immediately drawn to its complexity, and it wasn’t a competitive game! So it should be ok, right?
Turns out, it wasn’t the competitive nature of the games I played that was causing the behaviour. It was the fact that they have no designated goal. When I played Path of Exile, I stopped competing against others, and instead began competing against myself, which triggered the exact same response as all the other games had. I began thinking about everything in life in terms of how many maps I could’ve run in Path of Exile instead, and tried to
half-ass “optimize” everything else to maximize the time I had to play.
I absolutely loved the game though. Path of Exile is nothing short of incredible, and it pained me so much to realize that it was doing me more harm than good. But in the end, I had to let it go.
As you can see, it’s been about 4 months now since I stopped. During that time, I’ve played a huge amount of single player games, all of which were amazing experiences. I’ve also started coding, and learning about how to make your own electronic devices using standard components. I started writing these posts. I exercise a lot more regularly than before. Basically, I suddenly had the mental freedom to pick up a lot of positive habits.
Thinking back on it all though, it makes me realize how people can claim that gaming addictions can be a real thing. I was definitely addicted, and it has absolutely caused harm to my life and to my surroundings, though it was mainly through opportunity cost.
I equate it to being a work-o-holic. It’s not necessarily destructive, but it can definitely be harmful, and I think that there are a lot of people who could benefit from some introspection when it comes to what part their games of choice play in the bigger picture of their life.
Giving up endless online games was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done, but it was also one of the best decisions in years.