After thousands of hours, I realized that it’s too much.
With my motivation to do anything else than immerse myself in virtual worlds decreasing as fast as my scores on the screen, I started to question if I had a problem. I did.
Especially now, during the quarantine due to the global pandemic of the coronavirus, stuck at home, it’s easy to get fixated to our digital screens. You might feel tempted to surrender to the abnormally high flow of dopamine in your brain and forget about the world outside for a moment. But sooner than you realize it, those moments of temporary satisfaction become your world and instead of giving, that activity starts taking from you without you realizing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not demonizing video games, social media or other online activities. Everything can be enjoyable in decent amounts. It is when the activity grabs the wheel and starts controlling your life that there is reason to suspect a problem. I’m not from the extreme end of those affected by this addiction, but nevertheless I want to share my experience and provoke the readers of this article to think about their time usage.
Before getting started with my story, let me emphasize that this article is based just on my own (relatively little) experience and opinions.
How it all began
Ever since I got my first gaming device, I was attracted by the possibilities of the digital world. It was so relaxing and entertaining to just sit back and play Spyro on my Gameboy Advance. With my best friend we used to play Mario Party together on his GameCube and had a blast. That was back when I genuinely enjoyed gaming.
On a later age, I was bullied in school. After a day of hearing mean comments about my appearance and intelligence, an escape from this world was more than welcome. When my assumed friends turned their backs, Battlefield 2 was there for me.
How it escalated
Fast forward 6 years, I was unemployed after graduating vocational school and just moved in to my very first flat. That summer was extremely sunny for Finland and people were enjoying the outdoors more than ever. Excluding me.
I stayed in my bedroom playing Rainbow Six: Siege with my new online friends. It was not relaxing anymore. Adrenaline and dopamine mixed into this super addictive combination in my body, when my heart was beating like if I was being held at gunpoint, when the guns were only virtual.
To my former neighbors: I am sorry for screaming “Die motherf*cker, DIEEE!” at 4am on weekdays.
The sun shone bright until it started to rise again without me noticing it ever setting.
5am, the digital numbers on my screen showed. I would tell myself it’s probably time to go to bed, played one more match and went to bed, just to browse others’ achievements on Facebook — wishing for a better life — for an hour before sleeping. I wanted to change my life, but I did not have the motivation and emotional strength to fight my addiction. Staying inside playing games was much easier than turning my life around.
Sometime between 10am and 6pm I woke up, started my computer to hear its fans sing me good morning. If the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, then all that separated me from that, was that I did not expect a different outcome. I did not care about the outside world. That had become my world.
I tried to work as freelance translator and web designer, but I often exceeded the deadlines. After an hour of passive work I would allow myself a “little break” to play a quick match or two. “A little break here and there won’t hurt. Quite the opposite — it’ll keep me productive to relax for a minute”, I convinced myself. Those little breaks lasted for hours as I lost track of time.
Recovery and relapse
I found work abroad. Just two weeks from having been chosen, I had taken my one-way flight to Latvia and was ready to start a new life. I left my desktop computer back at home and my laptop was unable to run any games.
I unsubscribed myself from all the gaming channels I followed on YouTube. After a month I had gotten adjusted to my new rhythm and was excited to have a fresh start. Day by day the long to pamper my brain with that intense rush of dopamine got weaker.
11 months later I was back in Finland and waiting for my obligatory conscript service to begin. Between moving back and the beginning of new challenges, I did my first-ever solo backpacking trip of three months. I was sure that my crave for video games was gone for good as I fell in love with traveling.
After serving the reguired nine months in the army, I woke up to the morning of the day that I would move into the reserve personnel and get back to my normal life. The problem was that I didn’t have anything to go back to; I had quit my job in Latvia and didn’t have the next one looked up. I went to live with my parents temporarily and thought I would find a job quickly.
I barely looked for any.
During the army, I had installed Rainbow Six: Siege on my computer again and I played it during my off weekends. Now my time was not limited. Nothing was standing between me and my former love. I was a changed man instead of the inexperienced boy I was before. In two years, I lost 20kg of extra fat and went from XL to M in clothing size among my other accomplishments, but I still wasn’t strong enough to resist that toxic love from reigniting.
The imprint on my IKEA office chair quickly re-adjusted to my slimmer butt.
I wanted to continue my new, healthier lifestyle and tried to go for a jog every morning. However, I often came up with excuses not to go, so I could stay inside and play. “I went yesterday. Today I must rest. Recovery is important”, I told myself among all the other lies.
I had to wake up early in the morning in order to even consider going for a walk, because I felt like there aren’t enough hours in the day to play and going outside later would be a waste of my valuable screen time.
Even if it made me feel much better to go walk in the nature and it gave me true satisfaction, it’s as if there was a rubber band around me that got tighter and tighter the further I went. My walks started getting shorter, afraid of the rubber band breaking, if I pushed it too far. At least that’s what I told myself.
Really, I just did not want to leave my comfort zone.
Games took the time I had to prepare for university entry exams and follow my dream. I did not pass.
Things started getting better when I started a new career at a bar, got my own apartment and left my desktop at my parents again. There have been downhills after this, but now I know where I went wrong last time and how I overcame it.
If video games are what you are truly passionate about and they provide you the true fulfillment you search in life, that is great! I respect those e-sports players and video makers/streamers who have created a career on gaming. For these people, video games are their work and outside their workday they generally take care of themselves in order to keep a balance in their lives.
But if you’re like me, playing games just because it’s easy and it hits all the right spots in your brain — because you feel unwilling or unable to do anything else — then ask yourself, is that the path you want to walk?
Video game addiction is an addiction just like any other and it can have serious consequences over a longer period. The change starts in you; You have the choice to reduce your screen time, little by little and find other activities that you enjoy. And if you cannot do it by yourself, remember that you are not alone with your problem and that there is help available. Video game addiction is becoming more and more common and there are even specialized rehab centers around the world specifically for treating it.
I truly hope this article helps even one person to raise some thoughts about their screen time. There is life and connections in our screens, but our true life and true connections remain in the world around us (not VR, sorry).
Feel free to share this and use the text how you wish. Crediting me is appreciated, but not obligatory.