Inktober day 25 – Prickly. Doodled a bit at work in my notebook while I was waiting for some things to finish building; got a prickly boi (aka Pirahna Plant from Mario Bros.) eating a cactus, and then a prickly looking Octopus. I liked the Pirahna Plant though so I drew another one. I am drawing more loose and free and it feels really good. It’s ok to just let the lines flow and build on each other 🙂
In my journey of self improvement and growth I am noticing a tendency to want to pin _all_ issues onto a single source as the problem. And then simply removing that problem fixes _all_ things. This is not really how it works.
The latest was pinning depression/anxiety/etc entirely on video games. Removing games was the answer, and for a little while I did feel better, but all of those things came back. I realize that I was trying to shoe-horn everything into a perceived video game addiction when the reality was the video games were a symptom and a distraction of and from other issues. Nothing is black and white and there is much to untangle. There is a path though.
I had a great conversation over the weekend about work ethic. We have a couple of friends who both were headed towards success in their art, and while one is really breaking out and realizing that success, the other is not. And the reason being, their work ethic. One of them put the work in, the other did not.
I realize that I am more like the latter. I am not putting the work into myself, my art, my relationships, and that is a major driver in my overall mental and physical health. Video games, movies, books, are great distractions from reality but at the end of the day if I am not putting in the work to realize my potential then I am never going to be the person I want to be. And the cycle will continue.
I have been reading a lot about video game addiction. I have also been mindful of myself and the effects of removing video games from my life. Video games is a nasty business. There is a lot of psychology around how to keep a player engaged that is downright disgusting. As I was reading I started to realize though, that this is not what was keeping me playing. My addiction is less to do with developers and their sneaky strategies and skinner boxes and all of that, but more, I think, it is all about disassociation. I do not handle stressful situations well, and have an unchecked anxiety which makes things worse.
Disassociation can be regarded as a coping or defense mechanism in seeking to mitigate or tolerate stress. I tend to “shut down” during stressful events. Like, when dealing with people and arguing, or if something “major” happens in life. Well, not always, sometimes I am on and it’s ok, but more often I shut down. I will forget conversations and details, and will really just not be there mentally. In the last few years I have noticed that during states of high anxiety or stress that I had a powerful urge to go play video games. I thought maybe video games replaced cigarettes for me, as there may be a correlation of when I stopped smoking to when i started gaming more heavily, but really I think there was a lot going on in my life and around me that was stressful and difficult. My way of coping was to escape and simply not deal with anything.
Some games were addicting, sure. I spent too much time with a few, definitely. But overall, it was simply me not wanting to face reality, ever. Gaming is just the easy way to ignore it all. I disappeared into gaming when my wife was sick, when her family was falling apart, when shit got bad with my family, when my work life got very bad, when our lifestyle got very bad, and so on. It was my coping mechanism.
It is insanely freeing to be rid of the games. I feel a bit more connected and calm overall. I have had some high stress high anxiety events recently and feel that I handled them a little bit better than normal. I have shied away from dealing with things and life for long enough. It’s only been like 3 weeks but it feels good man. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I feel I can actually start to fix things in my life.
I don’t know where to start. I am going to just brain dump a little bit here.
You don’t really think of something like video games as being addictive. Only things like cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol are addicting! Well, what are some of the signs of addiction?
- Obsessive thoughts about the addiction
- Uncontrolled cravings / Loss of control
- Hyperactivity / Continued use despite negative consequences
- Over spending money
- Focusing your time and energy on the addiction
When considering drugs and alcohol, these all make sense. Obviously being secretive about using drugs is a sign of addiction, or uncontrolled cravings and loss of control. But what about with literally anything else? What about Internet usage, pornography, or video games? How real can these addictions actually be? Well I feel that every one of those signs of addiction applies to me and video games.
I have been addicted to video games. I feel guilty about playing them. I hide that I was playing games (seriously, goddamn Factorio…), I spend too much money on them, and then feel guilty about spending the money. I have missed work because of gaming. It has consumed my life and my energy in various ways for the past 8 years. I have neglected the things that made me who I am for video games. My wife and I would talk about me playing too much, and I would slow it down, but eventually I’d be back on the games nearly all the time. All of my hobbies have been collecting dust. I even lost the callus on my fingers from not drawing. I really feel like I have lost part of myself in the last 8 years.
There are lots of mental reinforcements to keep you playing.
I have spent so much money already I would hate to see it go to waste.
Variations of that reinforcer are, “I spent a good chunk of money to build a gaming PC, so I better get my moneys worth” or “I bought all these games, I had better play them”. That’s like saying that “well I’ll just finish this bottle of vodka I mean I did pay good money for it”. The thing is, you never finish. There’s another Steam sale around the corner, and if not that, GOG, Origin, PSN, whatever, all have deals all the time. Free games, paid DLC, free expansions. It does not end.
I will lose a big part of my social life if I stop playing games.
This one is fun. Gaming is very social. You are online with your real life friends and/or internet friends and it’s fun. You are having a good time. It can easily replace physical/real world social interaction. I can mindlessly numb out WITH people online? Great! We can all be miserable together. There is always a new game that the group is going to play.
The big one for me though, the thing that has been the ultimate reinforcement and trigger, has been anxiety. I have anxiety and have found that gaming is the “solution”. I feel anxious about _something_ and to deal I will go play video games. It’s almost an immediate reaction. Slightest hint of being uncomfortable, stress, anxious, and I have a strong urge to go play games. For example, I will try to sit down and draw something, and get anxious and spin on not being able to, and to get myself out of that tail spin, I go play games. I am starting to think the anxiety about drawing is all bullshit and it’s my brain convincing me that games are more important and the tried and true way to get that fix is to crank up the anxiety.. Maybe? Who knows. The point is the brain is crazy and mine says that video games are the solution to stress and anxiety. I am sure that with some people this is true, and video games can be a healthy escape, but for me it has been an unhealthy obsession.
I have tried to play games in moderation in the past and it was not successful (I can have just one drink damn it). I think for me, for now, the only way to do this is to abstain from playing all together. So like the drug addict, or alcoholic, I have gathered up the paraphernalia, the games, the consoles, boxed them up or got rid of them. I have uninstalled Steam and GoG and Origin. I have cancelled my PSN account. I’ve requested an account cancellation for Steam. It is weird though, part of me is absolutely screaming inside. That’s how I know it’s a real addiction.
Posted a follow up after some time for reflection: https://blog.roylindauer.com/misc/post-video-games/
Some of the insights in this post are still relevant, but are more symptomatic of a larger issue.