Online Gaming Addiction Part 1 – My Experience

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This is a guest post by Professor Beej. This is part 1 of 3.

I wrote an article a few years ago regarding my experience with online gaming addiction.  Last month, I even posted that I had cancelled World of Warcraft yet again, and now I am backsliding again.  My main problem is that I absolutely love any game that is massively multiplayer online (MMO), and I have since I was 15.  These games give me a sense of growth and community that I adore. I just cannot find that in single-player games.  The driving force in these games is a quantifiable increase in the power of your character through various types of progression (weapons and armor or abilities) that appears to affect the game world itself. Unfortunately, most MMOs directly link this character progression with time spent in-game, thus making casual gameplay impossible if a player wishes to experience the highest levels of the game.  With my schedule these days, I generally can’t justify scheduling massive amounts of time to raid or PvP; however, I find myself still logging onto World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online even after I convince myself that it is in my best interest to cancel my subscription.

In the last month alone, I have reactivated my subscriptions to World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, as well as started new accounts with the Free2Play games Luminary, Free Realms, and Runes of Magic. I know I don’t have time to play a single MMO to its fullest, yet I have been hopping back and forth through 4 (RoM is still downloading, and I have yet to try it), trying to get whatever fix it is that I feel I need. While it’s not a physical addiction, it is a mental one; my thoughts constantly and involuntarily wander to these games and things I “need” to do in them, even when I am out doing something entirely unrelated.

And that’s the crux of it.  It is an addiction I have little control over.  I always think I can control the amount of time I spend in an MMO, but when I log in and start chatting with friends and seeing all the good times I’ve been missing out on, I set new goals in my head that I start working toward when I know that I have no reason for or time to realize. I am so set in a certain playstyle in World of Warcraft that even when I try to play it casually, I can’t.

I was talking to my roommate about this a week or two ago, and we came to the conclusion that it stems from that we (my close-knit group of friends) have always taken gaming seriously and consistently stay at the top-end of any game we decide to play seriously. We generally don’t game to have fun; we game to win.  And that’s fine as long as one’s lifestyle can facilitate it like ours could in college, but now, we’re out of school and have professional careers and other responsibilities which make scheduling twelve to fifteen hours of weeknight raiding almost impossible.  I’ve played WoW since the first week of release in November 2004 on the same server with the same people, and I have become deeply rooted into a certain playstyle in those four and a half years.

Simply “going casual” (at least in WoW) is not an option for me. I assume this is the case for many MMOers who are struggling with finding the balance between their chosen fantasy world and real life.  I want to try Runes of Magic because I will be starting fresh in a game, thus allowing myself to dictate a new playstyle, as well as not feeling compelled to get my money’s worth from the subscription fee.  If a Free2Play game like RoM doesn’t do the trick, then I will likely PvP on WoW in hopes that the mysterious battleground revamp in Patch 3.2 will allow for more casual progression.  If not that, then I am going to have to rethink my MMO career.

I don’t know about other people, but I know how I became conscious that MMOs are an addiction for me.  I found this out through a few painful years where my social life and family life started going to hell. The prime reasons that brought my MMO addiction to light were that I would limit time with my family and friends based around a raid schedule, or I would ask my girlfriend to stay away from me for a few days while I would grind out the rest of my PvP armor or get my new alt leveled.  I haven’t regressed that far in around three years, thankfully, but I am sure there are people who still struggle with this on a daily basis.

These days, I know I’m still addicted because I truly enjoy myself while I’m playing, even losing track of time because I am so immersed in the fantasy world, but when I get finished and log out, I feel hollow and unfulfilled. I think of a dozen other things I could have been doing that would have been more productive.  I even sometimes get a sick feeling in my stomach that stems from disgust in my having given in yet again.

MMOs keep me from really enjoying my other hobbies and interests, too.  I keep a journal of all the books I read.  I started when I was in college, and I think it’s something interesting to keep track of.  In this journal, there are sometimes months-long gaps in my list where I don’t have any new books listed at all except for audiobooks (which I listen to while I drive to and from work/school, so they don’t get affected by my online gaming at home). For an English teacher, I think that’s pretty pathetic. I joke around with people that those are my WoW breaks from life, but the sad truth is that they are.  This particular sign of my addiction doesn’t affect anyone but me, but the effect it has on my ego is actually pretty significant.  I’ve been reading the same 400 page paperback for at least three weeks because I’ve been up too late playing an MMO of some kind than to even read my customary chapter before bed, much less spend part of an evening reading for entertainment.

On the other side of the media spectrum, I feel my MMO playtime impacts my enjoyment of television and movies.  I sit down occasionally to watch a movie at home, but I feel bad because even though my roommate goes and rents at least three movies a week from Blockbuster’s new releases, I rarely sit down and watch even one.  I am usually too involved in something online, most likely an MMO.  My DVR will sit idle during my stints on World of Warcraft, piling up hours of television I want to watch but can never dedicate the time to.  I end up deleting shows off my DVR to make room for other shows that I might or might not eventually get around to watching.  And I always feel bad about this because I hear other people talking about how fantastic so-and-so show is but cannot join in on that conversation. And anyone who knows me realizes how hard it is for me to stay out of a conversation.

Right now, there are thirteen episodes of C.S.I. and eight episodes of Pushing Daisies on my DVR waiting for me to watch them.  Not to mention the library of one-shots and documentaries I record because the guide info makes them look interesting.  I still have half a season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to finish, too.  Yet lately, when I find myself not writing, I am on an MMO doing something inane and pointless instead of catching up on things I had previously decided I would use my summer for. 

What a lot of this boils down to is willpower.  I’ve tried going cold-turkey on my MMO addiction, and I can’t do it.  Some people might have been able to break the habit like this, but seeing as how it is an entirely mental addiction, I don’t think I’m strong-willed enough for that path.  My mind always drifts back to healing an instance or a battleground if I’ve been “sober” too long, and I end up reactivating my account and feeling like I’m an awful human being for it.  I put in my information to re-subscribe, and I immediately get that sick feeling in my gut.  But I log in anyway, and start chatting and healing, and I lose myself for a few more hours.  If I can find a game that fulfills me on a casual basis and doesn’t make me neglect the life I am building for myself or make me feel bad about myself for giving in to the addiction, I will likely stick with it for a while, using it a step-down method of ridding myself from the addiction, rather than the cold-turkey method that just does not seem to work for me.

Because the fear of falling back in too deeply exists with any MMO I play, even free or casual ones, I always have to be vigilant for the signs that I am going too far in once more.  The entire reason for writing this post is because I can feel myself falling too far in already, and I needed to take a step back and think about my problem objectively before it gets bad enough to begin affecting my outside life again.  I don’t see a good reason to completely cut myself off from MMOs right now, as everything seems to be under relative control, but there is every reason to guard myself and place regulations on how much I play, which is why I am looking at the battleground revamp in World of Warcraft for casual gameplay or F2P games in general.

Gaming addiction is a very real problem, and I have seen firsthand how it can all but ruin a person’s entire life.  I have always been involved with gaming in some fashion, and I guess I always will.  It’s up to me, then, to realize the difference in reality and fantasy and put my real life ahead of my virtual one, and even put my other hobbies ahead of this one.  Anything to give this addiction less power over me.  It’s up to me to distance myself from the aspects of MMO gaming culture which have been harmful to me in the past.  I intend to use casual gameplay and Free2Play MMOs as a way to finally ween myself from my online gaming addiction like heroin addicts use methadone.  I may always play an MMO of some kind because I do truly enjoy for the genre, but I hope that eventually the impact the games have on my outside life is minimal compared to what it has been.

And that’s where I stand today with my problem.  It is definitely an ongoing battle.  I am even writing this with WoW idling in the background.  I am not trying to come across as someone who has beaten this addiction, far from it.  I want to come across as someone who realizes this is a very real problem for some people, and I would like to put my story out there in order to maybe help save someone the problems I went through.

So this is the first in a three-part series I am writing dealing with Online Gaming Addiction.  Part Two will focus on Signs and Symptoms I went through that should help easily identify gaming addicts.  Part Three will cover methods of beating the addiction (or attempting to, at least) once it’s recognized.

Image courtesy of stokfoto.

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.

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