Online Gaming Addiction Part 3 – Coping Strategies

This is a guest post by Professor Beej. Part 3 of 3.

So now we’ve looked at my experience with Online Gaming Addiction and the four primary signs and symptoms that indicated a problem in the first place.  Today, I’ll deal with a few methods that can hopefully help addicts manage the addiction and at least take a few steps on the road to recovery.

Go Cold Turkey

Just stop.  Cancel the subscription, uninstall the game, and go on about your life.  It’s that easy.

Okay, no, it really isn’t.  Despite the fact that this sounds like the easiest, most direct route to overcoming gaming addiction, this is also the method through which the most backsliding occurs.  The mental need for the game will still exist in the gamer because Online Gaming Addiction just that—an addiction. 

Going cold turkey might work for some people.  It requires a great deal of willpower to maintain the distance between the addict and the game.  I know from experience that even when the game is cancelled and uninstalled, it just takes a few minutes from the time the addict gives in to get everything back into working order.  I’ve heard some players say that they delete characters before leaving an MMO to take away the urge to return, but in World of Warcraft’s case, Blizzard will generally restore a deleted character with relative ease, making that argument effectively worthless.

From my own personal experience, I think going cold turkey is the wrong way to go about ridding this addiction.  Sure, there are people whom it can work for, but the mental nature of the addiction makes entirely giving it up in one shot much more difficult on the addicts themselves than other methods.  There is a reason that there are step-down methods for quitting chemical dependencies such as nicotine and alcohol because the body has to learn to function without the drug; MMO addicts’ minds must do the same thing.  To take a person out of the world in which he or she has spent potentially 14+ hours a day in would designate an entire lifestyle shift; the addict would be totally unprepared to deal with everyday situations without the safety net of being able to escape online.  Such a shift could potentially send the MMO addict into a sort of shock, and he or she would not be able to cope with the complete 180 life had taken and know no other way to cope than to seek solace in the very addiction being worked against. 

Take A Break

Along the same lines as going cold turkey, the addict can possibly just take a short break from the MMO to which he or she is addicted, coming back to the online world with a fresh outlook on how to find a balance between the real and virtual worlds.  Small breaks can help an addict realize that the real world can offer enjoyment and validation that can matter even more than the virtual world.  The possibility of returning to the game at any point might offer enough freedom for the addict to re-engage in other hobbies on a limited basis.

Taking a light break from the game has the possibility of allowing addicts to also re-invest themselves with their family and friends because, unlike going cold turkey, there is always the possibility of a quick fix of the game when symptoms of addiction like I mentioned last time—crankiness and negative interaction—become too strong.  Such a limited exposure to the game can help an addict deal with the “withdrawal” symptoms. Addicts can learn to adapt the MMO to their own lives because a simple break allows them to set whatever boundaries they think are necessary to limit their playtime. 

MMO Methadone, or Slow It Down

If going cold turkey or taking a small break doesn’t work, then perhaps what I call MMO Methadone will.  This is the method by which I am currently trying to control my gaming habit.  I call it this because it uses the MMO to which one is addicted like a heroin addict uses methadone.  The player will still play an online game just enough to “get a fix” and feel fulfilled, but log off before things get out of hand. This is really a step-down method that gradually reduced playtime until the minimum playtime desired is reached.

Using this method, the player continues to do play the game to which he or she has become addicted, just in smaller doses.  I don’t think this method should really impact playstyle at all. If you’re a raider, you can still raid.  If you’re a PvPer, you can still PvP.  The addict can play whenever and however he or she wants, just less.  If there are four raid nights a week, then begin by trying to only make three.  Do that for a while, and then try to only make half the raids.  After the step-down becomes habitual and the time spent out of game is easier to manage, completely cutting ties (or becoming acclimated to the reduced and manageable schedule) with the game will be significantly easier.

My personal dose of MMO Methadone is PvP in WoW.  I want to play WoW some, but I don’t want to have to schedule raids or really dedicate long hours to it.  I came to the realization that I could not do that with raiding, even PuG raids.  So I decided that doing a few battlegrounds here and there has completely satiated my desire to play.  I started out doing hours of them a day, grinding 10-20k honor in a sitting, making every Lake Wintergrasp that came up.  Gradually, I have reduced my playtime to where I log on to do the PvP daily when I get home from work, a Lake Wintergrasp if one is imminent, and maybe a Warsong Gulch or Alterac Valley.  I have not spent over an hour and a half on WoW in one sitting in a while, and I am quite happy with where I am managing my schedule.  I might not have a 2500+ Arena rating or competitive gear this way, but I have fun in-game and still have time to do things outside of the game that I enjoy.

This method is the most useful in overcoming addiction, I think, because it not only allows for players to actually still enjoy the aspects of the game that initially attracted (and thusly addicted) them, but to do so responsibly.  If this method is approached correctly and actually adhered to, addicts nothing regarding their desired gameplay experience, yet gain the freedom of at least working toward not being tethered to a virtual existence.

Alter Your Playstyle

If you just can’t seem to kick the MMO habit through any other method, then perhaps the best way to do it is by altering your playstyle.  This is similar to #3 in that it might include stepping down one’s playtime, but it differs in that it helps players control their addiction by not allowing them to get sucked into the same part of the game over and over again.  The variety in playstyle might make the addict realize there is more to the game than the single facet that had been so overwhelming.  When transitioning to a new playstyle, addicts might be able to see the rut they had gotten into when otherwise they might have remained blissfully (or so it seems) ignorant of that fact.

For instance, if one is a raider and the scheduled raids consistently impact real life activities, then try PvPing.  Set a goal of a total honor to grind for each day, and then work toward that.  There is no set time to be online, and there is no pressure that one might perhaps be letting down the raid for not showing.  This is not to say that PvP cannot dominate one’s life, but if raiding is already doing so, then changing focus to something completely different like PvP will allow for raiding to take a backseat and perhaps the addict will see that other fun is to be had which might not have the same impact on his or her personal life.  This way is much easier to fit the game between other aspects of life because queueing for a battleground takes under a minute in most cases and can be done from anywhere.  With the PvP daily quest and the Wingergrasp weeklies, there is still a great deal to be done regarding casual PvP that still allows for immersion and character progression.

On the other hand, if the addict is a PvPer, then he or she might have the competitive nature of the system overtaking life or personality.  This kind of impact might call for a more laidback way of playing the game.  In this case, pugging a few raids or heroics might help ease the addict into a more casual playstyle that could mellow out the addiction.  Instead of being relegated to getting in a certain number of arena matches or maintaining a rating to progress one’s character, collecting badges and doing the daily heroic quest can be done with random people at one’s own pace.  There is little competition in this playstyle, and so a PvP addict might be able to find casual solace in instance running that would be impossible in the other playstyle.

Professional Counseling

If you or someone you know struggles with some of the signs and symptoms I outlined in my previous post, and none of these home-grown remedies and coping methods seem to be able to kill the addiction, then it is time to seek out professional counseling.  Online Gaming Addiction is a very real problem that therapists are trained to deal with.  There are also many online support group websites that can be Googled to begin seeking professional help.

Seeking therapy is not something to be ashamed of; I thought for a while I might have been in the position where I might have been forced to seek it out myself.  I was, however, able to control my addiction enough through the help of my family and friends that it never got that far, though it was a tough road.  Even without professional help, I was not able to keep my own addiction under control alone.  I did require others’ support to keep me on the right track.  Even as I write this, I had a discussion with my girlfriend earlier tonight about applying to a raiding guild in WoW for the 3 nights a week I generally have free, and she was able to help talk me down, citing these posts as an example of why that could be a bad idea.  I just could not do this alone, and I don’t know many people who can.

And don’t worry about money.  Yes, there are therapists out there who charge an arm and a leg and sometimes a first-born child for payment, but there are often professional counselors who can help for a nominal fee or for no fee at all.  If the addict is a college student, most universities offer counseling to enrolled students as a part of tuition.  All it takes is a trip to student services to find out how to make an appointment. For high school students, the school counselor should be able to help or at least find someone who can, and most public school districts offer a professional therapist for students in need. If the addict happens to be a non-student in the workforce, many corporations offer therapists and counseling as part of employee benefits, and many large companies offer free therapy to workers to maintain productivity and morale.  And again, remember that these are all generally free, and if there is a fee, it’s usually nominal.

Just don’t be ashamed or afraid to seek help.  If help isn’t sought and remedies aren’t tried, then the problem can only persist and the addiction can only get worse.

And remember that you’re not alone.  There are many people, myself included, who suffer from being addicted to online games to some degree or another.  These people might not even know they need help, but believe me, they do.  Through proper channels, this addiction is treatable and can, through work and perseverance, be overcome so that online gaming can become the social and fun pastime it was intended to be. 

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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