Saturday, August 27, 2011

Video Game Addiction - my story

Today I was going to rant a bit about how GameStop is the devil and we should all boycott it (if we disagree with its actions, of course - and I have some reasons to disagree) but someone beat me to the punch, and perhaps that is for the best.

Because I just saw the really personal, heart-to-heart (well, heart-to-web-cam, but still!) episode of Extra Credits on video game addiction, and I sobered up. Video games ARE important, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But still, we some times get too caught up on stuff, and get more bothered by things than what it’s worth.

The EC Video Game Addiction Episode is not their best, nor is it the most interesting, but it does speak about an important issue, and it takes it to heart in a very personal manner. You should really see it, regardless of how much time of your life you devote to video games.

So now, as I’m sure is the case with hundreds of others across the interwebs, I am emboldened to tell my own tale. In retrospect, it all sounds so dumb. I guess that’s the marvel of hindsight, huh?

This is my story

I’m fuzzy on the dates - that’s how cut from the real world I got - but everything started, I suppose, with World of Warcraft. What else? Now, I had always been a guy who dedicated a large amount of his leisure time to games, especially RPGs, but this was something on a whole other level. 

My best friend got me into it, we got the game on the European launch and we started playing. Of my first day of playing, I have two memories: one, of how bad I felt watching a low-level girl priest struggling and be killed by a spider on the forest of Elwynn, my paladin standing next to her impassively, as if waiting for her to die so he could get the mob. In truth I was scrambling on my keyboard trying to target the beast to save her. Some hero I was.

The second memory is the one that defined much of my later relationship with WoW - of joining with my friend and another dude, and going trough Deadmines. Early days, and it was three of us on a 5-man dungeon, one over-leveled and two under-leveled. We got stuck on the last boss and quit when the sun was rising. It was an experience like I had never had. 

That world felt real. It was rewarding to be there. It was huge, it was an adventure. In fact even today, as I look upon a map of Azeroth, I am in awe - in awe! - of how magnificent my trek from Elewynn all the way to the north was, a low-level dodging killer mobs and tagging along with high-levels in the hopes of reaching the shrine devoted to Tirion Fording in the Plaguelands.

The timing in my life was perfect - I had just switched universities for location and monetary concerns, and due to bureaucracy I had to spend two years just doing a couple of classes per week . So I had all the time I needed to devote to anything I wanted to. And I choose video games.

Falling in love in WoW

As I matured as a WoW player, I found myself being a natural leader. I gathered a cadre of friends and soon enough I had officership in a guild, and eventually de-facto leadership. That brought with it a new set of challenges and rewards, not the least of those - and I am aware of how ridiculous this all sounds now - respect and power. And, believe it or not, and as cliched it sounds, with those too things, women soon follow. 

I had more than a couple of in-game sweethearts (one of them actually that little priest I had felt bad about letting die - I still wonder how she is every now and then) and one that I particularly liked decided to go on a tour of Europe meeting guild people. 

She spent a week at my place and we fell in love. Soon we were planning to arrange for her to stay for a longer period. I knew that when she came back she wouldn’t be able to stay definitively, but she stayed for many months. Those were good times, and WoW was nearly forgotten.

I’m not going to pretend it was perfect. There where a lot of good times, great moments, but also some very harsh realities, some big problems. Good stuff happened a lot and bad stuff happened occasionally. I was not nearly as sure of myself in real life as I had been in game, I was young and lacked independence, used to college flirts and not ready to deal with a proper relationship - and she, she had her own issues and problems to deal with. But still, after living together for months, between all the great experiences and though times, we parted with the intention of getting together again, as soon as our lives would make it viable.

In the meantime, we could be together in WoW. We would manage our guild together and play with each other, lead raids and it all would be peachy. Oh yeah.

A turn for the worse

By that time, my university course was in full swing. requiring a lot more study and attention. I literally lived between my faculty and my PC. Mt grades suffered and all I could think about was going back home to take refuge in Azeroth, playing with the woman I loved, leveling our Burning Crusade characters, questing to get money for our flying mounts, while we waited for others to catch up so we could raid.

Have you ever been in a raiding guild? Mine was pretty softcore, but still, you had to put in the hours. Put in the hours to gear up, put in the hours to farm money and consumables - then as an officer, put in the hours to discuss with other officers, try to balance raiding parties so everyone could raid, settle loot and ego disputes... Raiding is serious business.

I barely saw my family during that period. I’d get home and I’d go play, I took 10-minute breaks from raiding to go scarf down dinner, and I played the rest of the night. After four to five hours I’d stay up until later to play some more with my girlfriend and guildies. 

Eventually I got more and more consumed by the game, but also more and more stressed - it felt that no matter how much or how well I played, it was never enough, and there was always a ton of things left to achieve. Additionally, as my girlfriend went into full guild-leader mode, we had more and more arguments about how to manage things. I don’0t even recall what those arguments were about. At the time, it was really easy, it seemed, for either one of us to feel insulted or wronged by the other.

Eventually, as I was soloing an old world dungeon over and over again to try to get a cool rare item, she asked me if she could join. I hesitated - I was doing it to blow off steam as much as for the item - but I realized that we had been drifting apart and that maybe I just just try to take what chances I could to spend a bit more time playing with her.

Well, long story short, she brought a mutual friend, a cool guy that really had no idea about why I was doing that, and he got that item. I was really mad, but as he really had no fault, I took it out on her. I told her, quite simply, that I hated her.

I did some pretty stupid things when I was younger. As I said before, I was used to flirts and non-serious relationships, so I has my share of fumbles with this girl. But this was the one, stupidest thing I ever did, to use such harsh words on someone - someone I loved dearly - because of an item in a video game. I’m ashamed of it to this day.

I’ve never been a greedy person, nor particularly selfish, not any more than your usual human being. But as I look back on it now, it seems obvious that the time I spent playing that game, all the emotional investment and stress, they had taken a toll on my mind, clouded my judgement and made me lose track of my priorities. 

Well, our relationship steadily degraded after that. No amount of apology or sweet talk would ever make up for that impactful moment of hurt. I think I might have cried, I don’t know. Between that burning wreck of a relationship, the stress from the game, and the stress from faculty, my memory is quite fuzzy.

Laying the Blame

Blaming World of Warcraft would be silly, of course. It’s just a game, like hundreds of others I had played up until then. I was the one that let myself go, let myself be taken by it. 

You could argue that the nature of the game builds a culture of over-playing, over-achieving and social responsibility that contributes to keep people playing beyond what is healthy, of course - but no matter how much the game facilitates and incentivizes that behaviour, it is still each person’s responsibility to know how to moderate his or her own playtime.

Yet I blamed World of Warcraft anyway. It was the only sane thing to do.

Had I blamed myself - and I truly was to blame, 100% - I would only have descended further into self-pity and seclusion, spent even more time trying to escape from the real world and into the warm embrace of Azeroth.

Instead, I embraced seething hatred from the game, the game that has made me say and do such horrible things. I could not stop could-turkey, but I found that it was progressively less and less rewarding, and less fun, to play now that I did not have my girlfriend to validate it for me, now that I didn’t have her company to enjoy.

I started walking home from faculty, and eating less junkfood on my PC. In a few months my weight had dropped quite a bit, and when i started running, it dropped dramatically. My grades when up, after nearly having failed - thanks to the help of some outstanding people from my faculty, great friends that I made quite fast once I actually started hanging out for a bit after classes, instead of rushing home to play WoW.

I started writing again - I could write about video games again, because now I had time to play other video games in addition to exercise, studying, and going out with friends - and landed some gigs at a couple of print newspapers and websites.

I found that, just like in WoW, everything in real life that I put the time and effort into, it turned to gold.

The Aftermath

It’s been several years now. I’ve graduated and I’m working at a place a love. I’ve become fit and attractive. I’ve had the opportunity to make a career in writing but I’ve chosen to practice medicine and keep writing as a freelance activity, for now. I am asked to speak in public occasionally, and enjoy enormously doing so. I have a list of things that I want to achieve as long as my arm, and I work towards them every day, I am sure that I will achieve them, and yet I still have time to play video games.

Quitting WoW was, for me, the starting point to achieve all of this. I can totally see someone being able to play it in moderation, but that person is not me. I actually tried going back to it a couple of times, but I found that, if I wasn't doing it to be the best at it, then it was not fun.

I don’t blame WoW anymore, no. Blaming WoW was, I believe, instrumental in me being able to set my life strait, but now, with a clear mind, it’s plainly obvious that it was all on me. People handle stuff in different ways, and plenty of people can play WoW without getting sucked into it, but again, that person is not me. Blaming WoW was simply, and oddly enough, what I needed to finally take responsibility for my own life.

So, well, that’s my story. Thanks for reading this far. You’re a nice person. :)

That’s all I’ve got. Again, watch Extra Credits, those guys are awesome.

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