Video Game Addiction

Yesterday I decided to go out and purchase the Diablo II battlechest so that I could play the game once more before Diablo III comes out next year. I also felt the need to play a less cerebral game. As much as I appreciate the intellectual stimulation I get from D&D, I was coming dangerously close to a burnout.

After romping through Act I and playing my Barbarian, GaoGaiGar, from level 1 to 18, I was reminded of my iresponsible high school days.

It’s not a secret that video games are more popular than ever in the Philippines. Almost every teenage boy (and an increasing amount of girls) is exposed to gaming in one way or another. There’s the ever popular DotA (Defense of the Ancients, an immensely simplified and inordinately popular Warcraft 3 map), as well as other popular franchises such as World of Warcraft, Ragnarok, Final Fantasy, Red Alert, and Counterstrike, to name a few.

Of course, video games bring with them the typical stigma attached to them by generations that did not grow up with them: that of irresponsibility and escapism at best, and aberrant, antisocial behavior at worst. Being a gamer myself, I vehemently deny that video games are responsible for any of my faults; the case varies between people, really. Some might have aberrant tendencies in the first place–tendencies which are given a shape and form by video games. Others are able to properly distinguish between real life and the fantasy world of the video game, and as such experience no problems. In any case, this is not my point.

I truly, sincerely believe that video games can be as innocuous as playing Scrabble or Monopoly. Strategy games shouldn’t be any less socially acceptable than playing chess. Roleplaying games shouldn’t be any less acceptable than children playing cops and robbers. First-person shooters shouldn’t be any less acceptable than shooting skeet. (Of course, I won’t defend titles like Grand Theft Auto, which I think  add to the stigma.)

In line with this, I truly, sincerely believe that one can continue to be a responsible person despite being a gamer. In fact, a truly serious gamer must be responsible with his time. When athletes train for their sports, they schedule it properly. Even people who just go to the gym (and like working out) schedule their days properly. There is a start and an end to every session. Immerse yourself in it too much and you begin to get bored or burnt out, nothwithstanding your neglect of other duties and interests.

Most of my readers are students, many of whom also struggle with video game addiction. Thus, I’d like to leave some advice that might be helpful to their continued enjoyment not only of their gaming, but also of the rest of their lives.

Begin with the End in Mind

There should be a start and an end to every session. There are days when you should avoid playing in the same way that the average person shouldn’t go to the gym every day. This helps keep a sense of discipline and anticipation.

There is a time for everything–as such, there is a time for work, and a time for play. Playing all the time, as I’ve said earlier, leads to boredom and burnout, especially given this generation’s short attention span.

Of course, this is not always easy. For strategy games such as Command & Conquer and Warcraft, there are set objectives that one has to meet in order to achieve victory. As such, there is a  definite start and end to each gaming session (of course, you could always play another session). However, for role-playing games, the only end or goal in sight is typically the end of the story. They can be so immersive that they hook the player into playing for over 10 hours straight (I have to admit that there was a time that any game could get me to do this).

Because of this difficulty, one has to establish a goal for that gaming session. Whether the goal is to beat Boss Monster A or to unlock Secret Area X or to reach Level Y, the establishment of a goal for that gaming session gives the player focus. He or she can concentrate on reaching that goal, have fun while doing it, and be able to walk away from the computer with a sense of achievement.

Of course, goals must always be realistic. Unless one is a skilled speed runner, one can’t say “I’ll play from Level 1 to 100 in 30 minutes.” Furthermore, if it’s your first time to play the game and you don’t know what to expect, you can’t really say “I’ll beat the next boss encounter”–it just might prove to be a nasty surprise you aren’t prepared for.

Goals have to be concrete. Your purpose for playing may be to “have fun,” but this can’t be a goal. What if you don’t enjoy the gaming session (due to a laggy connection or sheer bad luck)? What if the game turns out to be a profoundly boring stalemate?

“Having fun” depends so much on external circumstances that it can’t be a realistic peg for any gamer’s goal. Since many games quantify a lot of values numerically, it might be best to say “I will gain 2500 experience by 6:00 pm” or “I will complete this mini game by 3:30.” This brings me to my last point: goals should be time-bound.

In order to assess your performance, you need to have a time limit. Now this is probably the least-liked aspect of having a goal. I’m sure some of my readers would be groaning when they get to this part. Many would like to keep playing until they fall asleep. However, this is unhealthy in many ways, and again, leads to burnout. Still, having a time limit is important: you can’t tell whether you were successful or not in achieving your goal if you don’t set a time.

This is corollary to having a realistic goal. Is your goal indeed achievable given your time allotment? Does the speed of your computer hamper your ability to achieve this goal? Are you planning to play more than your schedule allows? Whatever the goal might be, it’s important to keep an end in mind, both in terms of time and objectives.

Ultimately, like in all aspects of life, balance is the key. Doing one thing should not prevent us from doing another thing we need to do. If you don’t find your game fun anymore, don’t force it to be fun. Look for something else to do. If you find your mental processes slowing down because of the brainlessness of your game, go read a book or write a story. If you feel your joints are stiffening up, go out for a jog.If you’re feeling lonely, go out with some friends or have coffee with your parents.

Just because we’re gamers doesn’t mean we’re incapable of being responsible, productive members of society. Our hobbies don’t have to determine our behavior and our growth as human beings.

You be the one to play the game. Don’t let the game play you.

~ by J. R. R. Flores on July 13, 2008.

4 Responses to “Video Game Addiction”

  1. Amen to that!

    *goes back to makeshift potty-chair-turned-lazy-boy and continues playing Diablo II*

  2. Read this article as an example of the extreme – that which every gamer should not emulate

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4137782.stm

  3. Yeah dad, I remember that story. It was really bizarre, but he really had it coming.

  4. great article
    quit gaming, win at life🙂

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