Sunday, January 6, 2013

What is Video Game Addiction?

     I had a talk with a very close friend of mine about this subject matter and it occurred to me while we were talking that not many people have a firm grasp of what game addiction really is. Why do people get addicted to games? That was a good question! Even though I addressed this to a certain extent in a previous post, I didn't really feel like I articulated this as well as I wanted to. As someone who has gone through the experience of game addiction, I want this to be as clear as possible. By no means am I an expert in this matter. I'm just sharing what I went through, biases and all. So hopefully I can clear up some confusion by sharing my experience with the matter. I hope even more that someone who is going through game addiction will read this, understand what I went through, and consider their situation more thoroughly.

    So what is game addiction? What is it about games that make them so addicting? What does a game do to turn them into reality-dismissing addicts? I've got to stop you right there and tell you that if you are asking these questions, you are approaching it the wrong way. The question is not: What does the game do to the person? The question should be: What hole is this video game filling in this person's life? A game by itself is not addicting. It does not give people addictions like certain narcotic drugs do. Many people can play games and go through life unhindered. So instead, we should look at the multiple factors which make a game addicting to a person. One example could be that someone doesn't feel adequate about their abilities in the world but in video games, he is king. Or another would be that someone had a bad experience and uses games as a way to escape. There is always an underlying reason that people play these games to an excessive degree. In fact it's more accurate to call it game compulsion because the game itself is not the problem.
     For me in particular, I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the new college environment during freshman year. When I was introduced to a church I went to, there were a lot of people introduced to me. It was so overwhelming to meet so many new people and to be expected to recognize them when they said hi to you. Sure, everyone was nice but they also had their exclusive cliques that distanced me from them. I didn't know anyone but everyone seemed to know everyone else. I always felt like I was outside their circle. Over time, I gradually got to know a few people but I mainly stuck with my old high school buddies who came with me to the same college. Together we would play a game called League of Legends. I dragged many other friends into this game and tried to get as many friends to play. For a long time, I was considered the best among my friends because I had experience in the game while others did not. This motivated me to take it a step further and invest hours and hours into the game.
     People generally imagine, when they picture a person with game compulsion, a person who is lazy, unmotivated, stupid, and incapable. That is completely false. It is the complete opposite. People with game compulsion are super diligent and hard workers in what they do. I invested so much time looking up Youtube videos on "pro gamers" while taking note on their strategies, their item builds, how they moved, how they defeated their opponents, and just soaked in everything. Then I would apply what I learned there and practice in games until I perfected it. A normal game in League of Legends can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a full hour. I played hundreds of games, no matter how sleep deprived and hungry I was. I wanted to become something great in the gaming community and I wanted to feel validated. I wanted to feel like I was worth something. Out in the real world, I had music and tennis as my main talents. But when I saw how much more talented other people were in these fields, I felt small and insignificant. The only other thing I had were grades but my smarter friends would completely beat me out on that front as well. So I established my fort on ground where I knew I was good and that was in League of Legends. Here, people knew that I was in the higher end of the skill mountain and would always invite me to play. To make things better, the practice and time I was investing was paying off. I used to have about a 150/200 win/loss record which is a -50 record. Over time, I got to a +40 record. Friends would take notice of how good I was getting and validate me. I eventually tried my hand at a world ranking but I hated the community there. They took the game even more seriously than I did, spewing hate if you made the tiniest mistake. Plus, if your other teammates weren't capable, you could be playing your best but still lose due to them not pulling their weight. Because of that, I got stuck in what people call "elo hell" where you keep losing because you keep getting bad teammates. So instead, I dominated the casual games.
    As I was doing all of this, my social life outside of my high school friends started to crumble. I started putting up walls against people that I felt uncomfortable with. Sure, I was involved in church but I didn't feel like I was connecting with any of them. I felt alienated so I tended to stay away from them. But therein lied the problem; I wanted to interact but I was unwilling to interact because it was outside my comfort zone. It sounds stupid but this tends to be a common problem with a lot of people with game compulsion. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, we tend to turtle shell back to what we are comfortable with. In effect, we build self-fulfilling prophesies that we'll never be able to relate with anyone outside the gaming community. It's a hard-to-break cycle.
     As I was off in my own world, my grades started slipping. It was to the point where my priority was playing League of Legends and I was scheduling my day around it. I would skip this class to play more because I knew I could pass it without reading the text. I would sleep in this class because I had stayed up until 5am playing matches. I would spend all day during reading days just playing League of Legends when I should have been studying for finals. It was really bad. I kept up a stream of lies to my parents about my grades but my grades told no lies. They started to see that something was going on after I started making D's and C's. My mom expressed her anguish over losing her son to video games but I was stubborn and didn't listen. My parents begged me to study and I continuously lied to placate them. I am utterly ashamed of that moment in my life. This is where I completely lost the trust of my parents. I was so foolish that I ignored the love of those were close to me because of something as insignificant as a video game.
     My eyes were finally opened one night when a professor forced me to drop her class because I was doing incredibly poorly. Out of curiosity, I checked my GPA. My jaw dropped. It was abysmal. I was incredibly close to academic probation and my scholarship was terminated. I was losing everything.
     I went into a complete rage. I was fuming on the inside. I couldn't believe that I had let things go out of control. Everything that my parents said flooded back to me. I couldn't believe I let them down like that. They even begged me to study and I still wouldn't listen.
     I called every upperclassman who I thought would listen to me but even that didn't help. My roommates were home so I couldn't vent my rage in my room. I gave a friend a ride home and then went to the largest, emptiest parking lot that I could find. There, I prayed.
     I didn't have anyone else to turn to. It was three in the morning. Nobody was awake. My parents lost their trust in me. I wasn't close to any of my fellow classmates. All I had left was God. So I prayed. I prayed for Him to save me from myself. Over and over I asked why I was put in this situation, why He left me to rot in the prison I built for myself. But most of all, I prayed, "I need You, I need You, I need You." God answered my prayer in a spectacular fashion.
     I was exhausted from praying afterwards and I wanted to sleep. But something told me to stay and finish listening to the song that was playing in my car. So I sat in the car and listened to the music while I waited. After the song ended, I got ready to leave but a woman approached my car. She tapped on my window and asked if she could have a ride. Let me remind you that it was 3 in the morning in a nearly empty parking lot. Everything screamed SKETCHY in this scenario. But I noticed that she was pregnant and she looked really desperate so I conceded and let her in my car. She got in the passenger's seat and she immediately started praying, thanking God continuously, "Thank you so much, God! This is exactly what I asked for!" Something about that struck me. It was WAY to coincidental to be true; that I happened to wait until she came at the exact moment when I was about to leave. So for the first few minutes of her giving me directions, I sat in dumbfounded silence. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to talk and I told her about my problems. Eventually, she opened up about her abusive boyfriend and how he dumped her in the middle of nowhere, far from home. After a lengthy talk, we got to her home and she thanked me for being her angel. I never saw her again but I'll always remember her name.
     "What was the reason for that visit? Why did you let me meet her?" I asked God. It was His way of telling me that I had a second chance. No matter how far I fell, He would always save me like He arranged me to save that woman. I wasn't going to let this opportunity given to me go to waste.
     With this experience, I became emboldened and motivated to become a better man. I went on a road to recovery and let me tell you, it wasn't easy. I relapsed many times due to the temptation of reliving the glory days or friends telling me to play. But a lot of things went my way too. One instance was when I received an undergrad grant with no name or strings attached. It fully paid for my tuition for a semester and I owed nothing in return. Either God was working or a REALLY nice person in the office took pity on me. Either way, I was ecstatic. However, nothing I was doing to change myself was working that well. So I took a drastic step towards change and went WAY out of my comfort zone; I signed myself up for a mission trip in Belize. We were supposed to teach kids bible study over there but they ended up teaching me, actually. They were just so full of life and happiness despite living in impoverished conditions and having single parents in most cases. I wanted that. I wanted to be able to express those feelings to other people unhindered by fear or rejection like them. When we got back, I made efforts to go out more and get to know new people. I took up music and tennis again and integrated what I learned from playing games into them. The hard work and analysis in games helped me find the work ethic and attention to detail in schoolwork. I didn't let those years go to waste. I wasn't going to work for these traits anymore. I was going to make these traits work for me. And after a while, it started working. My grades started pulling up and I'm a lot happier with myself now. I'm pursuing new endeavors and finding my place in this world.

     This is what went on inside my head as I struggled with game addiction/compulsion. I hope you have a better understanding of what it is rather than believing how the media portrays it. And to those who are struggling with this, I will quote James from extracreditz: "Life will always welcome you back." Life can offer you SO much more than the limited fantasy world. It will give you many opportunities to come back. Taking that first step outside is the hardest because of that fear of rejection and disappointment. But once you take it, you won't regret it. And you don't have to do it alone either. Whether it's your parents, friends, God, or even the gaming community itself, if you ask for support, it will come. Best of luck and thanks for reading!


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