The hard part about addiction is that it is easy to make excuses about your behavior. You do these problematic things routinely because… A constant avoidance of responsibility is a keystone of any good addiction. Knowing this it makes dealing with problematic behavior problematic in and of itself for the addict. There are always things we like about our addictions. We don’t want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. For addictions, like my own, which are at least partially positive without any residual legal, financial or health risks the line between what is an excuse and what is an honest and decent coping mechanism is unbelievably fine. I’m writing this in an effort to define that line for both myself and anybody else who struggles with, at the very least, this particular addiction.
Without further beating around the bush I will announce boldly that I am a video game addict. Here is a brief backstory on how that came to be.
I was raised in the country, dirt road, cornfields, tractors, the whole kit and kaboodle. I was a very imaginative child but imagination can only take you so far. When I was five we got our first Nintendo and like so many American’s that year we were at the very cusp of video game consoles becoming a regular fixture in the American home. My game time was not strictly limited, or at least I don’t remember it being so. I can still feel the intense frustration of having played MegaMan 3 for a whole year with little to no success. I can hear the “bwoop bwoop” of the disappearing blocks which were my first true taste of the exquisite pain only video games can provide. A constant denial by failure, from which only a select few can pick themselves off and continuously throw themselves at the issue until they learn *the mechanics*.
I was there for every progressive doubling of the power of consoles. 8 bits became 16 which begat 32 and then 64. With each progression in graphics, and more so in the addition of a 3rd dimension, game developers matured the content as well. There was always more blood, more guns and less of the quirky puzzles and skill hurdles of the 8 bit days of old. I was not only there for this, I was on the edge of my seat.
I socialized primarily based on a shared fascination with video games. My core group of friends gamed together through all the iterations of consoles. We still do occasionally.
When I was 19 I was deployed with the military to work at a prison facility in support of the Global War on Terror. Up until this point video games had been a source of joy for me. I wasn’t obsessed the the extent that I forgot to be interested in women or do moderately well at school. I maintained work from 15 onward and always managed to be somewhere in the upper middle academically.
When I got home the first thing I did was build a computer with my deployment money. The friends that I had gamed with before were starting to play a new type of game for us called an MMO (Massive Multi-Player Online) RPG (Role Playing Game). The game was and is still called World of Warcraft.
For the first time in my life I began to exhibit problematic gaming addiction. I became way too obsessed with the progression of my character. At the time I didn’t really care why, but now it is crystal clear to me that at that point in my life and to this day I no longer really cared for the real world and I much preferred imaginary ones, or at least digitally rendered ones.
At first we gamed together in the childhood room of my best friend. 3 of us were like some kind of vegetation living in there for most of a summer. We were all preparing for school in the Fall semester and we were having a good time. I think it made more sense then because we were actually interacting with one another. We wouldn’t be forced to interact with the other people in the world as long as we kept our core group together. That was a great summer and still the source of some of my best memories, even if they are of running the same dungeon again and again for a mace that I can’t even remember the name of now. When Fall came a few of us moved in together and kept playing the game, but now more disparately as our schedules kept us out often and the other guys still liked to do human things like drink and have fun.
I kept grinding for that mace. I grinded until I accumulated 6 months of actual game time at which point I had the kind of realization that comes to you like one moment of clarity in a house filled with deadly gas: I need to escape this. I needed to live my life. I had wild oats to sew and rugs to cut. I decided to go cold turkey. I packed up all my things and hastily moved to Chicago with a friend who also played WoW but needed to move on as well.
At first things were great. Chicago is an easy place to fill your schedule and be over saturated by young, thoughtful, beautiful people. The ecstasy of this compared to the small town life I was used to kept my interest for almost 3 whole years before that too began to grow old and cracks began to show. What some consider PTSD I consider a complete and utter disappointment with the progression of our species. I see the 1984 we were warned about around me at all times, and it is piercingly loud for me. Without the thrill of a new city to drown that out I realized that I had to fill this hole quick.
I left Chicago and hitch-hiked the nation and abroad. I poured my enthusiasm into activism and making paper. Whatever hole in me that left unpatched I filled with casual sex and drugs. Just like with Chicago these things too came to disappoint. New places stopped being sparkly and my grim reality showed up sooner and sooner each time until at some point 6 years down the road and 3 dozen cities later it became carry on baggage. People made me tired and sad. I was always disappointed in them and them in me. After an awkward series of attempts to roost I found enough stability to connive my way into the Tattooing industry as Art has always been my hottest burning fire.
At first it burned wildly. All I needed to do to be happy was to walk around and think about the fact that I was going to finally do art for a living, and possibly succeed at it quite nicely. I had to bounce around a while longer before I finally found the right place to be a tattoo artist.
All of this that it took for me to settle down and be something like a normal American was so much stress and pressure that it thoroughly occupied me and didn’t leave me the time to continuously wallow in my immense disappointment with life. I knew that settling down would mean that I’d have to sally up to this once and for all or put a gun in my mouth and shut my brain up for good. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
I found a good woman who loved me and whom I love very much and before long we were living together. She had some video games there and I consumed her entire collection in a matter of days, one game after the other in a gluttonous feast of the last decade in digital culture. I realized that after all that had passed video games still made me happy. Happier than anything. I was also a little more self-aware at this point and could identify that they made me happy because my mind obsessed on them entirely both when I was gaming and when I wasn’t.
I’m not one to deny myself that which feels good. I soon bought a computer and continued to devour everything I could get my hands on. It wasn’t long until I came back to MMO’s. I won’t bother to go into the litany of these games that I’ve spent hundreds of hours on each (hundreds of dollars as well). My girlfriend began to see what I really am, and as is so often the case it was not an easy unveiling.
As a video game addict I can promise you that if we’re talking I’m really thinking about how to further maximize my character’s build in whatever game I am playing at that point. If I am not playing a game I promise you I rather would be. I do this to the extent that it hurts my relationships with others and my performance at work. I leave everyone feeling neglected and disappointed.
As the tone of all of this would indicate, I am to an extent unrepentant. I am comfortable being an addict. Video games give my brain an outlet so that it does not devour itself or wallow in self pity. I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The risk of suicide in this demographic is insane. I’ve watched dozens of friends fight it and nobody come up with a solution. Lots have lost the fight. The best thing that works is finding the intersection between that which makes you happy and that which causes the least pain to those closest to you. One of the hallmark features of depression and PTSD alike is that nothing that felt good before still feels good now, and you think that it never will. For this reason I feel blessed that video games still trigger these chemicals as I had literally run out of alternatives.
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like a piece of shit about my addiction, wallowing in the disappointment it caused those around me. I’ve struggled to quit only to be pushed back by the need. At the end of the day what all my dead friends have taught me is if it helps you get through the day, to survive if only in spite for a little longer, then it is a good thing. I have a million excuses to continue gaming, and a few very clear and present ones telling me to clean up my act or I will lose things I’m not prepared to lose.
I’ve tried to stop, but in the end I only force myself obsessively into another thing which is every bit as alienating as video games. Model making, reading, drawing. If there is a nerdy hobby I’ve tried it and they all work to some extent. But nothing has that staying power like video games.
I’ve tried to heal vets and I’ve tried to heal myself. Honestly, these wounds won’t heal. People don’t recover from having their faith in mankind betrayed. I’m not saying all vets have, but those who did aren’t coming back from it. We live in a different place now. One that’s all rain clouds and looming if not immediately present fascism. We are ghosts, and you can’t heal a ghost, but you can help it learn to deal with being a ghost and Sam and Dean taught us that sometimes that can move a ghost on to wherever they go. You can make paper and get spiritual and burn sage and start a farm or drive every inch of this country, that sense of abandonment is always going to be there. And if you’re a vet and you’re reading this don’t let anybody take anything away from you if it feels good AND isn’t hurting anybody but you.
Just, you know, moderate… if at all possible.
I don’t know what the point of any of this is. I’m not trying to convince you not to judge me. I don’t care if you do. I’m a harsher judge when on the subject of myself than anybody could be. I guess I just needed to write it out, like I used to back when that still felt good.