I love playing video games. Ever since I was young, I looked forward to new releases to delve into and I would let these experiences consume me. There are so many reasons that I enjoy this hobby: being able to transport myself into another world, seeing the inside of a developer’s head, getting satisfaction out of superb gameplay, or even just enjoying time with friends while we point and laugh at what we deem lesser creations. But I’ve realized a few things over these last few years about myself and while it could just be that sense of anomie that so many face in their early twenty-somethings, further speculation and soul-searching has helped me to determine that this hobby that I so cherish is actually slowly eating away at what I could have been, and hopefully can someday still be.
I’ve squandered much of my potential for just about everything because I have devoted so much time to this digital entertainment. In the hours where I could have been doing homework, practicing guitar, piano, singing, digital music, or times that I could have spent out exploring the world were instead left to rot between me, my controller, and whatever console was absorbing my attention wholesale at that moment. While I used to subscribe to the “Time enjoyed wasted is not wasted time” way of life, I don’t think that is a universal concept. You can enjoy yourself and be enriched at the same time, but I’m rarely getting that from games anymore.
Whether this is a shift in the types of games being made or whether I’m changing is a source of a goddamn ocean of internal debate for me. I dip my toes into it sometimes and I’m so afraid to jump in because I know I would drown in the self-realization that the only thing that would pull me out is severely reducing game time, if not quitting entirely. If this all sounds over-dramatic to you, guess what, I agree! That I feel so strongly about such a seemingly trivial thing makes me feel like my life must be pretty damn great if this is such a major concern me. But it’s leaking into everything I do now.
School has always been difficult for me. I used to be ahead of the game as far as intelligence goes and though that’s presumptuous to declare, that feeling of arrogance is long gone now. When I was a smart kid, I was promised the world because of how quick I was to pick up on concepts. This of course went to my head and gave me this superiority complex, a “I’m special and normal people are stupid” scenario that I thought was perfectly justifiable. This made me feel like I didn’t need to do schoolwork outside of in-class assignments and tests, and that I could coast by on intelligence alone. Well guess what? It didn’t work out that way. I would play games instead of homework all the way through my school life. I would feel a small, strange guilt, knowing that I was sabotaging myself, but never taking action against it. I would hide report cards, lie to my parents, and fail classes. It’s a miracle I ended up graduating high school with a 3.0.
College was supposed to be a new start. I went to a CSU and planned to meet new people, have new experiences in my life, and finally beat school. I knew if I made friends, I would want to go to school more often and the drive would be worth it. After about a month of being too scared to meet anyone, I started to skip school. I would stay home, and vicariously live through Persona 4. These were all the friends I would need. But I had to fool my parents into thinking that I was going to school, so I would drive a few miles away and either sleep in my car til school was over, or just play a handheld game. I felt so sick, because unlike high school, I was starting to realize the implications of academic failure. I’m now thousands of dollars in debt just because I was scared of real life and hid inside of my PlayStation 2. I’ve done better since going to a junior college, but it’s still a huge struggle for me.
It’s so easy to just turn on the console and forget the fuck ups that have actually happened. And I know now the true source of gaming addiction for me: mastery.
For years I’ve jokingly referred to myself as a Zack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, but it’s actually a scathingly venomous self-criticism. From the outside, my friends and family are impressed that I’m so well-rounded. “He’s a nice guy who keeps in relative shape, has a fair amount of close friends, can play a bit of guitar and piano, writes for a couple of websites, goes to school, works, et cetera et cetera. But the truth of it is that I reached my peak in just about all regards at eighteen-years-old. I plateau when I’m mediocre at whatever I’m practicing, and then the discomfort and frustration from actually having to put in work makes me ill and I just give up. If I had continued building the mastery that comes with slow, methodical, practical application, I could be honest-to-god talented at something. But I’m not. I just sit here pretending I don’t know I’m not good anything. And all these years, I never really considered gaming’s effect on this, but it makes so much sense now.
In games, you set out to achieve goals small and large. Sometimes it’s easy to master the concepts and gameplay, and sometimes it’s difficult. But rarely does it seem impossible. That I can become a space-faring bounty hunter, a rock star, or a super hero in a matter of hours has so deeply entrenched itself in my conscience that I just can’t actually devote time to get better at anything real. I am physically ill when I come across a guitar riff that I just know I’ll never pull off, and I’ll sit there ashamed with tears welling when I sit at my Digital Audio Workstations and I just can’t understand what I’m doing wrong. It sounds so simple to say just practice and it’ll come, but it’s so much more than that now. I’ve built up this insecurity and my confidence has completely faded. I’ve deteriorated into this thing that looks like me but will never be what I know I’m capable of.
Over the last couple of years it’s dawned on me that the way I measure time is by game releases. I don’t even think about real life events as markers of time. I think of the months with traditionally few releases as wastes. This is not healthy. That was the epiphany that sparked the rest of this. I’ve become so hardwired into the gaming industry and its products that I think when a day goes by and I haven’t played anything (or even checked the news for even the most infinitesimally small morsels), I feel like the day was without meaning. I am sick, and I know the cure, but I don’t want it.
So will I quit? I should. But I won’t. Because it’s all I have, and it’s the only thing I’m good at.
Edit: I’m receiving many responses about how gaming isn’t the problem, and that depression is. You’re very right, and that’s why I’ve been with a therapist for half a year and I’m probably going to be on anti-depressants soon. The purpose of the article was to show how gaming quickly became my crutch. If anyone wants to talk about it (keeping in mind I’m not expert, but just a dude who relates to you), talk to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @zackfurniss.