The Joy and Bane of Video Games

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Everything in life is best when taken in moderation. This is a common theme among many practices in our lives, especially when it comes to things that can be harmful when taken to extremes. The effects of addictive behavior are most obvious when our addictions create behaviors that are upsetting or dangerous to others, but some of our vices are only harmful to ourselves primarily and can have a secondary negative effect on the people around us that may not be as clear.

For myself, I struggle with an extremely addictive personality. For most of my life I have had a problem with moderating my behavior in certain activities, partly because they are so enjoyable and partly because of the hyper-focused way that my mind works. What this means in reality is that anything I engage in that I find fun and that requires any amount of dedicated focus is likely to turn into an addiction, even if only for a short period of time. Once it’s no longer fun, the addiction fades away.

The problem arises when you have an endless supply of new versions of whatever your addiction happens to be. For many people, video games fall into this category, and I am certainly included in that group. My entire life from childhood to now has included a significant amount of digital interactive entertainment, from the early console systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (really showing my age here) all the way up to the modern online gaming era that included monster role playing games like World of Warcraft.

As I stated before, there are two components to a video game addiction that causes problems. The first is the part that gets us involved in the first place: fun. We start out playing a game because we find it enjoyable, and the more fun something is, the more time we want to spend doing it. We get snared into that great feeling we get when we’re doing something we like, and that creates an urge to keep playing even when we know we should stop.

The second part is the focus aspect. The reason this is important is that virtually all video games are designed to grab your attention and hold it for the entire time you are playing. It is rare to find a truly engaging game that doesn’t require you to put most or all of your attention on it constantly. As a result, your mind shuts out the world around you and you are immersed in the fantasy world that has been created for you.

As I said at the beginning of this article, neither of these two things are necessarily bad on their own. Escaping reality for a short period of time can be quite healthy, providing a relief from the stress and pressure of our daily lives. The problem arises when you find yourself wanting to spend more and more of your time in that world and can’t bring yourself back to the real one. When you pull yourself away and all you can think about is getting back to the game, you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms. It is classic addiction.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to resolve this kind of thing. Video game addiction ranges from a mild problem to full blown ruining of people’s lives. Unlike a drug addiction, there are no harmful chemicals that can cause us to “overdose”, so it is much like a functioning alcoholic in that the person is damaged and this causes problems for the people around them, but they can still go on being addicted and make things work. It isn’t optimal, just functioning.

This is the joy and bane of videos games, at least when it comes to someone like me with an addictive personality. For most things in my life, I have brief explosions of addictive behavior, which is fine because I also quickly become bored and move on. Video games, on the other hand, change so much and so fast that I never seem to get bored. Individual games fall away, but gaming itself has stood the test of time. I am a functioning video game addict, and I’m not alone. Odds are that if this came up in your search, you might be too.

What do you think about video game addiction? Do you or someone you know struggle with it? Where do you draw the line between simply enjoying a game and becoming addicted to it? This isn’t the deepest of topics covered on this blog, but sometimes the simple things affect us the most. Knowing you have a problem and finding a way to break free of it are two different things, and one is much harder than the other.

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