A Disordered Life

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I’ve noticed that everyone I know who plays computer games, no matter what genre, lives in some degree of disorder. This doesn’t always affect every aspect of their lives, but one significant area is usually involved, either domestically, their room/house, clothes on the floor, sheets of work with no mind for later revision, or their time keeping: they’re late or don’t turn up. Obviously this opinion is subjective, and might be unique to my circle of friends, but I was wondering if you’ve got any evidence to the contrary?

I have known some folks who play video games intensively and are extremely well-organized. I’ve known others who were disorganized but were fortunate to have wives, parents, or friends helping to keep their lives together. A far greater proportion of gamers fit the profile you describe. It can range from specific areas of their lives, as you describe, to a more global type of disorder that seems to affect all areas at once.

Why do so many gamers have at least part of their life in a big mess?

Many hard-core gamers are males between the ages of 15 and 25, and this group is not well-known for organizational skills. These guys often live in relative squalor, with inconsistent planning and effort, missed appointments, and general unreliability. Even the non-gamers keep late hours, indulge too much in various enthusiasms, are often intoxicated, and might seem impulsive. Many of them just need to grow up, and most of them do, though often on their own timetables, which defy the exhortations of parents and significant others.

There may very well be something about intensive gaming that contributes to this kind of dis-order. Serious gamers view their hobby as something between an alternative vocation and a religion. Some devote a majority of their waking hours to thinking about or playing games; others even dream about it–provided they sleep long enough to enter the REM phase.

With all this time and energy wrapped up in gaming, corners inevitably must be cut. It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking you can get away with less sleep than truly necessary. You tell yourself you don’t mind if your room is a toxic waste zone. Handing in a first draft seems like a worthwhile compromise–some teachers and professors don’t seem to notice, and bad grades often seem acceptable when the focus and energy are in a thrilling alternative universe. What it really comes down to is that many gamers are able to neglect the activities of daily living, and the people immediately around them, to make room for a place where they would much rather be. Over time, this is bound to create lots of disorder back on Planet Earth.

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On the other hand, some gamers can practice a kind of efficiency and organization in the course of their play. Some games provide great incentives for managing tremendous complexity efficiently. When I played WoW, I had some really enlightening lectures on how to keep my bank slots and bags neat and tidy from players who were totally disorganized in real life. Could gaming help people develop strategies for managing disorder in their lives? It seems dubious, but I can’t rule it out. At very least, gamers who are able to play intensively and manage their lives in an organized way are likely extremely efficient!

Disorder in one’s life may also be a symptom of a difficulty with organization already present before gaming. Such difficulties may actually lead a person to embrace this hobby. If you have trouble staying on top of very basic things in your day-to-day life, and you frequently meet with failure and disappointment in school, work, and relationships, fleeing the scene into a game would be a great way to escape the problem. I could well imagine that hardcore gaming would attract many people in this situation. Unfortunately, it is one of those vicious cycles that is easy to get trapped in.

A significant number of these folks may have problems with attention, focusing, and task persistence which can lead to a diagnosis of ADHD. Many of these people are actually better able to focus when the intensity of stimulation is higher, and others are capable of relentless activity (and likely very high actions per minute), making them great candidates to be proficient gamers.

Getting organized and being responsible in real life requires executive functions that can be developed with practice and guidance. It involves acquiring boring life routines and rituals. At the heart of these is an awareness of what is healthy and of how one’s behavior affects others, as well as an appreciation of the long term rewards and consequences of certain behaviors. In short, it requires a kind of perspective that can be difficult for folks who naturally resist the reality principle anyhow.

If you care about the disorder in your life–particularly how it affects others and your ambitions outside of gaming, there are many things you can do to deal with it. I can’t deny that at least a part of the solution will probably involve reduction or management of your gaming life so it doesn’t affect your sleep, nutrition, and health, and so you can be more effective in managing the rest of your life. I’m sure many Escapist readers have had to confront this dilemma. Have you found a way to game without disorder, or do you simply choose to live with it?

Dr. Mark Kline spent the weekend organizing his son’s Magic the Gathering collection alphabetically and denies that this is in any way obsessive. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to [email protected]. Your identity will remain confidential.

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