One Fateful Semester

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If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you call yourself a gamer. And if you call yourself a gamer, I think you will agree with me when I say you are an addict. Gamers are addicts. I know I am.

Why else would we routinely drop $50 on the latest iteration of games like Madden, Final Fantasy and Unreal Tournament – games that are, usually at their core, just like their predecessors? Why do we continue to spend upwards of $300 on the newest “next generation” console? Why is it that, like kids who shovel out the basketball court in the middle of the winter, we line up outside retailers hours, if not days, ahead of time for worldwide console releases?

Addiction is the most compelling answer to all these questions. By identifying ourselves as gamers, we espouse our addiction. It’s not like we are alone in this; many other hobbies share a similar level of addiction. My father is a fly-fisherman, and if he’s not outside on the stream, he’s practicing his casting on the lawn or inside tying flies and building rods.

Nothing’s wrong with that. Gaming can be a healthy addiction. I’m not talking about playing Dance Dance Revolution for a daily workout; I’m talking about playing games for a couple of hours a day, on average. We all know gaming can increase hand-eye coordination and critical thinking skills. And let’s face it, gaming is an enjoyable and interactive way to relax and get away from the pressures of the everyday world.

But I’m not writing this to talk about healthy addictions; I’m here to talk about those addictions detrimental to gamers. It’s the old chestnut of too much of a good thing. For a gaming addiction to be detrimental it doesn’t have to result in some kind of death or disfigurement from too many long sessions of EverQuest; those are the obvious consequences of a serious addiction that may be the result of far greater psychological problems. The detriments of a more-than-casual gaming addiction are subtle.

When the television news van arrived, most of the crowd outside of a Target store in Monroeville, Pennsylvania scattered. Instead of waiting for an Xbox 360, they were supposed to be at work. This is a classic example of the kind of trouble that gaming, or any other minor addiction (like sports fanaticism) can get you into. When this only happens occasionally, it’s usually not a problem, but when you skip work to attend the midnight launch of the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Revolution and Halo 3, you risk losing more than a few hours of sleep – you risk losing your job.

When I was a sophomore in college, I lived up to the classic definition of being wise and stupid at the same time. I moved into a university suite with five of my friends. We spent a large amount of our time playing everything from Quake II to Street Figher (Alpha 3 in particular), to Mario Party, to the lesser known Playstation game Poy Poy. We even had plenty of other distractions. In particular, we spent a large amount of time with Blizzard’s Diablo and Starcraft: Broodwar.

But, obviously, it wasn’t all fun and games. I skipped many classes and shirked off much of my schoolwork in order to play games, or even to just watch people play them. Gaming was just more fun than C++, and without anyone to tell me to go to class, I didn’t – at least, until my fall term grades arrived. By then, I was placed on academic probation, oaths were sworn and entry into the armed forces was considered. And I wasn’t the only one with poor grades; at least two of my suitemates fared worse.

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The results of my gaming addiction could have been worse. Out of the six of us who shared the suite, I was one of three that graduated from the university. Instead of letting my gaming habit get the better of me, I took the opportunity to take stock of my situation. If I was prioritizing games above my other responsibilities, perhaps there was a reason: I was playing games instead of going to class because I had chosen the wrong major. So, I changed majors completely, dropped all but one of my computer science classes and began my studies in creative writing.

When gaming addiction starts to have a negative impact on your life, it can be an indication you are doing something you don’t want to do in other areas of your life. I saw my gaming addiction as a sign that I didn’t really want to write code for the rest of my life, and out of my three friends that failed to graduate, two of them have returned to school with different majors. In this way, a gaming addiction, although detrimental in the short term, can be helpful in the long term. With behavioral addictions, gaming or otherwise, it almost always seems the addiction is a symptom of a greater problem rather than the addiction itself.

I’m still a gamer. A year after that fateful semester, I purchased a Dreamcast and have fond memories of marathon Soul Calibur sessions. Gaming will always be a part of me; it’s who I am. In my day to day life, I don’t think of it as an addiction. For the most part, it’s no more of an addiction than my enthusiasm for good beer or good books. I game daily – I have an active World of Warcraft account – and absorb gaming news as fast as I can read it. In the back of my mind, I just remind myself there are more important things than gaming.

For most of us, we don’t even notice our gaming as an addiction. There are some of us who have trouble putting the controller down. And, there are still more of us, myself included, for whom gaming is only a problem when we allow it to be. Regardless of your situation, we all need to remember games are just that: games. We need to remember there are more important things in life. So, before you start your next session, take a step back and ask yourself one question: Are you doing it for the pleasure of the game, or the distaste of something else?

Brian Easton is a freelance writer currently working on his first novel and maintaining a healthy gaming addiction.

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