- Gaming is fine when done in moderation; what happens when it veers into obsession and addiction?
- Gaming addiction can be a response to personal troubles and woes; achievements in game rarely translate to achievements IRL.
- We show you how to get a new perspective on your gaming and how to reduce your dependency if you show the telltale signs of addiction.
When gaming > real life
You might be all about that gamer life. You clock in your hours, you 'git gud', you rack up your achievements. You have a crew online and that you probably hang out with them more than your family, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, and dog.
Personally, I haven’t got an issue with gaming. I really don’t. I’m a huge fan of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption myself (shout out to Rockstar).
What if it’s started having a negative impact on your IRL relationships? If you’re reading this, it’s probably because there have been times where you noticed that your gaming patterns are getting in the way of other things in your life. It’s usually relationships first, your family and/or partner are probably on your back and annoying you about it. Then it won’t be long before the resentment goes both ways.
Gamer vs. addict
To answer this, you need to know what negative impacts gaming might be having on your life.
Odds are, you log-in and play a few rounds of Fortnite or CS-Go, and escape a little bit. Maybe you’re smashing pros and streamers online too with your relatively ghetto rig, and it feels good to be a respected big shot.
Unfortunately, the problems you’ve ignored don’t go away; in fact they collect interest. Misery interest. When problems grow, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re tempted to escape and get some relief via gaming. Heck, if anyone had instant relief from struggle at a mouse click, who wouldn’t take that option?
If gaming improved your life, then it wouldn’t be an issue. Well, then it’s worth answering the following questions:
- Has gaming had negative impacts on your relationships and/or work?
- Have you had trouble cutting back or controlling your gaming?
- Do you game to avoid your problems or negative emotions?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of them, it’s worth reading on.
The IRL reality check
Uncontrolled gaming time burns up responsibility time. The more responsibilities we have, the less we can 'afford' unmanaged gaming.
Fact is: as you get older, you tend to accumulate more responsibilities and have a larger number of important tasks that need to be accomplished in a day/month/year.
Your time becomes exponentially more valuable because you have to juggle it with all your other important stuff.
It’s not simply figuring out a way to keep alive and maximising fun any more. A part of you deep down understands this and wants to invest time into your health, your relationships and your work.
When you started gaming, it probably wasn’t a problem, because you had more time to spare and less responsibility. But as your gaming habit grew, so did the costs to your relationships, work and health.
Fitting gaming into your life
So if you want to fit gaming into your life, you’ve got to figure out a way that doesn’t mess up the other parts of your life. For most, it’s accepting the fact you now have to be judicious and mindful about your gaming.
Gaming is a world free from problems
That's why we love it. So how can going to that world become a problem?
When small problems evolve
Like anyone, we procrastinate when we run into small problems.
When problems start growing, they become harder to manage... you know what I mean:
- overdue assignments turn into academic probation
- getting to work late becomes issues regarding 'performance management'
- sleep deprivation leads getting sick four times a month.
- nagging family members that quickly turn into full-blown rage and disappointment.
And here’s the kicker: the game itself provides total and immediate relief from all those problems. It might be worth considering that… you might be stuck in a deep pattern where your gaming is out of control, and so are your problems.
Accepting there is a better way to manage life
Figuratively speaking: drop your scope, zoom out, and change perspective. Often, that's all it takes. So let’s try an exercise.
Be honest and ask yourself, what is worth sacrificing gaming for?
- What’s something that you’ve always wanted to accomplish?
- Where do you want to see yourself in the near future? (It might be getting that job, become that partner, or be a real life MVP, whatever that might be - think about it.)
- Then think about how much you really want it, and how awful it would be if it didn’t happen because we couldn’t change our gaming behaviour. That might just do the trick.
Tactics you can use
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to this, you gotta find what works for you. Observe and be mindful of why you game for extended periods, and the triggers that cause you to do it.
You might be (if not slightly) motivated now to do something about it. So here’s a set of tactics that you can try out instantly, that can get you started in regaining control (and by the way, this guide is not meant to be a substitute for a professional).
If it was to be something you want to do - then be honest with yourself, what is worth sacrificing gaming for? Do you want to feel unstuck, move forward with other goals, get a job, get a partner, be a big shot in real life?
Whatever it is, write it down. What is worth aiming for? Then after you have it written down, think about what disaster will happen if you didn’t make any changes to your gaming behaviour? Where are you going to end up? Unemployed, alone, unwell, unfit? Knowing all this can help you keep things in perspective before the next time you pick up the controller.
Understand your gaming patterns. Is there something that particularly gets you into that binge? Is it smoking weed, or a big day at work? Was it a way to manage boredom, was it just out of habit, avoiding anxiety, or sadness? It makes a difference in trying to work out how to change your reactive habit to game once you know your trigger.
Get it in order
What is an acceptable amount of gaming for you that doesn’t mess things up further? This isn’t just a mental exercise; write down and schedule your day by prioritising all your important tasks (the work, relationships, health stuff), and then see where gaming fits in. Don’t fall in the trap of scheduling the 'maximum possible' gaming time, allow and prioritise time to sort your shit out, then allocate your time for gaming.
Reset your defaults
Aim for a small but significant reduction and replace it with an activity that you would like to do instead (that is out of the house and doesn’t make things worse). For example, this could be skipping a gaming session and joining BJJ classes or other physical activities that can meet pleasure, mastery, health and social needs!
In short, lose gaming as your default activity, and set something else as your default.
Accept your problems and work on it – make a stand, face your problems, embrace the discomfort. Gaming life can be important, but not as important as real life. When you’re sick or in need of support, it’s the people around you that step up - cos NoobSlayer69 doesn’t give a shit if you’re going to get fired from your job or if you need a lift to the doctor. Look after your relationships!
Work hard, play (kinda) hard
Deal with your problems early. For example, are you feeling anxious about submitting that assignment? Then work on it early, and game later (which you can use as a reward for a task well done)!
And if you really have to play...
Uninstall those accounts
Lose the Steam account / GOG Galaxy / Epic Launcher. Just going through the annoyance of reinstalling can help curb the urge.
Give someone else control (or the controller)
Give someone else control of the Wi-Fi password, and ask them to only turn it on during allocated times. If that person is tech savvy, have them drop the bandwidth outside of gaming times. Hard mode: Give someone else your monitor cable, power adapter, OR graphics card, and have them dispense it to you during allocated times!
Don’t double dip
If you’re a PC gamer, game on a different machine than your everyday computer. Practice digital hygiene and don’t cross contaminate.
Get the PC out of the bedroom or office. Sure it’s annoying to game in front of others, but you’re less likely to overdo it if someone else is around!
Switch it up
Play games that are less problematic to you (yes yes, Smash Brothers is not going to be as fun as Fortnite, but that’s the point). Find something moderately enjoyable, instead of extremely enjoyable and "addictive."
Phone a friend
Committing to playing games with other people might make it slightly harder for you to overdo it, 'cause this other player is physically in the room with you. Especially if they aren’t as hardcore as you. Hearing things like: “Oh man, another one? Really? Aren’t you tired?” might be enough of a wake-up call.
Take time off
Schedule regular time off gaming. Try having a gaming free week or a gaming free month! Exercise self-control before you are forced to. Schedule it in.
Accept 'meh' gaming
Accept that your new gaming sessions won’t be as “satisfying” because you’ll be playing with a limit. Accept that its OK, because you understand that it’s the sacrifice for fewer negative consequences.
Be deliberate about it
If you’re going to do it, at least be deliberate about it. See if you can really stick to a time and place that you’ve set for yourself (e.g. “I’m going to play for x amount of minutes and after that I will stop.”). If you can’t, then at least you’d realise how much it has been getting out of hand.
We’re not saying these tactics are foolproof... you’re the one living your life, and we’re sure you can outsmart yourself if that urge to game gets big enough. But if you do, then congratulations, you played yourself. It’s alright! Just try again.
And whilst some of the tactics above seem simple, I’m not promising that it will be. Why not challenge yourself to trying at least one of each category of tips, and switch it up every few days or so - and see which ones work for you?
It'll take time
Don't be discouraged – you’ll soon see it's worth it.
Know that any reduction to your gaming patterns are probably going to result in urges, or cravings for game time. Take heart, though; urges will go away with time. Think of it as a wave, and surf them out by accepting that you’re experiencing one, remind yourself of some of the negative consequences of gaming and why you’re reducing it. Don’t just listen to tempting thoughts - fight back these urges, challenge them, and over time you’ll be able to knock them away!
- Follow the above
- If you find yourself not able to even attempt a reduction on your own, or find that none of the tactics above worked, then it’s probably the right time to get professional help.
- Click here to find a professional counsellor on TIACS or speak to Luke Vu
Dr. Luke Vu is a Sydney-based registered psychologist with a mission to empower others to break free from whatever it is holding them back from achieving their full form. Luke has helped - and continues to help - people overcome a variety of struggles, including all sorts of addictions, depression, anxiety and relationship problems using no-nonsense, evidence-based methods.