You Think You Do, But You Don’t

If you peruse some of the gaming websites found via Google by using keywords such as “addiction” and “detox” you’ll find all kinds of stories about how people quit playing video games altogether and now they’re riding around on magical unicorns shooting rainbows out of their ass. I found the same sort of material when I was trying to make my decision to stop drinking permanent; it’s my understanding that in that context, the statements are intended to be mostly inspirational. When you stop drinking, the only thing that happens is…you stop drinking. You don’t magically get a job, acquire a life partner, or have wheelbarrows full of cash carted to your front door. It just enables you to actually live your life without the specter of alcoholism clouding your thoughts all day, every day.

So when I found this article by Karsten Aichholz written in December of last year in which the author asserts that playing EverQuest all night, every night was the most productive he had ever done for his career, I was genuinely intrigued. Video games have been Metroiding my brain for as long as I can remember and it wasn’t until recently that I opened myself to the possibility that specific games have been functioning as a post-booze substitute for the same sorts of addictive tendencies that were at their most violently intrusive when I was regularly imbibing horse piss.

My main source of fascination with this author’s material is the postulate that life-consuming gaming habits were ultimately responsible for driving a successful business career. The notion that one can take a laser beam focus on a leisure activity and harness it for the power of productivity is at once remarkable and completely alien. When I’m not playing games that feature what I would call compulsive hooks, I’m more often than not still playing them passively in my mind as I think about how to progress my character or conjure up scenarios in which my avatar does wondrous things to the amazement of fellow players. Taking that internalized energy and directing it outwards, positively? How utterly bizarre.

Generally I’ve found that removing the source of compulsive, repetitive behavior from my life enables me to relax internally to the point where I have enough space to reflect and ruminate. (Eventually.) Likewise, Aichholz discusses the ways in which he modified his behavior by addressing multiple factors: ability, motivation, and triggers. Ability describes things like access to the game, motivation refers to why you game, and triggers would be things that trigger your attachment. (The source of these components is a model invented by Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University.)

A comprehensive solution therefore involves deleting characters, deactivating or selling accounts, uninstalling the game, replacing it with non-compulsive games or non-gaming activities, and staying away from things like the ear-shattering DING! sound that signified gaining a level in EverQuest. That can also mean not watching videos or reading websites about the game in question.

That sounds like too much work and not enough fun. Most people don’t need to do these sorts of things since they can play games in moderation and wake up the next day not wanting to immediately grind out 300 floozles for their next flozzle rather than making breakfast and sending their kids off to school. Most people. Except people who play one game for 3,600 hours or maybe 36 hours straight. But if it leads to a successful and happy life somewhere down the road, I suppose we can just look back and laugh at all the good times we had. And we can still have them, as long as we set very concrete and pragmatic boundaries.

I still maintain that employers reserve the right to immediately discard résumés that include raiding in World of Warcraft as an example of leadership experience. Let’s not get too out of hand, here.

 

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