A Fundamentals Flaw

Stress can be a killer. It has the potential to affect you in every aspect of your life and it's something that we all have to learn to deal with at some point. Everyone has to find what works best for them to bleed off the frustrations of the day. The Canadian Mental Health Association even decided to help us choose our best method by compiling a list of 18 things a person can do to relieve the negative factors of stress from their life. Despite the list including things like yoga, exercise, and changing my diet, I did find a suggestion that interested me. Suggestion #10 says that I should "get away for awhile - Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, listen to music or go on vacation. Leave [myself] some time that's just for [me]."

Way ahead of you Canadian Mental Health Association! I've been playing games for years, almost everyday for hours at a time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that gaming is a great way to escape your problems. Neat little wrapped up worlds that I can figure out and breakdown and live in with no threat of unemployment, divorce, or death seem like the perfect vacation spot for a busy desk jockey like myself.

At least, they used to be. Lately I've noticed that even though I still get a decent amount of game playing in, I'm not really feeling any less stressed. I sit down and am happy as long as I'm immersed, but as soon as I stop playing all of the day's problems and headaches come rushing back at me. Maybe I'm just under so much stress I'm having trouble coping with it all, like trying to chew with a mouth full of food.

Study Guides and Strategies offers a few ways to recognize if you are under an excessive amount of stress. "Stress symptoms include mental, social, and physical manifestations. These include exhaustion, loss of/increased appetite, headaches, crying, sleeplessness, and oversleeping. Escape through alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behavior are often indications. Feelings of alarm, frustration, or apathy may accompany stress."

At first this looked like a pretty standard list of things everyone feels on a daily basis, but then I went back and read one line a little more carefully. "Escape through alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behavior are often indications [of stress]." "Other compulsive behaviors" seemed to stick out to me.

I started to think about how gaming fits into my regular daily routine, and in short, it doesn't. I don't have any kind of set routine or schedule for gaming. I just seem to do it when the itch is bad. Playing when I feel like everything else is just a drag, or boring, or especially when things get a little too heavy. You might even say I game compulsively.

Of course it can't be completely compulsive. Being a hard working American with responsibilities means I can't play games whenever I want. The days of just doing whatever, whenever are long gone. I have to wait, letting all that stress build up all day until I have a little free time. So now my free time basically equals game time, automatically.

Therein lies the problem. Maybe my gaming isn't an answer to excessive stress; maybe it's a sign of it. How can I know, then, if I'm playing in a healthy way, or if I'm indulging myself in some sort of digital substance abuse? Where is that line in the sand that lets me know I've gone too far? Have I missed it? Should I turn back? Perhaps I can get an idea from other, better documented, signs of abuse.

Familydoctor.org has a list humbly identified as "Has drinking alcohol become a problem for me?" Let's replace the word "drinking" with "gaming" and see if the list still makes sense.

* Can't stop gaming once you start
* Have tried to stop gaming for a week or so but only quit for a few days
* Fail to do what you should at work or at home because of gaming
* Feel guilty after gaming
* Find other people make comments to you about your gaming
* Have a game in the morning to get yourself going after gaming heavily the night before
* Can't remember what happened while you were gaming
* Have hurt someone else as a result of your gaming

That list most certainly still makes sense. I dare say it gained meaning for me in the translation.

So, who's right? Does the CMHA have an incomplete list? Should that #10 suggestion include " ... in moderation" at the end of it, and if it does need that caveat should they even be suggesting it at all? Perhaps it is the Study Guides and Strategies people that have it wrong. Maybe they should have excluded gaming, reading, listening to music, buying Slim Jims at the checkout after listing "other compulsive behaviors" on their site.

These sources, and their fairly obvious conclusions, shouldn't be contradictory, should they? If they are, how are we ever going to be able to tell if gaming is the remedy or the symptom? We may never have a clear view of the path we walk, or any idea of what may be lurking on that path ahead of us. That is, not until we are captured and eaten.

Comments

I'm at a point in my life where my gaming is effecting my personal life. I'm not sure I want to give up gaming but maybe I should. Maybe its what I need to do to save my life and make my personal life and family life better. I know I'm become less happy lately as has my wife. Friends have said that we both seem less happy now than when we first met. Could it be I'm a gaming addict? Seeing that I'm typing this on a game site from work then I think that I have become one. I answered yes to every one of the items on the list at the bottom. It might be time to cancel that wow sub and cut back a good bit on the gaming.

I can quit any time I want to.

You'll find "going clean" from WoW will leave you feeling much better right from the get-go. There's a whole other level of responsibilities in WoW. To your friends, your guild, set raids, wipe after wipe, you know how it is. What you will likely find (as have most of my friends who have quit) is once you stop playing wow you don't even end up missing it. In the end it frees up more personal time and maybe even allows you to try out some games that don't end up leaving you feeling burned out.

Honestly, I try and pick games I know I can't get addicted to. I will not play WoW ever because I know I'll get into it too much. What I love about the 360 is I can "jump in" and get something done, have a little fun, say hi to people, and get out. You've got to know yourself and strike a balance. There has to be something else in your life that you're passionate about, or else you need to go find it.

* Can't stop gaming once you start
Civilization is quite good at it. But usually I don't like to play for very long sessions (2-3hours top)

* Have tried to stop gaming for a week or so but only quit for a few days
Never done it intentionally, but sometimes on holidays I have feel the urge for some gaming (thx mobile).

* Fail to do what you should at work or at home because of gaming
Lot of times, never felt guilty.

* Feel guilty after gaming
No, wish I had more time for it.

* Find other people make comments to you about your gaming
Yep (just keep playing, don't listen)

* Have a game in the morning to get yourself going after gaming heavily the night before
He, he, I must confess I have wake up early on weekends to play... Not too much of a late gamer.

* Can't remember what happened while you were gaming
Does it matter?

* Have hurt someone else as a result of your gaming
I once threw a gamepad, but it didn't hit anyone.

On a serious side, I have sometimes thought about leaving gaming entirely, but it is now part of my life and there are really worse 'habbits' or things to waste your time in.

Well, about WoW. I was quite into WoW when I got the beta, and after that when I bought the game. I played all the time, or thought about playing. Even did some wand-making spell stuff via VNC from work. (It does work, but doesn't make you happy) I installed WoW on my GF's laptop and when I went to her jumped right back into WoW. Yeah, I think it counts as addicted. Luckily my GF let me see the light, and so did my pretty sober character, and I decided to quit after the first month. The last week was totally the weirdest WoW week of them all, knowing that it would be my last week. It didn't matter if I killed those 20 wolves again for that lazy NPC, or that my friends just made an 8 hour lead on me. I contended myself by exploring some more and just doing wacky stuff. Now I still have a month gamecard lying on my desk which I got from my brother many months ago. I still don't know if I'm going to use it.

Also, I can imagine the pull of WoW being so much stronger when you get in all that guild/raid responsibility end-game stuff. But just quit for 5 minutes, and think of the life you will have if bad things happen because of WoW, and if you really want that kind of life. I sure didn't want to lose my GF over some silly great game.

Anyway, right now, no, I don't think I am addicted.

Holy crap...

Great article but... i have to say that 5 out of 8 of those things are true for myself. Not to mention i've been under a lot of stress recently...

But i like gaming...

I think I have this love affair with Gaming, but it also, like any love affair, can create a kind of guilt. Sometimes, I find myself feeling like I *have* to play something. And that kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Good food for thought Chig.

Very thought-provoking, Chiggie.

I started to think about how gaming fits into my regular daily routine, and in short, it doesn't. I don't have any kind of set routine or schedule for gaming. I just seem to do it when the itch is bad. Playing when I feel like everything else is just a drag, or boring, or especially when things get a little too heavy. You might even say I game compulsively.

I remember Certis saying in a recent GWJ Conference call that he never plays games before 5pm. I've got similar boundaries, though mine extend later because I have a kid. Before my daughter was born it was a lot easier to play compulsively, but I've now got a hard and fast rule that I don't play any games until after she's asleep and I've set everything in order for the next day. The only exceptions are the hour or two a week we play games as a family, or the occasional day off when I have the house to myself.

I've got a built-in system for limiting my evening gaming time: fatigue. If I'm up too late one night, I don't have the energy to play the next.

"Way ahead of you Canadian Mental Health Association!"

Every once and a while a thread hits on something I've actually thought a lot about. Hopefully sharing my thoughts will add something.

anyone wrote:

* Can't stop gaming once you start
Civilization is quite good at it. But usually I don't like to play for very long sessions (2-3hours top)

On a serious side, I have sometimes thought about leaving gaming entirely, but it is now part of my life and there are really worse 'habbits' or things to waste your time in.

If you drank for 2-3 hours as often as you game, wouldn't you think you had a problem?

I try to keep myself more or less reined in. I know I can get addicted to things; I have in the past. I have to keep this in mind, because sometimes gaming until I get myself fired sounds like kind of a good idea.

This also happens with drinking, now that I think of it. Quick note: Wanting to find ways to game while in the bathroom for any reason should be compared to wanting to find ways to drink in the same situation. I know I've carried a drink into the bathroom with me in bars, but I've stopped myself from drinking High Life in the shower. That's a start, right?

The problem with using games, alcohol, oogaba, or anything else as an escape (note that there's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things) is when the end result isn't helpful. If you spend too much time escaping (while you could be eating, sleeping, running errands, etc.), it may be time to stop trying to cope and start trying to manage what's causing your stress.

Beyond that, the individual activities can be bad for you. Alcohol is an easy example, but this also applies to games. I know I spend my 9-5 staring at screens, so doing the same thing once I get home can lead to some very strained eyes by the end of my week. I need to give my eyes chances to rest before I go blind. (I hear oogaba can also make you blind! :lol:) But what I think is the worst part about using games as an escape from stress? It's the stress of the games.

I can't tell you how many times I've gotten upset at a game. Maybe it's a bad interface or bad dialogue. It could be bad AI, bad luck, bad plot, bad QA, or just a bad mood, but often games don't really help. I think this is especially true about games lately. They're based on this theory that stress can be fun, but that theory doesn't always hold.

I was just writing a recommendation on another thread for the King's Quest games. Those were not terribly stressful games. They were fun, and relaxing. You could take your time and wander around without too much fear of dying. Even when you died, you got a context-appropriate joke about it. No torque arrows flying overhead. No moment of dread as you wait for it to explode after it's hit you. No wishing Dom hadn't run off and gotten mowed down again. A little midi song in a minor key, a joke, and a load screen full of clever save names you made up. Then you're back in a land of bright colors and triumph over monsters via pie. (Pie is wonderful stuff!)

Check what games you play and think about how much stress they actually cause you. Puzzle games with their timers or scores to beat, action games with death flying all around, sports games where plays don't always work out he way you'd like, racing games with split-second decisions, chore after chore in MMOs, and on, and on.

How long does it take you to stop actually enjoying a game? After 20 minutes, are you still having fun, or are you hypnotized by the task at hand? How much fun do you really get trying over and over to unlock that achievement?

wordsmythe wrote:

If you drank for 2-3 hours as often as you game, wouldn't you think you had a problem?

I agree with a lot of what you said, wordsmythe, but don't you think that's a bit of stretch?

wordsmythe wrote:

How long does it take you to stop actually enjoying a game? After 20 minutes, are you still having fun, or are you hypnotized by the task at hand? How much fun do you really get trying over and over to unlock that achievement?

Forcing myself to quit a game when it's no longer fun and I'm just playing to finish it is definitely one of the harder things I ever done. I rarely finish a game anymore, and it's partly because I'm aware of exactly how much other productive stuff I could be doing.

The game that I never play anymore, but really opened my eyes was actually the Sims... every time my Sims got really really good at something, I'd have this nagging feeling that if I spent all that time studying mechanics, practicing my guitar or painting, I'd be a whole lot better off.

Chiggie, have you been spying on me or something?

You're probably right. You're probably under stress. And if gaming isn't discharging it for you, you should probably look at other ways to help reduce stress along with gaming. There's lots of good advice out there, or I'm sure you could get some good tips around here if you want.

Gaming is like going on vacation in a lot of ways. You wait for it and get all excited reading up on it and everything. You get all your hardware and stuff together and sometimes it can be a big fuss with driver issues or whatever. But the day finally comes and you get it all set up, and then you finally get to slip that disk into the drive and wave from the bow of the ship as you spin your way off to wherever. I just got back from a trip to the Sphere and I ran arround as errant protein and fragged a lot of Hunters for a while. Tomorrow, maybe Ivalice. Or Mars. That's one of the great things about gaming.

But like a vacation, it doesn't change jack in the real world. You still come home to the same pile of dirty landry and unpaid bills as you did when you went in. Plus you're tired from all the hustle and bustle and your feet are killing you from all the tromping on those reportedly quaint cobblestone streets. When whichever person from Porlock shakes your shoulder hard enough to make you come back and all that real world stuff hits you it can feel like they chucked a can of garbage in your face. Sometimes it makes me so angry. I've learned to nod and stand up and put the controller down before I say anything at all. That way I have time to take a breath so I don't bite their head off just out of pique.

No, I don't take a lot of real world vacations, either. Never gotten much good out of them. Maybe once I'm not having to recreate Hannibal's crossing of the Alps to get anywhere I'll try it again.

Folklore wrote:

I agree with a lot of what you said, wordsmythe, but don't you think that's a bit of stretch?

I'm just saying, if I went out drinking 14 hours per week, I'd think I was overdoing it, and my wallet would probably agree.

Momgamer, when was the last time you read We Can Remember it for You Wholesale?

I am in a similar situation to The Fly. Having children tends to change when/what I game. My son, just turned 4, is autistic. He has finally picked up on the whole imitation thing. I've got to be very careful what I play when he is up, he will watch and will imitate what he sees on the screen. it's kind of funny to see him do the dances the enemies on Dragon Warrior did, but not so much when it's FEAR. Not that he will watch me play anything for more than 5 minutes other than Railroads! or Space Rangers.

Bed time is 8 though, so by the time I get the baby to bed and spend some time with my wife it's 9:30-10. The question becomes how much sleep do I need tonight. I would love to be able to come home and play, but that is generally not an option. Doing some freelance work on the side cuts into that as well. I would love to play more, getting up early on the weekends and a few binge weekends a year. We set up a LAN party while the wife goes down to visit her parents. When I was single it was fun, but I did not always look forward to it, now it's a different story.

I would not say that I am not an addict, maybe I am in the same way my wife likes to watch tv when she has time. I still have the craving, but I do tend to put it farther down the priority list. I do like to think I know my limits and as far as WOW is concerned I've tried to stay away at the recommendation of a few friends who love the game.

Another great article, made me thing again of that piece Certis wrote Empty Bed Blues.

I'm confident that I couldn't have a problem with gaming, at least not in a "let's game 14 hours a day" kind of way.

Here's something that happens to me once a year or so:

My wife goes off somewhere for the weekend. I say, "great! Time for uninhibited gaming!" I game for five hours, then I get tired and go to bed. The next day, I do a few things because I don't really feel like gaming. I slept poorly, so I end up trying to nap while watching six hours of football. Eventually I go and game for three hours before going to bed. The last day, do the same thing.

I just wasn't cut out to be a hardcore gamer. Gaming too much just makes me depressed.

Having a short attention span might actually be a good thing for me when it comes to gaming. Once I find a game I'm really addicted to, I end up playing for 2 weeks hardcore until the novelty wears off and I move on with my life.

wordsmythe wrote:
Folklore wrote:

I agree with a lot of what you said, wordsmythe, but don't you think that's a bit of stretch?

I'm just saying, if I went out drinking 14 hours per week, I'd think I was overdoing it, and my wallet would probably agree.

Momgamer, when was the last time you read We Can Remember it for You Wholesale?

Okay, I thought you meant a three hour gaming session by itself meant you had a problem.

Gaming is still easier on the wallet than drinking

Poppinfresh wrote:

I'm confident that I couldn't have a problem with gaming, at least not in a "let's game 14 hours a day" kind of way.

Here's something that happens to me once a year or so:

My wife goes off somewhere for the weekend. I say, "great! Time for uninhibited gaming!" I game for five hours, then I get tired and go to bed. The next day, I do a few things because I don't really feel like gaming. I slept poorly, so I end up trying to nap while watching six hours of football. Eventually I go and game for three hours before going to bed. The last day, do the same thing.

I just wasn't cut out to be a hardcore gamer. Gaming too much just makes me depressed.

Same thing here. I end up watching more movies than anything else.

I'm sort of wondering how much on average a gamer pays per month for his/her habit (hobby, lifestyle, blah blah...). If I buy one new game for the 360 each month at $60US, that's roughly $2 per day, which is probably about even with how much my yuppie butt pays in drinking each month. If I start adding in XBLA titles and an XBL gold membership, I'm probably moving beyond my booze money. I won't stretch this into electricity and internet bills, but I think my point is made.

Booze sure costs more to make up for after a while, though. I don't think anyone outside of Korea has busted a kidney on gaming.

wordsmythe wrote:
Folklore wrote:

I agree with a lot of what you said, wordsmythe, but don't you think that's a bit of stretch?

I'm just saying, if I went out drinking 14 hours per week, I'd think I was overdoing it, and my wallet would probably agree.

Momgamer, when was the last time you read We Can Remember it for You Wholesale?

I never have read it. Actually, I'm even just assuming that's a book. Is it good?

momgamer wrote:

I never have read it. Actually, I'm even just assuming that's a book. Is it good?

It's a Phil Dick short story. They based Total Recall off of it, but I"m not sure if that's as good a recommendation as just the author himself.

Edit: you can read it online here.

That was interesting. I had read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", but not that was all his stuff I ever got to. I was thinking of Doom with the Mars reference, but this works too.

Hardcore Cyberpunk annoys me in large doses these days. I guess I'm too old for it. I mean, what the heck are all these people going to do when their dark, twisted future turns out to be pretty much a lot like today when you get down to the stuff that really matters.

Where did you find that site, though?

Google Fu, FTW, momgamer.

There've been quite a few movies based on his stories. There's an old list here. (Old in that Scanner Darkly has already been released)

This article made me thing about my life more than I want to admit. I have canceled my wow subscription and I'm thinking of stopping games at least for a while in a "detox" move. Wish me luck!

painthappens wrote:

This article made me thing about my life more than I want to admit. I have canceled my wow subscription and I'm thinking of stopping games at least for a while in a "detox" move. Wish me luck!

Chiggie, you monster. What have you done?!

Update: I went grocery shopping last night and there was discontinued holiday liquor at huge markdowns ($5 for pre-mixed "holiday" nog). I bought a liter of sherry for $4. Sure, I may not drink it for a year (or may I'll just force it on guests), but it's $4 for a liter of booze. I've paid that little before, but that was for Windex-grade hard liquor in plastic bottles (man, how many nights were spent with GameCube and Ten High?)

This reminds me of a weakness in my anti-addiction strategy: I'm also a sucker for a good deal. Best Buy's bargain bins oft beleaguer this benighted blockhead.

(Sorry, once I got through "bins" I had to keep going. Addiction rears its ugly head again!)

Replace "drinking" and "gaming" with masturbating. Let giggling commence.

Quiting gaming is as easy as quiting smoking. I've quit gaming hundreds of times!

Certis wrote:
painthappens wrote:

This article made me thing about my life more than I want to admit. I have canceled my wow subscription and I'm thinking of stopping games at least for a while in a "detox" move. Wish me luck!

Chiggie, you monster. What have you done?!

It's all part of a new Discouragement Campaign to help recruit members to my new site: People with Jobs.

Draco wrote:

Replace "drinking" and "gaming" with masturbating. Let giggling commence.

Quiting gaming is as easy as quiting smoking. I've quit gaming hundreds of times!

This is serious Draco, not everything has to be a "dick and fart" joke around here.

Alright, I just typed it out and that is pretty funny, and still valid. I do feel guilty afterwards.

Chiggie Von Richthofen wrote:

This is serious Draco, not everything has to be a "dick and fart" joke around here.

Alright, I just typed it out and that is pretty funny, and still valid. I do feel guilty afterwards.

But do you remember what you did?

Certis wrote:
painthappens wrote:

This article made me thing about my life more than I want to admit. I have canceled my wow subscription and I'm thinking of stopping games at least for a while in a "detox" move. Wish me luck!

Chiggie, you monster. What have you done?!

I'll tell you that lunches at work (which used to be spent playing WOW) are now what seems to be 2 hours of pain! On the bright side I already bought some power tools with my christmas "game money". I'll be making a bird house and step stool with my son (at 3 he's not going to be using the power tools but he'll love helping anyway) as Sears had a free kid's club magazine (which is a crasftsman add aimed at kids) that has plans in it.

2 hour lunch breaks? Dang!

I use my lunches for readin' and writin' personally. An hour in the corner of some Corner Bakery-type place with the Chicago Review? Good times.