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.