"My body's falling apart," says my father. Crumpled into the couch, the hot glow of the muted television casting a woozy pallor on his skin, Dad looks older now than I've ever seen him. Of course, he is older now, each day one step closer to the inevitable; but he's more resigned these days, more graven and hollow: a soldier slowly giving up his struggle. He moves slower, talks slower; his once-thick shock of hair now alabaster and thin. Into his cheeks the years have carved long lines, even on the left side of his face, where a spate of Bell's palsy long ago artificially relaxed his flesh.

"I don't have much longer," he says. I scoff, but he waves his hand so patiently and sadly that a spark ignites inside me. Suddenly I'm enraged, and I don't know why.

"It's true," he continues. "I've always known when I was going to die."

Thankfully, he doesn't elaborate. But I can tell he wants to. I can see so many things left unsaid percolating behind that weak smile, corroding him from the inside out. Maybe he thinks he's doing me a favor by holding it in. Maybe he simply doesn't know how to let it go.

Last week my uncle Eddie died. The detectives found him in his trailer, baking under the Arizona sun, alone except for his dog and his liquor bottles. He'd been dead at least five days.

I never knew Eddie, and my father hadn't talked to him in over thirty years. But silence doesn't mean anything. Not anymore.

Eddie's not the first family member to die, but he was the most sudden. At least with my uncle Bill, my dad had time to get used to the idea of his brother passing. Cancer does that: It gives you time to make your peace, to make amends, to say goodbye. Diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, Bill had less time than most, but it was enough, I think, to bridge the gap between him and my father. Maybe not completely, but enough.

I only met Bill once. He came to our house when I was a little girl, because he needed a warm place to sleep for the night. While I can't recall his face, I do remember he stubbed out a cigarette in our couch, and his dingy khaki pants smelled like the sidewalk. My father kicked him out for shooting crack in our bathroom. I never saw or heard from him again.

Eddie was an alcoholic. Bill was a junkie. I didn't know either man, only their addictions. Two long and complex lives, each boiled down to a single, lonely adjective.

My father flirted with drugs and liquor in his youth, especially after he returned from Vietnam. But these days, he only has his cigarettes – no less deadly an addiction, and one that's killing him slowly, surgery by surgery, organ by organ. A triple bypass. Several stents. A mini stroke. Dad never did do anything half-assedly.

I watch my father watch me expectantly, and I don't know what to say or what to do. To see him so quietly broken over two men I never really knew – indeed, never even heard him talk about –leaves me without any compass to get my bearings. I'm left unmoored, afloat on misery I cannot share, only spectate.

"I have a doctor's appointment this Friday," he continues, looking away to stare at the mute television screen. "They found a spot on my liver. It's just a spot, but they want me to come in for a CAT scan."

"It's probably nothing," I say automatically. But I don't know that. I can't know that.

"Yeah, whatever," he says, still not looking at me. He says that a lot these days.

A long moment passes. "Watch yourself," he adds finally. "Our family's got a gene in them, that addict's gene. I'm just happy you never seemed to get it."

I say nothing. He's said this before, of course. In the past, he's blamed our Cherokee blood, although frankly, I think his and his brothers' struggles had more to do with broken Appalachian homes, endless tours in Vietnam, and childhoods spent in foster care. But I don't know that. I can't know that.

He unmutes the TV and we sit and stare at it for awhile without really watching. It's late, so late the commercials have switched over to infomercials. Eventually, I stand up, kiss my father on the cheek, and go to bed.

Upstairs, under the hot glow of the lamplight, I reach for my DS. Yawning and rubbing away the sting in my eyes, I open the clamshell. Dragon Quest IX. I've put 230 hours into it. I bought the game just three months ago.

I pause, handheld half open. My mouth tastes cottony; my head pounds. I think of the other games, and other nights just like this, and eye the DS like a half-empty bottle. I place it back on the nightstand, ashamed.

Turning over in the cold bed, I stare at the walls, wide awake and a little bit afraid.




This is just amazing.

Thank you.

mudbunny wrote:


This is just amazing.

Thank you.


Wow, speechless. Thank you for sharing with us. Weekend topic with your B$$%$#%tches.

Wow, Lara. That's quite a thing. Beautiful.

At least your addiction isn't physically damaging, unless you play to the point of tendon damage.

I'm bad enough at articulating the things that go through my head that I can't seem to phrase any kind of actual response, so I'll just say that's extremely well written, and it's pieces like this that get me to read the frontpage here when I skip it on so many other websites.

Very well written, Katerin.

I have no doubt that gaming addictions are real, but I think it's easy to conflate the act with the reasons behind it. To me, gaming is always an escape; what really matters is what you're using games to escape from. The tedium of the daily routine? Not an addiction. Emotional pain, or as a way of not giving life the attention it demands? Big problem.

When my brother died a couple of years ago--young and unexpectedly, of a heart attack--I lost all interest in video games for several months. Life has to be relatively good for me to be willing to set it aside for a few hours. A man-child I may be, but I'm not an addict. And neither are you.

Love it, Miss Lara.

You are not alone.

I've loved your addition to the GWJ podcast, there are more REAL people on this site than I've seen anywhere.

Thank you for showing and sharing yourself. Parents and eventually our slip towards the next life is overwhelming and we all share the experience but rarely together.


Life is frail. We live in a world where knowing the date is a rare occurrence; a world where no one is shown mercy, no matter the age. It's a bit unsettling to dwell on, but it's something you should make peace with well before you approach the edge... because you might not see it when it comes.

I may or may not have told myself that I wasn't allowed to play a DS game in bed in the same manner in the past... Great article. There's just something about getting just a little bit more game time in. Just like you said, it's times that we deny ourselves these things that we realize how deep we're into them.

EDIT: This has got to be my favorite article in months. Thanks again!

My dad's family are/were all alcoholics. His mom smoked and drank until she died, his sister quit smoking and drinking for a while, but binged on the drinking when she was older - it probably contributed to her death. My dad smoked all his life, until he ended up with emphysema. He quit smoking but he's on oxygen every day. He still drinks every day in the retirement park in Arizona. He's too frail to travel back to Philadelphia to visit his son and granddaughter, and it's too expensive for us to travel out there very often. As a result, my daughter will probably never really know her grandparents. It hurts. My wife's parents died before I met her, so my mom and dad are all my daughter has, and he smoked and drank himself into such a state that he can't visit, despite having the time and money.

I wish they'd live closer, because I miss them too, but they say the weather in the Northeast is too much for them. I don't understand how you rank weather above family, but there it is.

I have to watch for the same addictions. Katerin, I have also wondered about games, and I do try to keep my life balanced between how much I'd like to play games (all the time, ignoring work and home responsibilities) and how much I actually play them ( a couple hours a night after all the work is done). If my addiction is games, at least it's not going to kill me as surely as smoking and alcoholism.

It's also a comfort knowing that the people I play games with, or talk about games with, have struggles like mine. Twenty years ago, pre-Internet, I would have been pretty alone with both my hobby and my personal struggles. I'm really thankful for sites like GWJ, and for posts like this.

I know this feeling. But you have to ask yourself whether gaming is, for you, dangerously addictive, not just addictive. Are your gaming habits hurting you or the ones you love? Can you see it become bad enough that they do? If not.. it's harmless.

There are some theories of addiction that say that we're all addicted to food: even if we took away the physiological need for it, we would keep the psychological need. Is this a bad thing? I think not. Addiction isn't bad in of itself.

Strong stuff

Nathaniel wrote:

I know this feeling. But you have to ask yourself whether gaming is, for you, dangerously addictive, not just addictive. Are your gaming habits hurting you or the ones you love? Can you see it become bad enough that they do? If not.. it's harmless.


If the sum total impact of Lara's 230 hours of DQ is that she's not read any of the books that she might otherwise have read during those 230 hours, then, addiction or not, it's harmless.

If she's forgetting to eat or empty the garbage because of DQ, then that's quite another situation.

Only the addict can tally to cost of their addictions. Spoken from the first person on that one.

Thank you Lara.

Well I PURPOSELY replaced my drinking, gambling, and copious drug use with videogame addiction after college.

I have an abnormally low number of dopamine receptors and need constant thrill seeking extreme stimulation just to feel normal.

Before my VG habit:

- Drunk Driving Arrest
- Failed out of Engineering School
- Totaled my car
- Ran into neighbors car (in their own driveway)
- Lost thousands in Vegas / local Poker houses

After my VG habit:

- Got my Bachelors of Science in Molecular Biology with a minor in Comp Sci.
- Got Married
- Started Making 120+K a year
- Had Kids
- Joined Mensa

Somehow - it seems like a good trade off - even if it can still get outta hand once in a while.

(I do have to call in sick occasionally when I realize I have forgotten to go to bed)

Could I accomplish more without the addiction - sure - but I am quite sure I would go back to dropping Acid again to end the pure torture of boredom that is an ordinary life.

I do stay away from MMO's and joining Clan's, however, as my kids are more important than some strangers social obligations on me. Minecraft has been a bit of a struggle as of late tho - don't want to lose my job or anything (in this economy) so I tread carefully.

I also come from a family with some addiction issues, so this really hit home.

Katerin, thank you for writing this and sharing it.

My father was an alcoholic, and while it didn't kill him (unrelated health issues and incompetent doctors did that), he certainly struggled mightily with it in my teenage and young adult years.

I've occasionally wondered if the reasons I don't seem to be drawn to drinking (though I will occasionally drink socially, I hardly ever get to the point of tipsy) is that I behave like an addict with other activities, like gaming and theatre.

Thanks for a lovely and touching article, Lara. You get a hug if we ever meet and you want one.

That must have been a difficult piece to write. I thank you for making the trip for all our benefit.

I've only used opiates a few times, after dental surgery or broken bones, but enough to know how easily I could become addicted to them. (Not to mention my own genetic predispositions.) They do what games do, better: make me stop thinking about real life. The games are legal, at least, but I wonder about cheaper or less damage to my health and relationships. I'm really going to chew on this.

DarkEmperor wrote:

I have an abnormally low number of dopamine receptors and need constant thrill seeking extreme stimulation just to feel normal.

If you have not already done so, you might want to talk to a psychiatrist. There might be meds to help with that.


DarkEmperor wrote:

- Joined Mensa

Well, I guess that we shouldn't expect that videogames would solve ALL your problems.

Thank you.

Mimble wrote:

I also come from a family with some addiction issues, so this really hit home.

Katerin, thank you for writing this and sharing it.

+1, thank you Lara.

Very interesting.

As far as addictions go, at least you picked one that probably won't kill you. Just make sure you get exercise in and all you'll have to worry about is eyestrain and carpal tunnel.

I've managed 214 hours on DQ9 myself... I know how addicting that game can be.

I'm currently working on reducing my sugared soda addiction myself. I've switched the caffeine over to a cup of coffee in the morning, and cut from 4-5 colas down to 1-2 per day. I've gotten those addictive genes from both sides of my family. An uncle on each that was addicted to either alcohol or drugs.

Excellent piece. I also come from a family prone to addiction, and am a complete teetotaler with drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes just to be safe. I've found myself at parties drinking dozens of Dr. Peppers just to keep a cup in my hand. I know where that road would lead for me.

I also had some trouble with gaming addiction. WoW is very hard for me to play in a healthy way. It led to a semester of academic probation when Burning Crusade came out. I've quit 4 times now, and I'm anxious about the release of Cataclysm. My wife still plays, and wants me to play with her, and I really love having a game that we both play, but I don't really trust myself. Now that I'm out of college, it's not the staying up all night and skipping all responsibility addiction, but it is the playing one game only and skipping some chores addiction. It's better now than it was, but I don't want to miss all of the other great games and the books I want to read just to play WoW.

I think we all have our addictions, and being healthy is just a matter of managing them. If DQ is great for you, and you don't regret not doing other things with your time, then carry on. But I'd recommend trying other things. When I quit WoW, I'm super productive, and usually find tons of games I've skipped on the cheap that are fantastic. Take a breath, check the world around you, and see what makes you happy. If everything pales to DQ, then play the better game, I say. Just make sure you don't miss the things that really matter, like time with your Dad. You seem to be doing that, so keep it up. I wish you the best in finding where games fit in your life. I'm not sure it's something I'll ever finish.

Fantastic, and hits home.

I spend hundreds of hours roaming the wasteland in Fallout 3 when my Dad was dying in the hospital. When I was having some family issues, I went to Chernobyl and Pripyat for a (long) while. I'm fortunate that I work for myself at home, so I can indulge my addiction to video games whenever the hell I want. Could I stop? Yes. Maybe tomorrow, but I doubt it.

Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but you should find another photo to use in the article. You can clearly see the istockphoto watermark on the glass.

Wonderfully written, and I appreciate the courage in putting something that personal on the internet (even the safe GWJ corner of it). Thank you Lara.

It does make me think of my Dad, who I appreciate all the more just now. He'd quit smoking and drinking when my older sister was born, and never went back to either.