"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.


Standing ovation! That was beautiful Lara, and also courageous.

I have struggled with whether gaming addiction is a problem for me or not. Most times I play games whenever I feel like, and all is well. Other times, I am forced into drastic measures such as uninstalling a PC game so I cannot fire it up compulsively.

P.S. Another vote for Lara on more conference calls

Thank you Lara.

I'm sorry for your loss. Both the recent one and the sense of the lost opportunities. I also hope your Dad receives the best possible news.

I always question myself about the nature of addiction and who's an addict. Its recurring due to the nature of a game's ability to swallow time.

I wonder to myself though if we aren't all addicts. That some of us are higher functioning than others because we have chosen to spread our addiction over multiple vices and vices that don't linger for days, over-medicate us or ones that we can flip a switch should we quickly need to operate heavy machinery.

I can over indulge with food, especially fats and fast food. I am overweight but thankfully I have good genes and an athletic background that prevents me from being excessively overweight.

I don't drink that often and when I used to drink more often, I would count drinks. Yet, at times I feel it is too easy for me to drink more than most. Some of it is due to my giant stature but that doesn't explain all of it.

My addiction to the internet has come on later than my addiction to video games but it is much stronger. I have been warned in the past for browsing GWJ too much to the tune of 300 clicks in an hour or something like that. Though I wonder if that is either exaggerated or they count each little tick of rolling the mouse wheel as one click. I was completely fine during my honeymoon in Kawaii but at the end of the last day before the trip home, I felt bizarre phisiological effects when I knew that I was about to head home to my computer to the internet. It was fleeting but still odd like a craving.

Video game addiction culminated at two different events in my life. I flunked out of my first semester college courses because I would stay in my room all day playing AD&D gold box games. I have come to reason that there were some other body changes going on during that times that required me to sleep 10-12 hours a day. I think it was a volatile cocktail of video games, depression, and growth spurt (5-10, 145 to 6-3, 210 first semester freshman year). The second event was when Diablo was released and my effort in college suffered. My grades didn't suffer but grades were less important than achieving and making a name for yourself in my last semesters of college. I came close to burning some bridges that would have been really important.

So what is the fine line? Am I an addict or am I in an off and on skirmish to manage my vices so that I can be as productive with my life as possible?

Are the only things seperating us the fact that we can prioritize?

Very well done. Thank you. I, too, have been thinking I need to put down the controller/mouse more. Such good fun and engaging times, but where is all this gaming really taking me? This whole "being an adult" isn't as easy as my parents led me to believe. What do you mean I have to self-regulate?

Thanks for the heads up, Chris. It's been changed.

And thanks for your comments, everyone. For obvious reasons I was hesitant to post this, but after having read the comments here, I'm glad I did.

Powerful stuff.

Great article, but I think you need to be careful in that society likes to label things out of the mainstream as "addictions." People who play games all weekend are weird and gaming addicts. People who spend the same amount of time watching their favorite NFL team are just passionate fans.

A certain level of addiction is good - it pushes people to be passionate and engaged in what they really love. Marathon runners are certainly addicted to exercise. All great artists and writers are addicted to their craft.

I think the real test is whether games are having an adverse effect on your life. Is the amount of gaming you're doing keeping you from connecting with friends and family? Are late night raids or Civ V binges hurting you at work? These are true signs of a problem.

I also think that games are more like drugs than alcohol. What do I mean by that? All acohol is at heart the same - you just have to drink more or less depending on whether you have a beer or shot. The alcoholic who downs a case a night isn't all that different from the one who drinks most of a fifth. Not all drugs are created the same. The guy who likes to smoke pot probably has a much smaller life problem than the guy who's doing meth or shooting herion.

In my life, MMOs are the equivalent of smack. Other more casual games or even shooters are pot. I've seen gamers who have no problem playing the latest Halo or Modern War series but who were almost destroyed after joining a hardcore WOW raiding guild. I'm not trying to pick on WOW btw, just saying that it can be more destructive to addictive personalities.

Very well done, thanks. You are definitely not alone.

After giving up tobacco 18 months ago I think videogames and web-surfing have become my main addictions, and despite the apparently benevolent nature of them I can certify they can become as debilitating to the mind as any other dependacy-induced behaviour. I love games, but there's only so many times you can do something without it becoming a crutch instead of a it being a way to let steam off. Great article.

PD: no pun intended

jdzappa wrote:

Great article, but I think you need to be careful in that society likes to label things out of the mainstream as "addictions." People who play games all weekend are weird and gaming addicts. People who spend the same amount of time watching their favorite NFL team are just passionate fans.

I get what you're saying, but Lara is talking about playing the same game roughly two-and-a-half hours per day for ninety days straight. That's a bit more time than watching a football game or two over the weekend. It's certainly enough to give one pause, especially if you have a family history of addiction. It's made me think about my own habits and how much time is spent on them.

There is also a lot of confusion because it would seem, much like the sane always questioning their sanity, that considering being addicted would erect barriers preventing addiction. Yet, admitted addicts are more than willing to tell you every grimey detail of their addiction and how low they have gone to support it.

beeporama wrote:
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.

Be very careful, though. A lot of meds that are prescribed to treat things like depression are themselves highly addictive and may carry severe side effects. A prescription from a doctor is no substitute for a lot of outside research so that you know the right questions to ask and the right precautions to take, and while meds can help in some cases, they're not a magic solution and are best used A.) as a last resort and B.) in concert with other, non-pharmaceutical methods like talk therapy, exercise, diet, and just a healthy lifestyle in general.

I've found that when something raw in life hits me, I need to soak in it a while. Books, video games, distracting entertainment in general fades to the background. I need a good stare at the ceiling, or a walk around the block.

I'm sorry to hear your father isn't doing well, Katerin, but glad to see you're doing well enough to write something this good.

Wow, Lara. That's the most gripping article to appear on the front page in months. Surely a difficult article to write, so I applaud you for sharing it.

You're not addicted - it's not affecting your every day life.

A heartfelt thanks for sharing.

I'll just throw my praise on the pile here.

Your awareness and self reflection will prevent the narrowed focus that lies a few generations in front of you. Thank you for sharing.

Excellent and touching piece. Thank you for opening up to us all.

It seems that the addiction gene, if it exists, runs in both sides of my family; About a third of my cousins are currently or recovering drug addicts. One of my grandparents was alcoholic and three of my great grandparents. I enjoy my alcohol, sometimes too much and in those times it becomes worrisome. At that point I usually take a break for a couple weeks and generally don't find myself thirsting for more booze unless others around me are having a drink. Still I worry, I'm only 25 so I have (hopefully) many years ahead of me through which I'll have to stay ever vigilant. It's something I think about a lot.

Thank you for reminding me I'm not alone.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Thanks for the heads up, Chris. It's been changed.

And thanks for your comments, everyone. For obvious reasons I was hesitant to post this, but after having read the comments here, I'm glad I did.

Also glad you posted this. I quite enjoyed the perspective. It adds a bit of balance to what we call 'addictions.' Not all are created equal.

Bravo. Thanks for the perspective. It was - for me- a pretty visceral and very engaging piece. I didn't expect to be stunned by the conclusion. It goes to show how subtle an addiction CAN be (not saying just because you log a bunch of hours in DQ means you're addicted) when it creeps up on you, yet it can be obvious to those around you. I can also relate to those uncomfortable moments, though only under circumstances that weren't quite as claustrophobic.

And this piece has just alerted me to how much I need to bring a couple books and pitch a tent somewhere safe without any electrics or networking. Because I am addicted to the internet.

I can completely relate to your situation. My father was in the same boat, 2 brothers (He was the youngest, so his brothers both died before him), and tour in Vietnam. He died two years ago, cirrhosis of the liver. He never was a violent or exaggerated drunk, but did drink every day and more than he should have. All of it attributable to his tours in Vietnam. He didn't speak of it much, but after he passed away I did hear a couple stories from long time friends of his, and our family, that I had not heard before. I will not be repeating said stories, but it puts everything in perspective.

He was a great man, fantastic father, and my hero for living with those memories all those years. I wish I could have talked to him about it all, but I think he probably thought it was better buried in the corners of his mind.

Don't waste a minute.

About your fears of addiction, all three of them drank, and my father also smoked. I quit about 6-7 years ago cold turkey. Haven't looked back. I love beer of all kinds, but I don't drink it often. But I am definitely addicted to gaming. I don't care, I love it. Some people read book after book, some people watch 5 movies a week, some people knit 15 sweaters a year.. so I game... not hurting anyone.

Thank you for that, Lara. Powerfully written.

For he saw true skill in a craft and it made him wish to weep, to know that great things exist.

... wow...

Strong stuff, that piece. I must say I can relate a little. My family's had its share of substance meddling. I admit I've wondered if my drug of choice is of the electronic veneer, as well...

Fantastic piece, thank you for sharing it with us!

Great writing always makes you stop and think, and this piece (along with other pieces from other GWJ employees) does this in spades.

Very touching, very powerful, thank you Lara.

I hope you find a way to talk to your dad. Don't regret the unspoken words one day.

Thanks for sharing, Lara. I really appreciate your courage and skill.

Always that tightrope walk.

So far, it helps me that gaming addiction/habit has a slow build-up, to the point that I notice when my gaming time is impacting other stuff on my life. And when those moments happen, cuts are made. So far it has been pretty contained.

Great, great article. An excellent reminder to think about what we are doing with our games and the consequences of that.

And if those 230 DQ9 hours would have been spent watching TV if you weren't "addicted" to it, I think that would have been a worse trade-off.

On the other hand, currently, every time Miss Crigger shows up, the mention of booze follows shortly after. Now that worries me.

Wow, Lara. Just Wow...