I promised my psychology teacher that I’d write an essay on this two years ago, but I never came around to it. Until now.
She sits in her maroon leather chair, legs crossed with her swollen eyes wholly concentrated on the screen in front of her. Her fingers are positioned in such a manner that would give an ordinary person an overdose of rheumatoid arthritis, yet she pays no dividence to the telltale signs. All she cares about now are how many bullets she has in her laser gun, her next unlockable upgrade and her online ranking. She forgets to eat, she refuses to go to the bathroom. She won’t let go of the laptop. She can’t let go of the laptop.
How long will this go on for?
Do you know how it feels to sit in a single position for multiple hours, back strained, eyes contorted, staring lifelessly into a screen as the hours pass, totally unperceptive of your surroundings? You can probably recall those moments where you stayed up to the wee hours of the day, frisking through your news feed only to wake up with no recollection of when you dozed off as you lift your mobile phone from off your chest.
But this is a far worse sight to behold.
The drool drifting off on the side of your bed. Bloodshot eyes that are just begging for some rest, but your brain says no. You need that influx of dopamine. You need the false sense of accomplishment that stems from a facile level up. The mind refuses to surrender and you go on and on, until wake up in the same position a number of hours later, with no idea of what you’re doing to yourself. Trust me, I speak from experience.
The tremendously tactile buttons, our lust for which is evinced by the sound of the “click” as our fingers glide from the right trigger to the right bumper, and our thumbs soar amidst the luxury of the joysticks, oscillating in circular motions that evince a grandeur of their own. A euphoria that even the most novice of players can relate to.
I, on the other hand, was more than just a gamer: I was an achievement hunter, thus anything below 100% completion was insufficient.
That could be described as one of the worse types of addictions, for I would go on for hours looking for that hidden package, or that secret upgrade, flying through YouTube walkthroughs side by side when I would be unable to surpass a specific level. It only seemed to get worse. When it came to my selection of games too, my preferred genre was the third-person single player character-driven titles like the Batman Arkham series, Alan Wake, Max Payne, LA Noire and Fable.
To look to the root cause of the matter, there are a number of psychological explanations underlying gaming addictions. These vary from social isolation, extensive boredom and even an excessive desire for achievement. There’s a logical reasoning behind this.
When one feels that they are losing control of their life, why not adopt another persona in a practical and engaging manner? This method of temporarily escaping the harsh realities of the real world is not only effective, but it slowly develops into a habit and then eventually into an addiction. For example, if a person comes home after receiving an unsatisfactory result on a school test, then in order to face the reality of realizing that they messed up for whatever reason, they may tend to dodge the bullet by delving into a world of supreme fantasies, ungoverned by the judgments of the real world and tantamount to their wildest beliefs.
Furthermore, a parallel then emerges between achievements in the real world and those that are gained in the virtual realm. To an increasing extent, the gaming industry has mimicked the psychological employment of positive reinforcement when it comes to achievements. This is augmented by a set gamerscore that is awarded for completing specific tasks which rack up to a player’s total score and then lead to an urge for competition: to have the highest gamerscore across a specific platform.
This desire for competition was within me as well, as I would go on for even weeks at the same game, unsatisfied by menial level ups and had a thirst that could only be quenched by 100% completion, as supported by the 54,550 Xbox LIVE gamerscore I had at that time. Although my desire for perfection was only mirrored in the gaming realm, in most cases it acts as a replacement in the sense that where one isn’t able to achieve in an academic platform, the gaming world acts as a poised replacement.
If evaluated in another sense, it may be seen as a way to merely cure stress or depression by stepping into the shoes of another hero with another struggle. But what we fail to realise is that when we’re holding up that controller, we are facing a struggle of our own.
What we need to realise is that the struggle need not be faced alone. Support groups, and something as small as dedicating your free time towards other activities can bring about this change. In my case, the desire for character driven role-plays was converted into writing and reading, and although I often have a slight relapse when firing up a friend’s console for an occasional Halo night, I don’t think I’ll go back to what I once was. My virtual achievements shifted to real ones in the living world, and I never looked back.