Should I quit video games?
I’m fed up of just spending most of my time playing video games and then feeling like I got nothing out of my day. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not fun anymore, I’m just doing it because it’s all I can do. - Random Redditor
Gaming might be more dangerous than we’ve ever considered. It is supposed to bring us happiness, but often causes despair and depression.
Today, I'll probably challenge some opinions you hold about gaming. This is not meant as a rebuke of gaming from someone unfamiliar with the community, but rather the perspective of a former gaming addict whose main goal is to help other addicts. For reference, my total played time is close to 1000 days of my life, which translates to about 8 hours of gaming every single day for 9 years.
I want this to help people who are dissatisfied with their lives sitting behind screens and playing games the whole day, while avoiding other responsibilities. Quitting gaming won’t suddenly transform you into a superhero, but it will make you happier in the long run. Let’s get into it.
Over the years the phrase I’m a gamer has changed from something the majority of gamers were ashamed of saying, to something that people are proud of and consider part of their identity.
However, being a gamer as an identity shouldn’t be acceptable. It’s the same as saying I’m an alcoholic or I’m a gambler and finding it acceptable. Our society just hasn’t realized it yet because unlike alcohol or gambling, gaming has less noticeable side effects.
Gaming can be dangerous, especially when we fall victim to its vicious cycle:
This cycle often leads to depression because everything in life sucks and nothing is exciting. The depression then makes us even more susceptible to escapism via gaming because we don’t have the motivation to give a damn.
Before we move on, let’s make something clear:
Gaming in moderation is fine, but so is alcohol consumption and gambling. Unfortunately the thing is, some of us are more inclined to addictions and can’t game in moderation. I’m one of these people.
Today’s games are designed to be as addictive as possible to keep us playing and paying. In addition, gaming is too new for us to realize how addictive it can be. A gaming addiction probably isn’t as reckless as an alcohol addiction, but it sometimes can be: see this post, or this post by anonymous Reddit users. It can throw us into major episodes of depression and cause us to waste tons of time and potential, especially when we prioritize a “free-time = game-time” mindset. Eventually it won’t be enough to game only during our free time and we will find ourselves sacrificing our productive hours to continue playing.
In addition to gaming being a relatively new addiction, we don’t view gaming as something that bad. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, game developers fuel the idea of gaming as a cool thing. Secondly, a few people are making money off e-sports and streaming services, which makes younger generations think they can make money this way (even though the odds are nearly impossible).
It’s possible that as time passes and more is known about the impacts of a gaming addiction, our mindsets toward gaming will begin to change. Until then it’s imperative that we begin to recognize these negative effects ourselves.
Common excuses used to rationalize gaming
People often have very reasonable excuses for why they find gaming acceptable. These excuses are valid at first but after you take a further look, you can refute most of them easily:
- Gaming is so much fun, often even better than real life
- I learn new skills
- I get to socialize, I get to be friends with other gamers
- It’s cheaper than other leisure activities
- I would be wasting my time on Reddit or Youtube anyway. How is it worse than watching sports or TV?
- But I’m so good at the game, I have invested too much time/money into it
Gaming is so much fun, often even better than real life
This is one of the most dangerous justifications that gamers use to rationalize their addiction. Yes, gaming can be extremely fun. Hell, at times it can even feel better than real life, but that’s the problem.
When we’re playing excessively, we start forgetting, delaying, and not caring about real life responsibilities and problems, which usually don’t go away. They get worse.
Since we can’t hide away forever, there comes a time when we wake up from the state of bliss gaming puts us in and we realize that we haven’t made progress in any real-world area of life.
Additionally, the progress achieved in games doesn’t translate into our real lives. We can spend hours on end playing games without anything to really show for it.
If we had spent this time doing something more tangible and fulfilling, at least we’d have something to show for all the hard work we put in. Conversely, being good at games is pretty unimpressive to most people since it isn't really transferable out of the game.
The greatest danger arises when we stop getting bored because of gaming. We could be grinding or doing other repetitive missions, but the constant stimulation from gaming doesn’t leave us much room to think about other responsibilities. This leads to two things.
Firstly, it doesn’t allow us to realize how dissatisfied we might be with other parts of our lives. When we get dissatisfied, it is often the first step toward motivation to change things. However, if we’re gaming all the time, we won’t get dissatisfied because there is no time for it.
Secondly, if we’re never bored, we get used to being constantly mentally stimulated and other parts of our lives will seem way more boring (read about dopamine stimulation standard here). The best example of this is when you view all the conversations with other people as boring, except for talking to gamers about your game.
Gaming also gives us a sense of achievement and satisfaction, which doesn’t translate into real life because the achievements are artificial. Our minds become bad at distinguishing whether satisfaction comes from real-life endeavors or virtual environments. Fake achievements make us content with ourselves and suck the need to improve out of us.
There is another version of this you can often read on gaming forums or subreddits: my life sucks so much that gaming is the only thing that makes me happy.
I learn new skills
There might be merit to this one. Yes, gaming can definitely teach us new skills. There might be some skills that one learns simply as a necessity of gaming - typing quickly, English, teamwork, and problem solving. Although, we can probably learn anything we need in real life quicker without gaming.
Other skills people often mention include reaction skills from FPS games or split-second decision making from RTS games, but these are mostly worthless.
Gaming can teach us skills, but it’s typically not the best way to learn them. If we wanted to learn something, we could do it through more productive means, so let’s not lie to ourselves please.
I get to socialize
When we’re starved of real social connections, games can become an easy replacement. It’s difficult to be someone in real life, but it’s easy to be someone in games and connect to people.
We might think we’ve made good friends through games, but we should ask ourselves: do we have anything else to talk about except for games? If not, maybe we’re not such good friends after all.
Also, don’t forget that these games often have toxic communities. This is often contagious and can have a negative effect on our mental states. You can easily become quick-to-anger and adopt a blame-everyone-that-isn't-me mentality. This often happens in multiplayer games, but MOBAs are especially well known for having toxic communities. I’ve seen otherwise calm and intelligent people acting like 12 years old, calling everyone else trash, threatening other people’s lives, and being racist.
It’s not impossible to form long lasting friendships and even relationships via gaming, but we can also achieve this in any regular activity of life with a higher probability of success and without the cons of gaming.
It’s cheaper than other leisure activities
Gaming is definitely one of the cheapest leisure activities, but you always have to account for opportunity cost.
In today’s age, we have too many opportunities. Instead of thinking about how much money you saved by gaming, think about everything else you might have missed. Be it work, business, romantic, or friendship opportunities, you lose a lot by sitting at home and staring at your computer.
You could have created interesting, creative, and fun memories in real life, but instead you decided to sit in front of a computer, immersed in virtual worlds with your days blending together.
The opportunity cost isn't a problem if you can game in moderation, because you’re using gaming as a way to relax which you would do in some form anyway. However, once game-time starts to eat into the other areas of life, the opportunity cost becomes too high. The probability of this happening is also high because games can be so captivating.
This is why I would rather pay for a game that has 10 hours of gameplay and is fun the whole time, instead of paying for a game that has 60 hours of artificially long gameplay. These games are barely entertaining because the developers sacrificed quality just to make it longer. As a result, they slow down the game on purpose through unnecessary grinding, slowing down animations to take longer, and redundant missions. Quality over quantity matters in this case.
I would be wasting my time on Reddit or Youtube anyway
How is it worse than watching sports or TV?
It’s fun, everyone enjoys a hobby, why shouldn’t mine be gaming?
The problem with games is that they can suck you in too much. After you watch a game of sports on TV or finish a movie, it’s over.
Games and especially multiplayer games nowadays are designed to never let you go and ideally want you to log in every day. The games are designed to be never-ending and they are always being updated (new heroes, nerfs, events). They offer daily quests and rewards and competitive leaderboards. The message is clear—if you want to be awesome, you need to play every day.
I’m not claiming that these other activities are better, but they’re simply less captivating and you can step out of them more easily. Reading jokes or browsing memes eventually becomes less fun over time. You can do it for an hour or so and then you’re like nevermind, let’s do something else instead. On the other hand, games can make you forget about everything else for a long time.
I’m so good at the game and have invested too much time/money into it
What can you show for it? This justification is based on something called the sunk cost fallacy. A sunk cost means something was already invested and can’t be recovered. This investment shouldn’t influence our present and future behavior, but when it does, it’s called the sunk cost fallacy.
That’s what happens in games when we feel heavily invested in our characters and can’t let them go or when we feel we have too much skill and don’t want to leave it behind.
Since the time or money can’t be recovered, we shouldn’t dwell on it too much and instead should let it go. The time and money we’ve already invested are sunk costs. Unless we choose to let go, we’re just going to spend more time and money making the same mistake, while digging ourselves into an even deeper hole.
Common reasons why people get addicted to gaming
Addicted gamers often use the previously stated reasons to rationalize their addiction but here are the real reasons:
Escaping from real life problems
Life is difficult and can include a fair share of suffering. It’s filled with setbacks that make it so our progress isn’t always apparent. We shoulder neverending responsibilities and even when we succeed, we often gain even more tasks to complete. There are also boring moments that feel like grinding, when in reality, we’re just trying to ensure basic necessities. Oftentimes, we may feel as if we’re not progressing at all and without clear goals, we can lose sight of what to do next. This is where games come in.
Games are different. Your progress is always visible, whether through levels or trophies. Games can start off difficult, but it’s much easier to get better at gaming than at life. There’s always another mission, another objective, another achievement to work toward which gives you the illusion of progress. It gives us satisfaction and a sense of achievement that dulls our need to improve in our daily lives.
Once you understand these differences, it becomes obvious how easily we can succumb to gaming, especially when our lives suck. What's most important to keep in mind however, is that gaming almost never solves our issues. When ignored, these issues usually get worse. We can’t escape them forever and when we wake up from the trance gaming puts us in, things end up being worse than they were yesterday.
The bottom line is, the more we ignore real-life issues, the bigger they get.
This is probably the most common reason why we get addicted to gaming.
We fall into this vicious cycle of gaming. Everything sucks and we don’t want to think about it, so we game more because it feels good, but in the meantime, everything else gets worse.
Need for external validation
People who don’t get much attention in their real life often compensate for it through gaming. They can be someone in the game. Yes, this phenomenon is seen in all areas of life (people flexing with cars, houses, spouses) but in games, it’s easily achieved. In certain games, simply throwing more time at it makes you better.
This is often seen in multiplayer games. The argument that people play MMOs simply because they are competitive and want to be the best doesn’t stand here. It’s countered by the fact that people often pursue a lot of things in the game that don’t improve their ability to compete like skins in competitive multiplayer games, or rare items/mounts, and hunting for achievements.
I remember farming rare mounts and items just to be able to sit in Stormwind the whole day and see other people looking at me. It made me feel good about myself, but this type of validation is unsustainable.
It can become quite unhealthy when one relies on a game for validation. I don’t want to debate the merits of external validation because it’s outside the scope of this article, but it’s almost undeniable that relying on other people’s opinions to feel good about oneself is not ideal. Validation should come from the pride we feel over our real life accomplishments. Striving for this type of internal validation fuels our ambition to reach goals in life and simply cannot be achieved through gaming.
Being part of a community
As humans, we simply want to belong. This is how we’re evolutionarily wired because our ancestors lived in small tribes. As a result, nowadays when we don’t have a sense of community in our lives, we look for it elsewhere. Gamers often find this in virtual communities. The communities can be large, such as the ones that cater to all gamers, or much smaller, including only those who play certain games or watch the same streams.
It’s easy to become immersed in these online communities, especially once you start developing connections with other gamers. This often happens through shared humor and common language which can give you a sense of community that many find satisfying. To be honest, this can be one of the most fulfilling parts of engaging with games, however most of the people we encounter online live quite far from us. This makes it so we aren’t able to get face to face interaction with these friends, which is vital to our social development.
In the pursuit of developing these online relationships, we often begin to ignore the relationships we hold in real life. As a consequence, the more time we spend behind screens talking to other gamers, the less time we have to spend with our family and friends. We may honestly feel as if these online friends provide us with the sense of belonging we crave, however once we turn off our games, we often find we’re more alone than ever before.
If you find the topics in this article relatable, you may have a gaming addiction. Don’t be alarmed if you do, as recognition is often the first step toward making a change for the better. Hopefully this article has opened your eyes to the excuses you might be using to rationalize your excessive gaming and inspired you to change. Whether you no longer want to game for hours to escape your problems or simply want to break the cycle and do something more productive with your time, part 2 of this article can help you learn how to quit. Before you move on, however, it may be useful to read this:
What you realize after you quit
- you realize you spend a lot of time on a virtual character
- you realize you never really explored yourself
- you realize you never really found a lasting friendship
- you realize you never developed any real skill
- you realize you lived your life as mediocre as possible
- you realize you never learned to handle stress
- you realize you never mastered anything
- you realize the thing you've been leveling up this whole time was not you
- you realize all the experiences you gained was not for you
- you realize you got nothing valuable out of all that time
- you realize your real level is 0
- you decide to do something about it
That’s why you should quit gaming.
How do you actually do it?
Read the next post here.
Hey there. If you know anyone who may have issues with excessive gaming, consider sharing this article with them. It might help them realize they have an issue and motivate them to break the cycle.