Like so many other recovering game addicts, *Matthew preferred to remain anonymous. For two months he had fought against his obsession with military strategy games, and for two months, he had managed to stay clean. Matthew explained that the reason behind his dramatic lifestyle change had come late one night during one of his particularly intense gaming session.
Computer Games Almost Melted My Brain
‘I’d been playing all day and was set to push on through the night,’ he explained. ‘There was still a lot of work to be done. I needed more sugar plantations, my borders in India were being threatened and my alliance with the Maharaja was in danger of breaking down completely.’ But something was about to happen which would change Matthew’s view on strategy games forever. ‘I don’t know exactly why’ he went on, ‘but suddenly my nose started gushing blood’.
‘I ran to the bathroom and just stood there looking into the mirror and thinking…shit you look a right state. I had bags under eyes and they were all red. I was pale and my face was sort of spasaming for no reason. I just thought, ‘you idiot, much more of this and your brain is going to melt or something’ Terrified that he was going to cause himself a serious injury, Matthew immediately uninstalled the game from his computer and later sold it on Amazon.
‘Looking back’ he went on, ‘I know the nose bleed thing could have been a coincidence, but the whole thing just scarred the crap out of me. Now I read about people who have ruined thier lives because of computer games and think ‘damn that could have been me.’ Matthew counted himself as ‘one of the lucky ones’ and went on to say ‘I feel a bit like the guy in Apocalypse Now, you know, I was tempted to play god, but just thought ‘no way this is wrong’ and got the hell out of there.’
Sell the Car, Sell the House, Sell the Kids...
Although Matthew was someone who teetered on the brink, there are many people who have let their careers, educations, relationships, even their entire lives, be utterly consumed by their obsession with online video games.
Take the example of Dennis Bennett. He become so immersed in the online world of EverQuest – dubbed EverCrack by many of its players – he stopped attending college classes, neglected his wife and had no interest in his one year old child. Instead, Dennis preferred to spend all of his time playing as Madrid, the great shaman of the North who he had painstakingly powered up to level 58.
After eventually coming to terms with his addiction, Dennis now considers himself a recovering EverQuest addict. In a story on CNET News he was quoted as saying, ‘It almost ruined my life. I ceased to be me and became Madrid, the great shaman of the North.’ Sadly, Dennis is not alone. According to CNET the internet is rife with similar stories from worried parents, wives, fiancées, and girlfriends. A woman called Angie described how her boyfriend would spend over 30 hours a week playing the role of a female elf, and she found it ‘weird and disturbing’.
Game Addiction Confirmed by Stockton Psychologist
But are MMORP games like WOW, EverQuest and Diablo 2 really dangerous? Well there are a lot of people argue that they are and that warnings to that effect should be stamped on their boxes.
One Psychologist, who began playing an online game just to monitor its effects, explained how he became so engrossed in the fantasy world of Diablo 2 he found it almost impossible to quit. He described how the desire to keep attaining goals like better status, level ups and new weapons completely overwhelmed him. Eventually, through an incredible surge of will power - almost like Frodo Baggins hurling the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom - he managed to delete the game and destroy it.
He concluded there was no question online role play games were dangerously addictive and warned ‘someone with less knowledge would really have had a hard time understanding what was happening to them.’ Now there is a growing lobby who share his belief, and who insist online role play games have the potential to be just as destructive as chemical dependencies.
However, although it could be argued there are similarities, the truth is, out of the millions of people who play online role play games every day, the overwhelming majority find it a positive and rewarding experience.
They provide gamers with an opportunity to socialize, to meet like minded people from all over the world, and to be part of a community. People who suffer from conditions like agoraphobia or have problems with social interaction find them particularly beneficial. Obscured by anonymity they are not constrained by their social inhibitions. The games provide a sense of inclusion which helps them overcome feelings of alienation.
Overall the internet offers people the chance to explore fantasies. They can assume roles and personas; they can craft new identities and surround themselves with all kinds of mythology. For most people, indulging in these activities is perfectly harmless and a healthy, cathartic way to vent repressed feelings of inadequacy and insecurity etc.
A Flawed Perspective?
There will always be extreme cases like Dennis Bennett and the boy who jumped to his death from an apartment block; leaving a suicide note written from the perspective of a computer game character. However using such rare instances as proof that online role play games somehow infect the minds of all who play them is absurd, not to mention deeply biased.
People who take games to such extremes are no doubt riddled with conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and have extreme, addictive personalities to begin with, to which online role play games were, at the very most, a catalyst rather than a cause.
There is little doubt these games are addictive. But most people exhibit enough good judgement and self discipline to moderate their usage. They can enjoy role play games without them dominating their lives to such an extent they begin to reject reality. Although mental illness is something only too real, the idea of a gaming illness which infects people like some kind of virus is - like the online worlds themselves - the stuff of pure fantasy.
*Although the name has been changed, these words were taken from a real account.