I’m addicted to online gaming, and it almost ruined my life
By Michael Murphy
November 4, 2014
I needed help. My room was a mess. I was tired. My stomach would grumble throughout the day until I found time to eat, often only twice a day. I probably lost weight; scratch that, I certainly lost weight. I’m not sure. Do I care? I hadn’t called my best friend from high school in a while, but I wasn’t sure exactly how long it had been. He’d stopped calling me, knowing I wouldn’t pick up.
I never picked up anymore — or cleaned my room, or ate regular meals, or paid attention in class — because I was playing League of Legends for hours every day. And by the fall of my sophomore year at the University of Miami, the game had taken over my life. In fact, by early October, I was convinced that I was psychologically addicted to video-gaming, a controversial category of addiction that has only emerged as a subject of serious research in the past 15 years. In the United States, gaming addiction is not officially recognized as a mental disorder. But the American Psychiatric Association has suggested that might change — and in some countries, it has already.
When I first started gaming, of course, it wasn’t like that. I lived a predominantly normal life. In high school, I couldn’t have wished for a better home life or a better group of friends. I played soccer on the school team and basketball during winter break. I was on the debate team and in the Spanish club. When I graduated high school in 2013, I went to college to major in economics with the hope of attending law school one day.
I played video games, too, of course: Throughout my life, I’ve gone through phases of extreme introversion when I take a break from my normal lifestyle and become engrossed in a video game. Once it was Runescape, once it was FIFA Soccer. Most recently, it was League of Legends — or LoL, as the community calls it.
League of Legends is a computer game, free to download, that 27 million people play every day. The game is extremely fast-paced; teams of five players, who are systematically paired with each other before a match begins, compete in matches that range from 20 to 70 minutes each.
The game is extremely competitive — mastering it would take thousands of hours of play. (There are professional matches and paid teams; the past World Championships came with a prize of $10 million.) It’s also very social, perhaps to a degree that non-players wouldn’t expect. In fact, I Skyped on several occasions with friends I met through LoL.
The first person I ever Skyped with from LoL, Jared, told me he was 24 and hated his job. His girlfriend had moved out a few months prior. It was a mutual break-up: She distracted him from League of Legends, and she felt second to a videogame, which she was. That night, he told me, “Michael, quit this game. It’s awesome, but it can also take over your life.”
I laughed and took it as a joke, but I shouldn’t have. A week or two later I Skyped with another player who was joining the military to keep himself from playing and get his life headed in a better direction.
I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but these gamers were experiencing possible symptoms of video game addiction — symptoms that I gradually began to experience, too. When I get into a gaming phase, the game controls my thought patterns, social interactions and sleep schedule. I’m not a casual gamer. Never did I play a single game of League of Legends and stop there.
I would spend hours behind my screen, so many that I bought eyedrops to keep my eyes from itching to the point where I couldn’t play. Half the floor was covered with dirty laundry. I’d grab a shirt off the floor before going to class, if I did end up leaving my apartment. My pantry held mostly microwavable food that I could make in the time I had to wait while I connected to the server and was matched with opponents. My room was full of reeking bowls of leftover Ramen Noodles, now crusted and inedible, and red Solo cups full of old SpaghettiOs.
As I fell asleep every night, I calculated the ratios of champions, thought about in-game combos and efficiency. I took my computer into the bathroom with me so that I could watch and study streams of professional League of Legends gamers while the shower water heated.
I realize this probably sounds a little extreme. But these behaviors have been documented in a lot of people. Among gaming addicts, physical symptoms — such as “fatigue, poor hygiene, and carpal tunnel syndrome” — are common. The psychological symptoms concerned me even more. Many gaming addictions experience intense “preoccupation” with their games, to the extent that, when they’re away from them, they become “distracted, irritable, or disinterested and may talk about the game almost constantly.” (When around people, even close friends, I would often withdraw from conversation — so much so that my friends would ask if I were “okay,” or if I was hungover.)
According to the CRC Health Group, a national network of addiction treatment programs, many gaming addicts also downplay the amount of time he or she spends gaming. (I used to tell my roommate that I needed to “study,” but then retreat into my room, and open up League of Legends.)
Some observers have even argued that these behavioral changes can have long-term social consequences: “An addicted teenager won’t develop effective social skills, which will hinder his ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships in college and beyond,” argued one student research project at the University of North Carolina. “Suddenly, he’s twenty-one but has the social skills of a fifteen-year-old. He doesn’t know how to make friends,talk to girls… [or] enjoy people’s company.”
I’m relieved that I never got to that point. On Oct. 18, after looking around my room and realizing how bad things had gotten, I decided to search “gaming addiction” on Google. I was so alarmed by what I saw that I promptly deleted League of Legends off my computer. In the two weeks since then, my life has already changed in inconceivable ways: My room is clean, my professors’ lectures are fascinating, I exercise, I swing by friends’ houses in between classes, I eat three healthy meals a day, I sleep through the night, my showers take half the time they used to because I don’t waste time finishing a stream even after the water has warmed.
I’m sure that most League of Legends players do not feel the way I do. But I still feel as though it’s my responsibility to post this. If I can help one other person change their life for the better, I’ll feel that this post was worth the rage I’m likely about to get.
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