Another Keeping Things Real post today. While I don’t make it a regular habit of talking about it on this blog, I admitted that I quit drinking a while back, a practice I still follow–643 days and counting. However, I did not expect to pick up another addiction after all this time: those stupid phone-based video games.
How do you know you’re addicted to something? There is substance abuse, where you’re addicted to some mind- or body-altering chemical, or behavioral addiction, where you perform a specific activity (gambling, sex) to get a “high,” relieve stress, or feel better, to the dangerous detriment of other aspects of your life. I have been slipping into the latter category due to those games.
It occurred to me that those cute little games are like electronic casinos:
- They block out the outside world as much as possible (for instance, on my iPhone, my usual indicators of time, battery life, wifi signal, etc., do not appear at all). I had to start setting a timer on my use or I soon found that whole hours would go by while I was so absorbed.
- They provide visual spectacle: bright lights, pretty pictures, interesting animation, etc.
- They provide some semblance of control, as you choose which tiles to hit or which monsters to attack, but in the end, the game is rigged against you: they’re just trying to get your money.
- They are always open.
- The games make it remarkably easy to spend your money: click on a shiny button to gain more power, points, lives, etc. Magic! And suddenly you’re back in the game.
- You’re provided with bigger and bigger prizes the farther you get into them.
- When your interest starts flagging or you get stuck in a position where more energy/widgets/tools are required, the game senses that and miraculously provides you with an easy round or a fresh reward to keep you coming back.
- I was gradually losing interest in other aspects of my life, such as reading, writing, and walking, all of which are pretty much necessary to my existence.
What was getting to me, though, was that I was starting to spend way too much time playing the games. Even during work hours. And if there’s one thing I take seriously, it’s my work, so something had to be done.
I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t stop, I’d continue to run up my credit card balance until it approached low Earth orbit. So on Saturday I just unplugged from both games. I wiped both apps from my phone, with no intention of coming back. Now I have to figure out what to do with my free bandwidth again. I’ve lost interest in several of the books I’ve been reading, and I’ve probably neglected friendships over the last two months, which will require some repair. I have a book I need to write in the wake of my time at the Interstellar Research Group conference. I might learn to fill my free time with more rewarding things than a small game. So yes, there are things I can and should do with my time that I have not been doing because I was staring at my phone. Live and learn.