Columnist Jessica Argondizza says goodbye to the guild and unplugs.
“Vices” is a four-part column that challenges what we think we need. Each week, a different writer will give up something he or she “can’t live without.” We watch them land safely or crash and burn.
Three in the morning: a time I know all too well. With class at 9 a.m., I realize I should be in bed. But here I am, sitting in the dark with my Creative Fatal1ty headset with the raid leader’s directions screaming into my ears. In “World of Warcraft,” I’m a Level-80 Arcane Mage. The Lich King knows no rest, so why should I?
To say I like to game is a vast understatement. I can’t remember a day that I didn’t game on my computer, Xbox 360 or Nintendo DS. Whether it’s playing a quick round of “Left 4 Dead 2” before work, acting as Dungeon Master for my online “Dungeons & Dragons” campaign or engaging in simple flash games at work or in class, I haven’t gone one day in at least the last five years without playing a video game.
We all hear the horror stories and worst-case scenarios, such as the 2007 report of child neglect blamed on the parents’ addiction to gaming. A quick Google search on “video game addiction” brings up Web centers for help, such as NetAddiction.com. Even WebMD has an entry for video game addiction.
“These stories can easily lead someone to believe that gaming can be a nasty habit if it’s allowed to get out of hand,” I remember thinking, as I booted up “Diablo II” for some nostalgic dungeon crawling.
Those thoughts simmered until 12:01 a.m. Sunday, when I finally built up enough confidence to convince myself that I didn’t need video games to be happy. Me? Addicted? Never. With a surge of determination, I told my guildmates I would be taking a one-week vacation from my raiding and guild-enchanting duties to go on a quest to find myself (in retrospect, that may have been a bit dramatic). So I logged off.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
Tired, groggy and more than a little irritable, I wandered into class the next morning, where I realized I had one laptop and hour upon hour of boring lectures. I couldn’t even entertain myself with Facebook, “Family Feud” or “Starcraft.” I had made a promise, and I would have to stick by it. I guess I would have to take notes or pay attention or something.
By the end of my second day going cold turkey, I could only be described as listless. My room – my digitalized sanctuary – seemed like a foreign wasteland. It was repulsive, and I wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
It was after my third trip from refrigerator, to television, to random bike ride around the neighborhood when it dawned on me that I would need a plan of action if I was going to make it through the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, I decided I would sit in on a game of tabletop pen-and-paper roleplay between friends. I convinced myself that since this was a “real, live setting,” that it wouldn’t actually count as a break in my three-day streak. This method worked, for the three hours the RP session lasted. The alcohol may have also contributed to my good mood.
After the game, I went home and missed “WoW” more than ever. I began searching “WoW” database sites like WoWwiki and WoWhead for information on the newest updates while fantasizing about how the changes would affect my character and planning what to do when I could sign on in four days.
As I was writing up a detailed quest for my own “Dungeons & Dragons” campaign, I realized I was suffering from every classic withdrawal symptom. It was time to take a closer look at what some self-help websites had to say.
NetAddiction.com is run by Dr. Kimberly Young, a psychologist whose work has been featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
“Gamers who become hooked show clear signs of addiction,” Young said in an article on the site. “Like a drug, gamers who play almost every day, play for extended periods of time (over 4 hours), get restless or irritable if they can’t play and sacrifice other social activities just to game are showing signs of addiction.”
This sounded a lot like me, so of course, I panicked.
A quiz on the website is designed to determine whether one is addicted to online gaming. I took it – it’s not like I had anything better to do, like gaming. The results were sort of hit and miss. Most of the questions could describe me, but I’ve never sunk so low as to let gaming affect my social life, schoolwork or job.
Finally, I rationalized that it was OK to be a gamer, so long as my grades didn’t fall and I went to school and work every day. Along with my newfound validation, my guildmates’ near-constant praise or contempt for the newest “Warcraft” update caused me to succumb to my desires.
Late into Wednesday night (or early into Thursday morning – I hadn’t been sleeping well, either way) I relapsed, four days earlier than anticipated. But only for an hour or so – every night.
If anything came out of those three video game-free days, it was that I was forced out of my comfort zone. I made new friends and discovered my love for tabletop role-playing games. I missed the face-to-face interactions not possible over the impersonal computer screen. Most anything is fine in moderation, as long as it’s legal.
Jessica Argondizza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.