“I would pretend that I was sleeping for an hour or two to use the device which I had hidden under my bed.”
I’m a freshman in college. I’m from a city in the northeast, and I’ve also lived abroad for four years. I love sports, dancing, and plays. This is my fourth day on the Respawn Program.
I suppose my first interaction with video games was in the beginning of 1st grade. I walked into the school lobby and noticed clusters of students standing around something. They seemed so animated on the wooden benches.
I walked over and saw a lizard with a fiery tail attack a small bird. The screen was about the size of a playing card, but nobody seemed to mind. The device was a show for us, my friends at the controls. Over the next few days, I saw more and more people come to school with the devices. I later learned that it was called the Nintendo Gameboy Advanced (GBA). Conversations in the classroom began to revolve around these devices and the games that were played on them.
I Didn’t Want to Be Left Out
As a fan of card games like Yu-Gi-Oh and the actual Pokemon card game, I loved strategy and challenge. However, I could never find kids at school to play trading card games with. I have to give credit to my dad for the countless hours he played with me using the decks I created for him. Since beating him was easy, I’d let the game go on even when his life points dwindled. I wanted to extend the competitive moment, to savor my victory, and to enjoy the game.
Video games seemed like the perfect platform for me, mentally and socially. I knew how to dedicate myself to the game, yet my parents wouldn’t relent and buy me a device. It wasn’t until 2nd grade when I told my teacher that I felt left out of social activities that my parents relented and got me a cobalt-shaded GBA. However, I didn’t play the games obsessively, I just wanted to understand the experience. I wanted to be a part of a world I didn’t quite understand.
If I was bored in between soccer or little league baseball practice, I’d play Advance Wars or Super Mario III. The games were fun but I didn’t always feel driven to play because I was surrounded by a loving family and friends. I also had other things to do during summer and school holidays.
I also had sports to take my competitive instincts out on. I wasn’t attracted to massive online games initially because my parents filled my head with stories of pedophiles and thieves on Club Penguin, a massive online game with customizable penguins.
In the summer before 3rd grade, I had my first real experience surrounding gaming. I had just received a Nintendo DS and Pokemon Diamond/Pearl had arrived. On the way to a day-camp, somebody issued the challenge that we all reset whatever progress we had in Pokemon and have a race to beat the Elite Four, the final challenge of the game.
With nearly three hours of bus ride per day, nine kids including myself played constantly to win. There wasn’t even a distinct award for winning. As I took my penguin type Pokemon and beat the Elite Four after the sixth attempt, I nearly threw my DS as I yelled “DONE!” Every kid stopped playing, looked at me, smiled, one congratulated me, and then continued playing. If I wasn’t so euphoric about beating the level, I should have noticed that my hard-won victory was so hollow.
My Father Moved Abroad
That January, my parents told me that my father was moving abroad for a year, then we’d join him. According to my mom, I took it pretty well. Before Dad left, he gave me a game called Big Bang Board Games. We played chess, checkers, connect-four, and backgammon online together while talking through Skype. I’d sit on our grey couch in the living room while propping my feet on the ottoman with the screen open.
Eventually, one of us suggested Disney’s Toontown Online, a MMORPG, with cupcakes and pies as weapons. I took the player tag AstrixAndObelisk127 after my favorite comic. Since, I didn’t have a full-time job (duh), I played more than my dad. When we played together, I felt happy and in control teaching my Dad how to beat the evil cogs, oblivious that the cogs represented businessmen and bankers.
Video games weren’t bad or even a distraction, they were a way to connect to my father nearly seven thousand miles away. Isn’t that great?
Then, I moved abroad. I attended an international school. In the north-east, I attended an all-boys school and wasn’t used to hanging around girls. Also, I was bullied by other kids in my expat school. When I did make friends, they could always leave later that year. There was no sense of permanence in my friendships. Despite the lack of social activity, it was in 4th grade that I found the sport I would play into college, squash.
I Started Playing Squash
Squash was fun for me because it was completely independent from school, and I had a great coach. However, on the hour bus rides to and from school, I still played with my DS. Despite playing some video games, I began to push my efforts into my studies. After seeing gradual improvement in the academic and sports fields, I moved away from video games. Nevertheless, a different problem appeared, YouTube.
I used YouTube as a method to stream anime and other cartoons online. I know that anime and certain cartoons aren’t video games, and I’m not recommending that people also shy away from those environments. However, I quickly developed a problem watching YouTube either in the night or while I was supposed to be working. Thus, I lost my iTouch and computer privileges, sometimes for months.
After receiving the devices back, I would still watch YouTube videos or play flash games on easily accessible sites like Miniclip or Armor games. I enjoyed flash strategy games like Time Wars or shooters like Raze, Sierra 7, or especially The Last Stand: Union City.
I enjoyed The Last Stand: Union City in particular because of its complexity. The idea of having to regulate food, sleep, supplies, weapons, and ammo in a zombie-fighting game was fascinating to me. The multitude of statistics and the rapid improvement of my character seemed so cool. Over the next six years, I would return to the game many times. In the future, Armor games served as a launching pad into deeper video game addictions.
I Suddenly Moved Back to the Northeast
Unexpectedly, I found out that I would be looking for schools to finish out the seventh grade. While I was accepted into two respectable schools, the K-12 school, I had attended before leaving the foreign country would not let me in despite my circumstances.
My mother and I were living in a micro apartment nearby said school for accessibility. My mom took the couch-bed and gave me the bedroom, so I could get a proper night’s sleep. I had an interview with my old school again and could finish out the rest of the 7th grade school year with one exception. I would need to take the standardized ISEE exam at the end of the year.
The realization that what I had taken for granted could be revoked along with the sudden displacement, compelled me to forget gaming and work.
From 7th to the beginning 8th grade, I worked hard, passing the entrance exam and learning a school year’s worth of information in three months. When I heard kids talking about the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed game, I ignored or scoffed at the idea of playing such games. That August, I even played in my first national squash tournament.
In high school, I struck a bizarre balance between my outward success and a gnawing addiction, which haphazardly came to the surface occasionally. I was a respected student with a 3.9 out of 4 GPA and beloved by some of the harshest humanities teachers in the school. I rose in the ranks of my school’s clubs and became president of a very elite club. I was considered a top national squash player. I was awarded a national prize for an essay I wrote. I then won an international prize.
I wasn’t normal, and I thought these results showed that being not normal was great. However, high school also had a different side.
Electronics and Video Games Plagued My High School Years
I didn’t have a smart phone, or any form of social media until January of my senior year. Out of my small graduating class, until that moment, only three other kids didn’t have smartphones, but only because they had broken theirs. At night, I vamped, or stayed up late, playing iPad games.
I stayed up to an average of three am to five am. Thus, I felt barely lucid in class at times and took naps every day. When I was caught by my parents, they removed my iPad privileges as well. It got to the point where as a junior and senior in high school, my mother or father would sit in a bean bag next to my bed until I fell asleep.
Even then, I would pretend that I was sleeping for an hour or two to use the device which I had hidden under my bed.
However, since I had the support of my parents and during the day, I worked during the day and vamped during the night. I was under constant watch to prevent me from doing anything stupid. When I got into my top ten college in May, I felt extremely happy. I quickly made many friends nearby who also were going to said college.
Over the summer, I decided to take part in a twelve-week long web development intensive program. The program also included nearly seven hours of computer science per day. I was working with adults who were trying to either turn their current careers around or receive CS degrees within twelve weeks.
It was very interesting figuring out how people had either lost a lot of their livelihood due to being distracted by games or by other means. As an eighteen-year old about to head to college, I was treated as the kid of the group. While I completed all the assignments, I also discovered two websites which allowed me to read an infinite number of comics.
Comics have always been an important aspect of my life. Comics were inspiration, entire worlds, and places to find safety and narrative. I rationalized my reading of comic books because they gave context to the rising media world around me. Also, they weren’t video games. However, when I was spending an equal amount of time reading comic books as working, I should have seen the problem clearly.
My productivity levels shifted depending on Wednesday – the day when new comics were released. When I asked myself why I did this, I thought that I deserved a break for working and that comics and video games provided a heroic narrative. However, comics and video games stopped being a break because they became the majority rather than the minority of what I did. They made me feel out of control and weak, which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
Going to College
When I initially got to college, I talked to tons of people and made new friends. However, I was still watching YouTube videos, especially Let’s Play videos. One day, after watching a Markiplier video on The Last Stand, I thought it would be fun to play. I noticed that they had added two new levels of difficulty: hardcore, or permadeath; and head shot only mode, self-explanatory.
Earlier in the day, I had been ignored by two of my friends. I thought it would be a fun challenge after my classes appeared to be relatively easy. I played for about 6 hours before I lost all my progress on the character by dying once. As other gamers might understand, it was a Dark Souls level predicament.
The next day and the next, I played to beat the achievement. After three days of playing, and missing a squash practice, I beat the game. Only to realize I had forgotten to turn on hardcore mode. I decided to try something else.
In high school, I had downloaded but never gotten to try out Steam. I re-downloaded Steam and played Team Fortress 2 (TF2) a multiplayer game, which I had seen played by a YouTuber named Muselk. For three weeks, alternating between TF2 and Modern Warfare 3, I played nearly 5-7 hours a day. I even bought SuperHot a newer game. I became more reclusive, I stopped eating breakfast and overeating dinner. I still attended classes, but I didn’t complete any assignments on time.
When my mother tried to Facetime me, I was loud, rude, tried to get off the phone, and even blamed her for my lack of productivity. I was incredibly depressed and gained weight as well. By the time I realized how far I had fallen, there were only three weeks of classes left.
I Told My Parents That I Needed Help
I told them the truth of what I was doing even though I was really embarrassed because I thought they would get mad. They didn’t get mad; my parents just wanted to know what had been possessing me during college and why I had done those things. I wanted to know why I had done those things, too.
My mother flew to the school and for two weeks worked with me through my finals. I still got pretty bad grades, but I didn’t flunk out. I deleted all of the video games off my computer and iPhone. YouTube and comics acted as conduits into that world, so I stopped visiting those sites as well.
I began meditating using Headspace after seeing an ad. I realized that if I truly wanted to be rid of video games, I needed to end fantasy and learn how to interact with the world even when it’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, abusive, and non-validating. Ultimately, life is based around one’s tangible relationships and one’s ability to cope with the difficulties of life. Instead of going to a virtual world, I am learning how to stay with that occasional feeling of disappointment or anger and process it.
Instead of listening to Let’s Play videos, I’m watching movies and going to museums with friends, and I’m doing my work. Instead of looking for video game achievements, I’m planning out my next semester in college. It’s way better, but I’m still fighting curiosity for gaming culture and reorienting my wacked up fantasy oriented brain to reality. I’ll be fighting my addiction, not zombies.
My name is Luxo, and I’m a recovering video game addict. I look forward to reading your stories as well and getting to know you in the future. Look to see my journal, and I’ll be sure to be reading yours’ too. Thank you.