Be honest with yourself: are you or have you ever been addicted to video games?
Now, I don’t mean that you like to play games a lot, that you have 1000+ hours on Fortnite, or that your gamerscore is above 100,000. What I’m asking is have you ever had an overwhelming need to play video games to the point where you cannot function without them, and that you’ll put off important tasks just to get your digital fix?
Recently, the Chinese state media declared that video games were a form of “spiritual opium,” using the comparison to the harmful narcotic to argue the reasoning behind their strict regulations on the industry within the country. After the report, shares for the Chinese gaming companies Tencent and NetEase plunged by nearly 10% on the global market.
This isn’t the first accusation that video games can have an addictive quality to them; the World Health Organization even declared in 2018 that playing video games compulsively is a mental health disorder.
I’ve always been a strong advocate for video games, arguing against the negative statements the press often likes to hurl at the hobby, but I can’t help but admit that, deep down, I have felt the effects of video game addiction.
I remember when I was in college–more than a decade ago now–putting off not just sleep but even skipping class because I was so hooked on grinding out another level on World of Warcraft or ranking up in Halo 3’s online multiplayer. With every win and every quest completed came a surge of exuberating joy knowing that I was one step closer to being the best; every time I lost, the push to win just one more time made it too hard to shut the machine off and step away.
I eventually would step away, of course, but the classmate whose dorm room was right across the hall from mine never made it to his Sophomore year, largely due to obsession with online first-person shooters. It’s frightening in a way, looking back, at how close I came to sharing a similar fate.
Every now and then, remnants of those compulsive sessions worm their way back to me in the present. It’s never been so serious that I may lose my job or ruin my marriage or anything like that, but if I said I never lied or skipped a meal to get a little more gaming done then, well, let’s just say my pants would be burnt to a crisp by now.
It’s easy to dismiss statements about video game addiction as a myth, that it’s just some outsiders who don’t know the difference between GTA and Super Mario Bros., as some vengeful way of tearing up our whole community. It’s even easier to laugh it off as something that may happen to other people, but it could never happen to me, but isn’t that what alcoholics do all the time?
The point is, truly consider if your video game playing habits are disruptive at all to your everyday life. You may be fully enjoying the latest RPG from Japan, but are your long gaming sessions putting distance between you and your loved ones? Is your casual streaming interfering with your larger responsibilities? Is the Chinese state media wrong about comparing video games to an opiate, and if so, how far off base are they actually? I’d love to hear your (genuine) thoughts on this matter.