Video game addiction may not be an officially recognized condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), but most addiction experts wouldn’t deny its existence. The DSM-5 lists Internet gaming addiction as a condition that warrants more evidence before it can be formally recognized, but it’s widely expected to be fully included in the future, and other countries (such as South Korea) have already begun taking the condition seriously. This is a complex issue for psychologists, but much more so for the gamers: how are you supposed to know you’re struggling with an issue if there isn’t an official set of criteria? A Reddit user, posting on the League of Legends (an online game with over 27 million daily players) section of the website, tells his story of online gaming addiction in the hopes of helping others recognize when their playing is becoming a problem.
Michael Murphy (not his real last name) doesn’t pull punches when telling others about his issue. “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.” He points out that he was once a normal gamer, with a healthy social life and a pleasant home environment, who played games alongside real-world sports and headed off to college with hopes of one day attending law school. He points out that he went through “phases of extreme introversion” when he became engrossed in a game, from soccer games like FIFA to other online games like RuneScape. League of Legends was just the most recent game that dragged him away from ordinary life. He describes the game as extremely fast-paced, with individual matches lasting from 20 minutes to just over an hour, and points out that it would take thousands of play hours to master. According to Michael, the game is very social and he even spoke to fellow players through Skype. The first player he spoke to hated his job and had just broken up with his girlfriend over the excessive amounts of time he was spending on the game. He offered Michael a piece of advice in that conversation: “Quit this game. It’s awesome, but it can also take over your life.” He took it as a joke, but he realized he shouldn’t have. He never played a single game of League of Legends and left it at that. He recalls, “I would spend hours behind my screen, so many that I bought eye drops to keep my eyes from itching to the point where I couldn’t play. Half the floor was covered with dirty laundry. … My room was full of reeking bowls of leftover Ramen Noodles, now crusted and inedible, and red Solo cups full of old SpaghettiOs.” The game was always on his mind. He’d go to sleep thinking about it and watch streams of other players while he waited for his shower water to heat up. His best friend from high school had stopped calling him because he knew there would be no answer. He says he knows it sounds extreme, but points out that the same pattern of behavior has been documented in many people. After looking around his room, he realized that something wasn’t quite right and Googled “gaming addiction.” What he learned was a wake-up call. He deleted the game from his computer. He comments that “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 [and] my showers take half the time they used to because I don’t waste time finishing a stream even after the water has warmed.”
Recognizing Online Gaming Addiction Is the First Step to Recovery
Michael’s story shows how ordinary, casual gaming can deepen into an addiction and touches on several key points. His eating habits, personal hygiene, social life and college responsibilities took a big hit as he became more and more immersed in the virtual world. It wasn’t until he stopped and took a hard look at his life that he realized what was wrong, and that’s what he was hoping to help others do with his post. He acknowledged that most players wouldn’t have the same experience he did (and obviously felt nervous about making such a critical post to a dedicated fan community), but closed his story with: “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.”