I always thought of myself as a calm, collected individual. I never got into any fights. I never cursed at people who argued with me. I have never even so much as thrown a punch that wasn’t made with the press of a button. I was the guy who always maintained levelheadedness while keeping a smile on his face. Unless I was playing a video game.
Video games have played a big role in my life. I can still remember when, on my fifth birthday, my grandfather got me my first gaming console: The Nintendo NES. There were many games that came out for the NES, but the one game I played consistently was Super Mario Bros. The princess may have always been in another castle, but I would spend countless hours searching for her. As the years went by, and the pixel amount doubled in size, my addiction would grow. My middle school years were plagued with daydreams of playing Silent Hill and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. By the time I had reached High School I was graduating to games like Halo and Call of Duty 2. In college, if I wasn’t in class I was having marathon game sessions of Gears of War. I thought I was happy playing these games. Yet unbeknownst to me, a pattern had emerged. I, much like my games, was starting to get more and more violent.
It started off innocently enough. I would fail a mission or lose a life and I would grunt and mutter four letter words under my breath. But as I got more obsessed with beating each game I owned, I felt my anger rising. Soon I was kicking the couch, throwing my controller on the floor, and yelling my frustrations to any and all who could hear me. If my parents heard, I was scolded and they would take my video game away temporarily. But not even that could tame the beast within. I found myself stuck in front of a television screen or a computer monitor for hours at a time hoping to obtain all the collectables, or to complete the missions within a certain time or even just to unlock a silly achievement with meaningless point values. I may have been older, but I was still the five year old boy who just wanted to save the princess. Failure was not an option for me.
The moment I hit rock bottom with my addiction was when I knowingly lied to my (now ex) girlfriend and told her that I couldn’t make it to her sister’s wedding because I was “feeling sick”. The real reason was that I wanted to finish the single player campaign of a game on its hardest difficulty. There I was, sitting alone in my apartment moving pixels on a screen with a controller instead of going out and having a good time with loved ones. When I realized what I had done, I truly did feel sick. There was no big trophy or medal waiting for me at the end of these games. After I turned the power off, nothing I accomplished fictionally made a difference in the real world. I was a grown man wasting his life on a fragmented piece of my childhood.
After having a long talk about my addicting with both friends and family members, I sold my consoles and games. I never wanted to look at another video game, and I thought a forced exile was the best medicine for my sickness. That was three years ago. Now I feel a sense of balance in my life. I have not given up video games completely like I thought I would. I have some game apps on my iPod that are fun to play while killing time. I even own a couple PC games. But with a growing social life and side projects to occupy my time, I am happy to say that I have not fallen back to my old ways.
The game may have been over, but I was willing to press restart.