This post is authored by Gene Grella of ProPositivity, a website dedicated to helping spread awareness for mental health and mental health resources.
When I was young, I enjoyed playing video games. I enjoyed games like Call Of Duty, Madden, Battlefield, and various other Xbox games. I felt that as long as I was playing with friends, that it was not a negative impact on my life. Due to the social nature of the sessions.
When I entered High School the gaming stalled a bit. I was busy with after school activities, and weekend adventures. But once college took over my life I felt that I could use gaming as a way to relax after long days. It seemed to workout as long as I maintained my course work, and was still being social.
Once I graduated from college, my stance on video games seemed to shift. I was working my first full-time job, and I felt I needed more relaxation time, and thus, more video games. As I played, I began to feel a need to play for more and more hours looking to accomplish that next feat or continue my win streaks. It grew to a point where I would play games every day after work, often until 2 or 3 AM.
Over the course of the next few months I started to focus all of my time and energy on getting better at League of Legends, and accomplishing my goals of climbing the ranked ladder. But with all of this time spent, I started to grow a very unhealthy video game addiction.
Having seen gaming addiction first-hand I can tell you it doesn’t happen out of nowhere, and there are some pretty telling signs along the way.
Emotion 1: Excitement
As is true for many gamers, the first emotion that I experience when I start one of my gaming binges is always excitement. On Sunday mornings, I would grab my coffee, turn my phone to mute, and would get my favorite snack in preparation for a long day of gaming. I remember feeling my heart race as I logged in and queued up for the first game of the day. The excitement would peak after a couple of consecutive wins..
The key to many games is to trigger a rush of dopamine (Related: How Gaming Affects Dopamine Reward Circuitry) which only feeds into the video game addiction as you begin to play and begin to excel. Once you get your first win of the day, they reward you with a “first win bonus” which incentivizes you to login everyday and get that “first win”. For me, the first win of the day was an awesome feeling, and I would carry this excitement into my next matches, starting a “streak” of wins in a row. Each win adding to that overall excitement.
Unfortunately, these win streaks didn’t last, and neither did my excitement.
Emotion 2: Diminishing Joy
The feeling of your first couple of wins is always exhilarating. Your blood starts flowing and your mood is lifted as you work to get more and more wins. As you play for 3 to 4 hours, this excitement starts to dwindle. You begin to start playing sloppy and start blaming your teammates for “not playing their positions right”.
But the truth of the matter is; the feeling you had a few matches ago just doesn’t exist anymore. Sending your mood into a downward trajectory as you begin to get annoyed by yourself and your teammates.
As you continue to play, game after game, you realize that you’re not winning as much as you want to be. No win streak is long enough, and nobody wants to end on a loss. As you continue to play, your joy per win is diminished as you continue to chase that original high.
Emotion 3: Tilt
Sure enough, around hour 6-7 of your binge you may start to feel rage. Maybe around hour 8-9 you start to flame your teammates. Whether we like it or not, we inevitably tilt. Tilt is a term originating from poker, for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.
You begin to die many times, blaming the game for being imperfect or blaming your teammates for playing poorly. You start to feel bad, angry, and aggressive, so you have to let everyone know that this game is trash and that if it worked correctly you wouldn’t be losing.
I for one have found myself yelling at my teammates in the least toxic manner while telling everyone in my discord channel that the yasuo top lane is the worst player that’s ever graced league of legends. It happens, and we must learn that this is not healthy.
This tilt is a matter of spending an entire day behind a screen with your eyes glued to the monitor. You simply do not have the focus to perform the tasks as well as you did in hours 1-5. You are also on an emotional rollercoaster at this point of high highs and low lows. This is what fuels the video game addiction.
Emotion 4: Despair/Hope
I put despair and hope in the same category for one simple reason: in this scenario they go hand in hand. As tilt sets in you begin to lose match after match. The video game addiction is consuming you and you’re hitting your emotional rock bottom.
Until you win a match, which once again fills you with this feeling of being able to achieve the highs that you hit 8 hours ago.
In hour 10-12 you are drained mentally and you are almost ready to call it quits. Despair sets in even more as you don’t want to admit the game beat you. So, you continue playing, until eventually around hour 12-15, you inevitably have to stop.
Emotion 5: Regret/Bargaining
Your binge has ended. You are lying in bed. You feel the shame and regret of another day wasted by the grind of this game. You want to change, you want your life to be different, but on the other hand you feel as though if you just study more, or watch more youtube videos you might improve or discover something new. You just need to invest more into it to get as much as others get out of it. Which only continues to lead back into the vicious cycle.
The regret sinks in as you stop gaming as quickly as the excitement sunk in as you began. You regret not being good enough but you also regret how you’ve spent the last 12-1 hours.
You know that what you have done is unhealthy, and you know you want to change, but you don’t know how.
Healthy Gamer and Propositivity
I am an avid gamer, and I have played games my whole life. After my most recent binge period, I realized what I was missing out on. I was missing out on helping others through my organization Propositivity.
Propositivity is an organization who’s purpose and mission is to spread mental health awareness and get people in touch with the resources they need to get better.
Healthy Gamer directly aligns with our mission as they try to help gamers maintain a healthy level of gaming while they achieve more than they thought they could prior. They help through coaching, discord conversations, and direct courses that aim to turn the binge-gamer into a healthy gamer, capable of achieving their life goals. I personally believe this organization is fulfilling a need and feel that, with their help, an addicted gamer may be able to find some joy in moderation.
If you are interested in more information about mental health and Propositivity, read my article about video game addiction.
And if you are interested in treating your video game addiction, I encourage you to continue researching Healthy Gamer and continue pursuing your dreams.