Kotaku’s Mike Fahey has written a candid and powerful article about his Everquest addiction – one of the worst cases I’ve seen – and how it nearly destroyed his life. It takes a lot of strength and courage to write something like this about oneself, and Mike’s story is as heartrending as it is personal.
I am on record as questioning the veracity of claims that games are addictive, and also on record as stating that addiction itself might not necessarily be so bad, but the truth is, as Mike’s article so eloquently describes, games can become habits and those habits can become pretty damn deleterious if you let them.
I guess the issue I have with the argument that games are “addictive” is the use of the word. Heroin, cigarettes, alcohol; these things are physically addictive, which is to say once your body becomes addicted to them, their absence causes physical symptoms. These addictions are perforce much harder to bring under control.
Reality television, marijuana, video games, and most other so-called “addictive” things are not physically addictive. They are emotionally addictive. You want them, but don’t need them. It may sometimes feel like you need them, but you don’t, not at a physical level. Alcoholics and heroin addicts can die if their substance is taken away abruptly. The same is not true for internet porn, as much as you might miss your spank material during cable modem outages.
So the issue I have is with semantics. I don’t question for a minute that games can become a serious habit, that what Mike Fahey went through in his Everquest period was as real and powerful as it was ruinous. I just get antsy when the word “addiction,” with all its hideous connotations, is used in conjunction with gaming. But in all honesty and conscience I can’t realistically claim that it doesn’t exist for games; it’s just not the same as the addictions that can kill you… as demonstrated by Mike, who went through hell and pulled himself out of it. And while I guess that someone lacking his strength could theoretically waste away in front of their computer, it wouldn’t be the games that did the deed.
I myself have developed an addiction to Demon’s Souls. Not in the sense that I can’t tear myself away from it or I’m going to lose my house over it, but in the sense that it’s like an abusive spouse I keep returning to again and again even though it beats me. And much like an abused spouse, I can’t explain why I’d subject myself to this punishment, why I don’t learn from history, but that’s where I’ll be after work: in the Shrine of Storms, getting my ass handed to me. In 50 hours I have made essentially no substantive forward progress; I’m dead and I’ve been dead since the beginning of the game (being dead in Demon’s Souls is sort of like the Tupac version of being dead, it doesn’t affect your activities that much), I’ve only killed a couple of minor bosses, and I’m showing no signs of getting better. But there I am, and there I’ll be, until someone comes to my rescue. Hopefully my rescue will be Borderlands.
Position on games as addictive substances notwithstanding, Mike Fahey’s article deserves special mention and notice. Kotaku isn’t really hurting for visitors, but this is something everyone should read, if only to recognize and salute a writer with the extraordinary courage to lay bare his soul in such a manner.