Online Gaming Addiction Part 1 – My Experience


This is a guest post by Professor Beej. This is part 1 of 3.

I wrote an article a few years ago regarding my experience with online gaming addiction.  Last month, I even posted that I had cancelled World of Warcraft yet again, and now I am backsliding again.  My main problem is that I absolutely love any game that is massively multiplayer online (MMO), and I have since I was 15.  These games give me a sense of growth and community that I adore. I just cannot find that in single-player games.  The driving force in these games is a quantifiable increase in the power of your character through various types of progression (weapons and armor or abilities) that appears to affect the game world itself. Unfortunately, most MMOs directly link this character progression with time spent in-game, thus making casual gameplay impossible if a player wishes to experience the highest levels of the game.  With my schedule these days, I generally can’t justify scheduling massive amounts of time to raid or PvP; however, I find myself still logging onto World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online even after I convince myself that it is in my best interest to cancel my subscription.

In the last month alone, I have reactivated my subscriptions to World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, as well as started new accounts with the Free2Play games Luminary, Free Realms, and Runes of Magic. I know I don’t have time to play a single MMO to its fullest, yet I have been hopping back and forth through 4 (RoM is still downloading, and I have yet to try it), trying to get whatever fix it is that I feel I need. While it’s not a physical addiction, it is a mental one; my thoughts constantly and involuntarily wander to these games and things I “need” to do in them, even when I am out doing something entirely unrelated.

And that’s the crux of it.  It is an addiction I have little control over.  I always think I can control the amount of time I spend in an MMO, but when I log in and start chatting with friends and seeing all the good times I’ve been missing out on, I set new goals in my head that I start working toward when I know that I have no reason for or time to realize. I am so set in a certain playstyle in World of Warcraft that even when I try to play it casually, I can’t.

I was talking to my roommate about this a week or two ago, and we came to the conclusion that it stems from that we (my close-knit group of friends) have always taken gaming seriously and consistently stay at the top-end of any game we decide to play seriously. We generally don’t game to have fun; we game to win.  And that’s fine as long as one’s lifestyle can facilitate it like ours could in college, but now, we’re out of school and have professional careers and other responsibilities which make scheduling twelve to fifteen hours of weeknight raiding almost impossible.  I’ve played WoW since the first week of release in November 2004 on the same server with the same people, and I have become deeply rooted into a certain playstyle in those four and a half years.

Simply “going casual” (at least in WoW) is not an option for me. I assume this is the case for many MMOers who are struggling with finding the balance between their chosen fantasy world and real life.  I want to try Runes of Magic because I will be starting fresh in a game, thus allowing myself to dictate a new playstyle, as well as not feeling compelled to get my money’s worth from the subscription fee.  If a Free2Play game like RoM doesn’t do the trick, then I will likely PvP on WoW in hopes that the mysterious battleground revamp in Patch 3.2 will allow for more casual progression.  If not that, then I am going to have to rethink my MMO career.

I don’t know about other people, but I know how I became conscious that MMOs are an addiction for me.  I found this out through a few painful years where my social life and family life started going to hell. The prime reasons that brought my MMO addiction to light were that I would limit time with my family and friends based around a raid schedule, or I would ask my girlfriend to stay away from me for a few days while I would grind out the rest of my PvP armor or get my new alt leveled.  I haven’t regressed that far in around three years, thankfully, but I am sure there are people who still struggle with this on a daily basis.

These days, I know I’m still addicted because I truly enjoy myself while I’m playing, even losing track of time because I am so immersed in the fantasy world, but when I get finished and log out, I feel hollow and unfulfilled. I think of a dozen other things I could have been doing that would have been more productive.  I even sometimes get a sick feeling in my stomach that stems from disgust in my having given in yet again.

MMOs keep me from really enjoying my other hobbies and interests, too.  I keep a journal of all the books I read.  I started when I was in college, and I think it’s something interesting to keep track of.  In this journal, there are sometimes months-long gaps in my list where I don’t have any new books listed at all except for audiobooks (which I listen to while I drive to and from work/school, so they don’t get affected by my online gaming at home). For an English teacher, I think that’s pretty pathetic. I joke around with people that those are my WoW breaks from life, but the sad truth is that they are.  This particular sign of my addiction doesn’t affect anyone but me, but the effect it has on my ego is actually pretty significant.  I’ve been reading the same 400 page paperback for at least three weeks because I’ve been up too late playing an MMO of some kind than to even read my customary chapter before bed, much less spend part of an evening reading for entertainment.

On the other side of the media spectrum, I feel my MMO playtime impacts my enjoyment of television and movies.  I sit down occasionally to watch a movie at home, but I feel bad because even though my roommate goes and rents at least three movies a week from Blockbuster’s new releases, I rarely sit down and watch even one.  I am usually too involved in something online, most likely an MMO.  My DVR will sit idle during my stints on World of Warcraft, piling up hours of television I want to watch but can never dedicate the time to.  I end up deleting shows off my DVR to make room for other shows that I might or might not eventually get around to watching.  And I always feel bad about this because I hear other people talking about how fantastic so-and-so show is but cannot join in on that conversation. And anyone who knows me realizes how hard it is for me to stay out of a conversation.

Right now, there are thirteen episodes of C.S.I. and eight episodes of Pushing Daisies on my DVR waiting for me to watch them.  Not to mention the library of one-shots and documentaries I record because the guide info makes them look interesting.  I still have half a season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to finish, too.  Yet lately, when I find myself not writing, I am on an MMO doing something inane and pointless instead of catching up on things I had previously decided I would use my summer for. 

What a lot of this boils down to is willpower.  I’ve tried going cold-turkey on my MMO addiction, and I can’t do it.  Some people might have been able to break the habit like this, but seeing as how it is an entirely mental addiction, I don’t think I’m strong-willed enough for that path.  My mind always drifts back to healing an instance or a battleground if I’ve been “sober” too long, and I end up reactivating my account and feeling like I’m an awful human being for it.  I put in my information to re-subscribe, and I immediately get that sick feeling in my gut.  But I log in anyway, and start chatting and healing, and I lose myself for a few more hours.  If I can find a game that fulfills me on a casual basis and doesn’t make me neglect the life I am building for myself or make me feel bad about myself for giving in to the addiction, I will likely stick with it for a while, using it a step-down method of ridding myself from the addiction, rather than the cold-turkey method that just does not seem to work for me.

Because the fear of falling back in too deeply exists with any MMO I play, even free or casual ones, I always have to be vigilant for the signs that I am going too far in once more.  The entire reason for writing this post is because I can feel myself falling too far in already, and I needed to take a step back and think about my problem objectively before it gets bad enough to begin affecting my outside life again.  I don’t see a good reason to completely cut myself off from MMOs right now, as everything seems to be under relative control, but there is every reason to guard myself and place regulations on how much I play, which is why I am looking at the battleground revamp in World of Warcraft for casual gameplay or F2P games in general.

Gaming addiction is a very real problem, and I have seen firsthand how it can all but ruin a person’s entire life.  I have always been involved with gaming in some fashion, and I guess I always will.  It’s up to me, then, to realize the difference in reality and fantasy and put my real life ahead of my virtual one, and even put my other hobbies ahead of this one.  Anything to give this addiction less power over me.  It’s up to me to distance myself from the aspects of MMO gaming culture which have been harmful to me in the past.  I intend to use casual gameplay and Free2Play MMOs as a way to finally ween myself from my online gaming addiction like heroin addicts use methadone.  I may always play an MMO of some kind because I do truly enjoy for the genre, but I hope that eventually the impact the games have on my outside life is minimal compared to what it has been.

And that’s where I stand today with my problem.  It is definitely an ongoing battle.  I am even writing this with WoW idling in the background.  I am not trying to come across as someone who has beaten this addiction, far from it.  I want to come across as someone who realizes this is a very real problem for some people, and I would like to put my story out there in order to maybe help save someone the problems I went through.

So this is the first in a three-part series I am writing dealing with Online Gaming Addiction.  Part Two will focus on Signs and Symptoms I went through that should help easily identify gaming addicts.  Part Three will cover methods of beating the addiction (or attempting to, at least) once it’s recognized.

Image courtesy of stokfoto.

32 thoughts on “Online Gaming Addiction Part 1 – My Experience”

  1. I can appreciate the problems that can be faced, I also started WoW to escape issues in real life, and I have been tempted repeatedly to quit or lower my time spent to respectable levels, but have never followed through on it. Maybe, going to university this year make it easier. I do find with myself with far too much spare time, and more often than not find me spending it on WoW.

  2. Going to college actually made it harder on me, believe it or not. When I was at home, I had different things occupying my time, but when I went out on my own, the freedom caught up with me, and, well, you can see what is still happening above.

    I certainly hope that it helps you balance your time out better. For all the good that MMOs have brought into my life, there is just as much hardship that could have been avoided if I just had the willpower to make myself concentrate on things I needed to.

    Good luck!
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Parallels in LOST and Stephen King’s "The Dark Tower" – Part 1 – Narrative =-.

  3. Much like a bad drug, this game flows through my veins. I had to quit, cold turkey, only to return about 4 months later, from a state 1500 miles away. But I have held myself in check. I have not permitted myself to fall fatally into the flame wall of mmo play. The issue is that I don’t find real life as exciting. I love the rush of a new boss annihilated. I love progression. I love the urge to conquer a new stage of the game. Currently I am in a stage of limbo. I am almost refusing to play at all. I don’t want to “lose” myself into the game again, but what else is out there that is as fulfilling? I have a feeling that this autumn will see a surge of my play time again as the pull of the sun weakens its already tentative grip.

  4. I have a partner who lives with me who is the complete opposite of me in terms of gaming, she is an accountant and see’s the monthly fee and that’s about it.

    Their have been times when I pushed the limits of her ‘patience’, WOTLK was my first expansion I’d been through so the mad rush to get to 80 and start gearing up was on for me.

    I’d actually taken some holidays around that time so it was easier, she was at school and I was at home gaming. However when I hit 80, and I was getting the good gear I has slipped into the tradition of coming home and jumping on the game.

    It took a big argument to bring me back to reality and it has 🙂

    Luckily I am in a semi-casual raiding guild (3 nights a week) and I have a regular off night so my raiding nights are down to 2 which is manageable (for both my time but my RL commitments).

    Nice post mate, I personally dont think I’m addicted, I have an interest in the game and it is definately a release from my day-to-day work life, but it does not take priority over the rest of my life.

    I have also committed to my partner that when we decide to start our family that I will cancel my subscription and I plan to stick to that.

    If you truelly are causing yourself the stress and pain associated with your addiction than cold-turkey may be the only way to do it. You remove the temptations associated with casual play, I would even suggest getting rid of your account all together.

    In the end RL >>>>> WoW and nobody should forget it 🙂
    .-= Upyursh´s last blog .. is born =-.

  5. This is a timely post. No later than today was I looking to sell the “time spent levelling” my character…
    Having owned up to four accounts at one point, I’ve spent a lot of time and money in the game.

    The only activities I am currently involved in are stuffing my chars for pvp, and money making. My goal isn’t to play competitive pvp, but just having the best stuff possible. I somerimes wonder what the use is for this.

    The best way for me to stop is then to sell the accounts, because I can’t be bothered levelling yet another alt.

    I feel for you, mate, and I hope you’ll be able to achieve quitting for good!

  6. My husband and I both play WoW. I’m a regular raider in our guild and he’s more casual because of his work schedule. Our guild raids about 3X/week. There are times when it puts a strain on our relationship. He calls me to ask how my day is going on his breaks and I’m in Vent or killing something in Ulduar, not really paying as much attention to his call as I should. It upsets him, and we have fought about it once or twice.

    From personal experience, It is hard to stop. Especially when you have RL friends that play with you. My husband and his siblings (4 of them) have all played WoW at some point. It’s fun raiding with your friends. Plus, you meet other interesting people in-game. It’s comforting to come home from a long day at work, jump on WoW and have X number of people greet you and start asking you to do stuff with them.

    As far as quitting, I’ve gone on 1 or 2 month hiatus’ where I’ve kept the subscription but didn’t play. However, the feeling is always in the back of your head. That you just want to jump on to check your mail, or see what’s going on with your guild.

    The only thing I can tell you from personal experience is the longer you go without it, the easier it is to give it up. Go away on vacation and leave your lap top at home, or plan a weekend with friends sans computer. If you feel you’re biggest “fix” time is right after work, go out to dinner with co-workers or go see a movie after work instead of coming home and sitting in front of the computer.

    When you start acquating fun to other activities besides gaming you’ll soon realize the addiction doesn’t have as great a pull on you as you thought.


  7. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    @Upyursh: I tried cold-turkey, and it just doesn’t work for me. I think it’s part 3 of this that goes into why, but it’s basically because my mind always wanders back and I give in and reactivate my account or reinstall because it’s so easy. I’m trying a step-down method right now.

    @Mort: I agree. That’s why I am doing a step-down method on this one. If I can get used to not playing online games for a while, I will be fine, and as long as it’s there when I absolutely want to play, I am okay. I am basically trying to ween myself away from WoW by doing Wintergrasp when I can and maybe a PvP daily, but lately the daily has gone down the drain, so maybe it’s working.
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Parallels in LOST and Stephen King’s "The Dark Tower" – Part 3 – Course Correction and Ka =-.

  8. dude been there, still play too much, sort my work situation around my dang raid times…

    but as i’ve done and will do again…

    “no use QQ,in” for lack of a better term.

    Just cancel it. just stop. been there done it and will do it again, if it passes the threshold, then stop. cold turkey. “bye online friends and pixels, I have to go for a month, rl is kicking my rear end”.

  9. “I intend to use casual gameplay and Free2Play MMOs as a way to finally ween myself from my online gaming addiction like heroin addicts use methadone.”

    One of the differences here is that opiate addicts usually have a medical need to use methadone when they enter recovery, because it could be harmful to them to quit cold turkey.

    Quitting gaming cold turkey may be difficult for you, but it is not life threatening.

    But, if you are going to “replace” with F2P MMOs, then like many methadone users, you are only going to become addicted to the replacement.

    In the AODA field, complete abstinence is the goal, but the ways to get there differ. Some professionals believe in cold turkey, some utilize the “harm reduction model” (which would be what you refer to as the “step down method”). Regardless of the strategy, research shows that relapses are indeed a part of recovery, and that on average, a recovering addict will attempt to quit 6-7 times before successful.

    So, like I tell my clients when they relapse:

    1- Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s part of the process
    2- Don’t hide it
    3- Discuss it
    4- Discover the trigger
    5- Tweak the relapse prevention plan
    6- Move on
    .-= Syrana´s last blog ..Friday Funnies: Self-Diagnosis Time =-.

  10. @Upyursh: That’s exactly what’s helping right now. My girlfriend and I are preparing to get engaged, and I just finished my first academic year teaching. I am doing my best to get out of the MMO cycle because of those things, but 11 year old habits and timestinks are hard to break, especially when I have as many mental ties to the game as I do. If it weren’t for her, my job, and my family doing their best to keep me on the straight and narrow, I’d have backslid even worse than I have now, I’m sure of it.

    Oh, and I took a ballroom dance class in college, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life. If you haven’t the balls to do it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s fun!
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Online Gaming Addiction – Series of Guest Posts at World of Matticus =-.

  11. Fascinating article! I’m glad Syp linked it, and good luck all round! I’m also very impressed by the idea of the reading journal — I may have to start one of those myself, it’s a great idea. 🙂
    .-= Ysharros´s last blog ..Fat fingers =-.

  12. Addiction is a terrible thing. I just found one part of this article a little confusing. How is missing out on watching movies and tv such a terrible thing? They are just different forms of electronic entertainment. At least with an MMO there is some form of social interaction. I play WoW to have something to do so I don’t have to resort to watching television and watching movies.

  13. @Manatank: With me, it’s a little different. I’ve always been part of a very media oriented family and group of friends, where TV and movie marathons were a major part of our social outlet. With WoW and other MMOs, our in-person interaction went down in favor of chat channels.

    Also, I’m a college English instructor, so that makes it relatively pathetic that I’ve let my reading get behind, and on top of that, I am looking at specializing my Ph.D. in television and film, and that makes it doubly pathetic. So it’s not that it’s merely impacting one hobby for another, it’s actually impacting my chosen profession and academic productivity.
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Parallels in LOST and Stephen King’s "The Dark Tower" – Part 4 – Cycles and Salvation =-.

  14. Perhaps there needs to a program that helps people understand what it means to be addicted to on-line gaming. I am an alcoholic. I have AA, I don’t know about any program called GA (Game-aholics Anonymous). Alcohol got in the way of everything in my life. I didn’t go out, I stopped hanging with my friends, stopped spending time with my wife. It consumed hours & hours (I almost lost my wife, daughter & business).

    Addictions are progressive. It may not be that bad today, but it always get worse. The intention behind the actions in the begining were always honest and sincere. “I will only have one beer”, or “I will only be out for alittle while” – “I will start my WoW account but I will only play for a few hours” & “only on weekends” or “I’ll play only with my kid”. But the reality is that it is impossible to do just a little bit. You just can’t have a little taste. In time you will find that you are back at it just as you were or possibly worse.

    Another thing about addictions – You can’t beat them on your own. It took time but I learned that it was not possible to acheive sobriety on my own. I tried 8 years ago, it didn’t stick. I now have almost 3 years.

    Have you ever asked your self, “I think I have a problem with…?” Then you probably do. “Normal” people don’t ask themselves that…

  15. World of Warcraft does an excellent job of making the game extremely goal-oriented. Each time you kill a boss, you feel a sense of achievement for doing so…when you are handed that BiS epic, you feel like you earned it. This type of fulfillment isn’t even game-related, as it is life-related.

    Its very hard for some people to overcome this sense of achievement….my opinion, find another hobby that can fulfull this for ya. Thats what I did, and WoW became just a second-rate hobby that I do because its fun, but never becomes a priority over my RL.
    .-= Thales´s last blog ..The Descent into Madness, Part 2: Yogg-Saron =-.

  16. @Jeff: I wholeheartedly agree. That’s what made me really open up my eyes was that I was actually questioning my hobby. if it were under control, that would have never occurred.

    @Thales: I’m working on finding another hobby. I’m blogging which takes up a great deal of my free time, and I am finally working my way through seasons of TV shows and books I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages.

    On an up-note, I canceled my WoW account last night within an hour of being re-billed, so right now, I’m free of it for close to 25 hours now. I really hope it lasts.
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Choosing Sides in the Geek Wars =-.

  17. I would say I am responsibly addicted. I never fail to do any of my professional or family responsibilities in order to play WoW. But I am definitely addicted. And even at my “rate” or addiction it still sucks. There’s only one way for people with our personality to deal with it and that’s cold turkey. We’ll never be able to play it “casually,:

  18. @beej & Thales, good for you guys for recognizing the changes in a “normal life” and for taking action. It is not easy, and it takes a huge amount of courage!! Maybe find someone in your area that has the same gaming addiction and set a weekly coffee date to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly experiences you may or may not go through. Someone might need your help if you have had success. It will also help you stay away.

    @ Tubalcain, As for “reponsibly addicted”. Is that not an oximoron? You might be able to get to your professional and family responsibilities today (and I hope you always will). But with the progressive nature of addictions, those same responsibilities might actually get in the way for the game. Especially, if it’s a raid night or if you get involved with a guild that has high demands on your great playing abilities. Just be carfull & good luck!

    Regards to all,


  19. I’m with Tubalcain, responsibly addicted. I play a few hours every night and an hour or less every morning. This weekend was odd, wife was out of town, and I played pretty much all weekend. Felt bad about it in the long run. Got my chores done, but there are many things that are important that I could be doing. I’m quiting my profession after ten years and I should be looking for a job more actively than I am. I anticipate being laid off for months, maybe a year or so. I really am uneasy because I could easily spend all day playing WoW with absolutely nothing to show for it.

    Yes it’s better than drinking to death, but not much. People have died by spending so much time online they forget to actually drink water or sleep. And regarding the OP, is it that much worse than watching X amount of TV? If you spent 20 hours watching TV a week vs 20 hours playing WoW, which is better? I argue neither. We shuold be not be spending so much time online that it impacts our life.

    My wife and I want kids, I want a new career, a new job, etc. WoW gets in the way but these things take so long to establish, its hard not to argue that there aren’t huge voids in my life right now that can be filled by WoW. I look at my friends who are renovating their house or who have kids or do gardening or biking/exercise…what do we do? We sit in front of the computer and play this game. Often times I want more out of life but am unsure how.

  20. While there are people who can play these games responsibly, many cannot. If you’ve noticed the addictive traits in yourself, quit. Don’t fool yourself into thinking things will be different if you try a different game. If it’s an MMO, and you’re the addictive type, then it’s trouble. There is no MMO methadone.

    If you can’t quit for yourself, quit for the ones you love, or they may not stick around long. A game is cold solace when your bed is half empty.


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