For me, video games have always been a source of entertainment as well as an outlet. A couple of years ago, things took an unhealthy turn when I began using video games to numb myself and escape too much from reality. Given how video game disorders have recently become officially recognized, I am thankful that I took control of my gaming habit before it became too late.
Throughout 2017, I was experiencing an intense period of depression and nighttime anxiety, due to problems finding steady work as a freelance writer, a delicate relationship with my mother, and a gnawing sense of failure as a 26 year old. Some might say I was experiencing a “quarter life crisis”, but it felt like so much more than “I’m in my twenties and I’m freaking out”. It felt like my world and my potential had become so small that I wanted to escape the real world and stay in a virtual one.
As a result of this, I started to continuously buy and download various Kemco games and other mobile games. Soon, I sometimes found myself ignoring my need for food and water until I got really thirsty or my mother pointed out how I hadn’t eaten yet. I also sometimes stayed up late playing video games, thinking that I could tired myself out so my nighttime anxiety wouldn’t interrupt my sleep. The desire to keep playing video games was very strong, despite a chill I could feel settling in my bones, like my body was slowly being covered in frost or ice. My mood became irritable so that I snapped when my gaming was interrupted or when I was too frustrated with my mother or my writing career.
Meanwhile, my freelance writing career remained mostly unchanged while my creative writing suffered. I could still email article pitches, write them, and sometimes apply for writing gigs, but I could barely write down poetry. Since I mainly wrote about pop culture, sometimes I could channel the passion or energy I got from playing video games into my freelance writing career. The same could not be said for my poetry, which required an immense deal of emotional energy that I didn’t feel like summoning.
Ironically, it was my creative writing that made me realize how unhealthy my gaming habit had become. In the fall of 2017, I managed to channel my depression into my first fantasy short story after months without creative writing. A week later, I had written my first sci-fi poem after being inspired by the music of Janelle Monáe. Both of these projects made me realize how much I missed creative writing and how my unhealthy gaming habit had negatively affected it.
Starting in 2018, I began to invoke my mother’s old gaming rule and forbid myself from gaming until the weekend. During the week, I started to journal out the feelings that gaming and depression had numbed away. In place of daily gaming, I also started reading for pleasure and submitting book reviews to an old column that I revived. While I could feel myself starting to thaw out from depression, I could also feel my frustration and anger bubbling just below the surface.
Without video games as a stress reliever, I started getting into more fights with my mother and having emotional outbursts. This continued until the summer of 2017, when my older sister said that I needed an outlet. Writing wasn’t enough because sometimes it amplified the intense emotions I felt. It was then that I realized that there was a difference between using video games to temporarily relieve negative emotions and using them to not feel anything.
Since then, I’ve developed a healthier gaming habit. When I play during the week, I trick my brain so that I don’t overdo my video game playing and sometimes play relaxing, low-stress games like Stardew Valley. During the weekend, I make sure to take breaks, drink plenty of water, and eat when I’m hungry. Gaming can be self-care but you have to remember to take care of yourself while you do it.4