At their best, games can be a healing experience or a good distraction when we need one. At their worst, they can devour our time and leave us feeling awful.
Writing for Let’s Play Video Games, Laura Dale explains how No Man’s Sky became that game for her — the one that started off well, but turned into something unhealthy. It’s an experience a lot of us can probably relate with, when ‘one more quest’ becomes ‘just until I finish this area,’ to ‘I can deal with responsibilities later,’ and finally, ‘how did I throw away an entire day on this?’
For Dale, the experience was exacerbated by what she describes as obsessive tendencies related to Asperger’s Syndrome. Depression can also lead to similar self-sabotaging behavior, as can other mental health issues.
Here’s how she describes the experience:
The problem is, the simple mission I had set myself very quickly got more complicated, with time to complete it growing exponentially due to the procedural elements at play.
At this point I was roughly three hours late on my initial schedule for when I would stop playing NMS and start podcast editing. I began stressing about how far behind schedule I was, but was also acutely aware that quitting NMS before reaching my objective would stress me out even more. The concept of skipping a job I had planned to do stresses me out greatly, even when I logically know that jumping to the next job is the most sensible thing to do.
I found myself hyperventilating, getting light-headed, and making mistakes. The fact I was making mistakes in these repetitive routines, and not doing them correctly as I had before made me even more stressed. The more stressed I became, the more invested I became in the idea of completing the quest ahead of me in order to relieve it. The procedural nature of No Man’s Sky meant there were no guides or walkthroughs available to help me progress, and no indicator of how much longer my quest would last.
As Dale goes on to explain, No Man’s Sky isn’t at fault. It’s designed to be engaging, just like most games are. Someone else might find they can’t put down World of Warcraft, or Civ V, or DOTA 2. It’s just a matter of which gameplay loops hook us the hardest and how easily we can walk away.
If you don’t feel like you can walk away, that’s when it’s most important to find a solution — even if you need a little outside help to get there.