For many of us, games are an important, welcome escape. They give us social and creative outlets, provide temporary distractions from anxiety, and offer a little happiness when it’s otherwise hard to come by. But escapism can be harmful, particularly when we use it to avoid our problems and disengage from our lives.
Writing for The Rumpus last year, Janet Frishberg shared the story of games that helped her escape — and then let her keep avoiding the challenges around her for far longer than she wanted.
I told my then-boyfriend about my fingers going numb from holding my phone in the exact same position for so long and he laughed in this explosive way where his face crumpled up, which meant I’d surprised him. He said, “Oh my god, you’re so cute,” and turned his head to the side to laugh at me more, his stomach tensing under my hands. But it wasn’t cute that there was, again, a game I couldn’t stop playing.
I don’t want to tell you what it’s called, but it’s free and it’s on my phone. Let’s call it The Game. Even now, writing this, I’d rather be playing The Game, when, according to most people who know me, I love writing. But playing The Game is easier than writing.
There was one weekend last year I went on a bender, playing The Game for hours both days. After I finally closed the app, I couldn’t look at anything, people I loved, the church outside my house, without seeing screenshots of The Game wallpapered thinly over them. In late April, I drove to a week-long camping trip in the desert; The Game was a film over my eyes. When I closed my eyelids at night in my tent, I could still see the pixels of it in the moonless dark. I don’t want to tell you that at least one night during that week, I played it for a few minutes in my quiet tent, to help myself fall asleep, away from cell phone reception and the sounds of the city.
There are always things that need doing in the hours outside of work. Plane tickets to buy before they get more expensive. Scarves to knit, books to read, stories to write, a book to edit, a house to clean, laundry to do. I could fucking volunteer, or talk with a friend who’s having a hard time, or exercise, something I claim I can’t find time for. Instead, often, I’d rather play this game. Not constantly, but a lot more than I’d like to admit.
I could uninstall it from my phone, like I did to the last one. But I don’t want to.
With periods of respite, I’ve been this way for a long time.
Internet Gaming Disorder is still controversial, but it’s safe to say that if you read Frishberg’s full article and find you feel the same about your gaming habits as she does hers, they may be doing you more harm than good.
If that’s the case, consider talking to a professional if you have the means. Whether it’s a matter of managing an unhealthy habit or dealing with the underlying issue that you’re escaping from, a therapist you trust may be able to help.