How One Writer Overcame His Need for Video Game Completion

Above: Sony’s real-life platinum trophy, a reward for winning its Platinum Hunters challenge.

As part of its On Edge series about the particular stresses of life in 2017, Motherboard delved into video game completionism. There’s nothing wrong with getting a platinum trophy — the DSM-5 doesn’t include “mastered a dozen video games” in its diagnostic criteria for anything — but for Matthew Gault, the author of this piece, an obsession with completing Fallout 3 became a clear warning sign that something wasn’t right.

I stripped the Talon soldiers of every spare scrap of clothing, every weapon, and every bit of ammo. Once I could carry no more, I teleported to a township, sold everything off, then went back for more, systematically moving through the corpses of the fallen to strip them of their gear to sell them for cash I didn’t really need. I don’t know how many hours I spent doing this, but it was too many. Even for a completionist, this level of compulsion was overkill.

In the sewers of Fallout 3, pawing through another set of clothing that’d sell for a pittance, I stopped and looked around my apartment. I had no idea where my wife was, I was stoned out of my mind, and I had a full shift the next day at a retail job I hated. Yet here I was, in front of a glowing screen, not dealing with my problems. I’d settled for the small dopamine—the brain’s reward neurotransmitter—kick that comes from accomplishing quick repetitive tasks in a video game.

Gault goes on to talk to experts about the ways we use games as coping mechanisms. There’s a difference, they explain, between turning to games to relieve temporary stress or anxiety and obsessively spending time in games to avoid our real-life woes.

One of those experts, psychologist Doug Gentile, explains his thoughts on how that behavior can lead to addiction.

He explained that using video games to cope is a negative coping strategy. That doesn’t mean it’s bad necessarily, just that it’s a coping strategy that helps you avoid your problems rather than facing them. “After controlling for other negative coping strategies, if they use games as a coping strategy, there’s still a higher chance for addiction,” he said. “It does look like it’s something about choosing games to cope can set you on a path to addiction. We don’t know causality here, but it’s possible that it could set up people to be addicted.”

Gault also shares the strategies he’s developed for engaging with large games in a healthy way, though they’re not foolproof. After realizing that a brief flirtation with Star Wars Battlefront II was turning into an obsessive need to keep filling up progression bars, he had to uninstall the game entirely.

With games increasingly designed to wear down our self-control, Gault’s story is an important reminder to watch for the signs of getting too deep into a game. Head over to Motherboard to read the full article.

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