Video games have been my life for the past 26 years; I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t play. From the Nintendo Entertainment System to today’s powerhouse consoles, I’ve played and owned them all. But my gaming habit has a darkside. One that has made me lose friends, relationships, and even flunk out of college (twice). It’s a side that many gamers probably have and just don’t realize how big of a problem it really is.
The darkside I speak of is addiction – not an addiction to gaming, but an addiction to a specific game that eats hundreds of hours, causes you to sacrifice things you’d be ashamed to admit, and causes you mental, physical and emotional pain. These are my stories of when it happened to me: how I acted, what I gave up, and how I dealt with the consequences of those actions.
Please, while reading this article, keep in mind that these are MY experiences. Not all gamers act the way I did. Some are worse, and some are just mild, compared to my own.
Back in 2005, I didn’t own a computer, I had never touched an MMO, and I had never felt like I was addicted to a game in my life, but that all changed in the fall of that year when I started playing World of Warcraft at a friend’s house. That first time I played, I rolled an undead warlock named Spiegle. After choosing the exact body and head I wanted for my character, I was thrown into Azeroth. From the moment my character spawned into the starting area I was awestruck. Enchanted by this huge world that was laid out in front of me, the adventures that awaited had me giddy with excitement. I spent the next eight hours killing spiders, doing quests, and earning experience to get to the next level. If I had known then that those eight hours would change my life so drastically, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen to do what I did next.
I was hooked on a game for a computer that required a monthly service. Here I was without a PC, little to no money in my pocket, and shoddy internet. So I did what I assumed any normal person would do in this situation: I began selling my stuff to get money to buy a PC, the game, pay for the monthly fee, and upgrade my internet. This should have been my first warning sign that something was wrong. I sold video games, Magic the Gathering cards, action figures, and comic books all at extremely low prices. After I had rid myself of all the things I felt I could part with I had about 600 dollars in my pocket. It was enough for the PC but I was still short for everything else. So in a very low moment in my life, I began to steal from my place of employment. I had found an ingenious way to take money from the cash register with no one ever finding out. It worked – after three weeks of stealing, I had enough for everything. Two weeks later, DSL was installed at my home, a brand new Gateway computer sat on my desk, with World of Warcraft installed and a year of playtime on my account. I was happier than ever.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit here. I don’t think any of you really want to hear about me playing the game, and it’d be boring if I told you every time I booted in, so we’ll pick up about six months later in the Spring of 2006. By that time, I was a lvl. 60 human warlock, playing from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. I would call out of work sick to play, I had begun skipping classes just to go home and play. I was full-fledged addicted.
It was around this time that my friends started to think something was wrong, but I couldn’t see what they meant. I was fine, I didn’t have a problem, I could stop whenever I wanted. It finally took my best friend at the time to tell me that he thought he was losing me as a friend to a computer game. That single act caused me to open my eyes and fully see the problem for what it was. Immediately I stopped playing World of Warcraft and swore it off for good.
Little did I know that ‘for good’ only meant until January of 2007.
The first expansion for World of Warcraft was released on January 16, 2007. It’s a day I’ll never forget, because that was the day I relapsed. I had just finished two great semesters at Orange County Community College and was well on my way to the degree in Journalism I so desperately wanted. My love life was rocky but I still was able to sustain a constant relationship. I had friends that were more like family. I was on a rocket ship to success.
Too bad I was about to come crashing down into the lowest place I have ever been thus far in my life.
One of my friends who was an old co-worker was really into World of Warcraft at the time, and he invited to me to start playing again with him and his buddies. This time I would be playing ‘Horde’. This meant throwing away the warlock I had poured so many hours into in favor of a new level 1 character. Yet I couldn’t say no, and so I happily jumped back in feet first. This time I rolled a new race introduced, a Blood Elf. Unable to get rid of my love for my dps role in groups, I stayed with a magic wielder and chose to make a mage. Rhaedoc was his name, and he had hair of awesomeness.
It was the winter, so I had no classes to go to, and I was in between jobs at the time so I was able to literally play for days on end. I went from level 1 to level 65 in a little over a week, only stopping my play sessions when I would pass out at the keyboard or grab something to eat. I stopped going out with my friends, I ditched my girlfriend, and I became a recluse. The fact that I had gotten into a guild that raided on a weekly basis didn’t help matters. Even though I was at the current level cap, I had to keep playing to get my gear up so that I could continue to raid with my guild.
My play habits continued this way for about 2 months. My friends that had previously been so close decided to stop talking to me. Who wants to be around someone who does nothing but play WoW 24/7? My girlfriend of three years left me. I couldn’t blame her, I wouldn’t have wanted to be around me either. I didn’t even care though. I had my guild, my WoW friends most of whom I didn’t even know the real names of. So what if everyone around me was heading for the hills? I didn’t need them!
Or so I thought. Believe it or not, this wasn’t even me at my worst.
My habit would have continued in this way if it hadn’t been for me getting my promotion at GameStop – It was my dream job, and I had been hired on as a Senior Game Advisor, which is basically an assistant assistant manager. My new job required me to work 40 hours a week, and when I wasn’t working, I was home catching up on the past three months of gaming I had missed thanks to WoW. I quickly made my way from SGA to Assistant Store Manager to Store Manager. When I got my own store, it was a dream come true. I had finally gotten everything I had wanted in my life at that point. My friends had returned, my girlfriend and I were reconciling. Life was good. Too bad that didn’t last.
About a year after getting my own store and getting paid about 60k a year, I was informed that my store was going to be taken away. I was going to be demoted due to a senior employee being transferred to my area. I was crushed.
I need to add in some side notes here about my life as it stood. Up to this point, I had been dating the same girl on and off since I was 16. Our relationship wasn’t the greatest, but it was what I had. She hated video games with a fiery passion, which meant me giving up 90% of my game playing to make her happy. She also didn’t approve of my friends much, so I basically ditched them for her too. To make a long story short, I wasn’t happy. We were currently trying to work things out and it wasn’t going so well. So in July of 2007 I went to an anime convention in NJ with my buddy Mike. It was there I met my current fiance Dawn. More on her later.
Back to the main story. With the news of getting demoted and back to making $10 an hour, I said ‘screw it.’ I had two weeks vacation time left, so I took my vacation and gave my two weeks notice at the same time. This left me two weeks to foster my new relationship with Dawn, as well as play lots of World of Warcraft. In those two weeks my relationship with Dawn had become official, and I had secured myself a new job. I also slept maybe 40 hours, and only ate when I was with Dawn. In this time I also received two pieces of tier 5 loot as well as my Tsunami Talisman. I had also just met fellow guildmate Darkleigh and was forming an actual friendship both in and out of the game.
As time went on I continued to play at a normal pace. Working the night shift left me only super late nights to play, weekends were spent with Dawn, and it seemed like crisis had been averted yet again. I had completely stopped playing anything aside from WoW but that was okay. I really didn’t feel anything else would be as good. This was how things would continue to go until Autumn of 2008 when the second expansion (Wrath of the Lich King) was released.
I can still remember waiting outside Gamestop at midnight to pick up my collector’s edition of Wrath of the Lich King. It was one of those mid-November nights in NY that felt more like December. The cold was painful and the sweetly sour smell of decomposing leaves wafted through the air. There weren’t very many people there to pick it up at midnight, maybe fifteen of us in all. We chatted about our races, the changes being made to the game, our classes, and some of the overpowered abilities granted to some of those classes. It seemed more like a meeting of physicists discussing string theory than a bunch of random dudes who had never spoken before talking about a computer game. When the clock hit midnight, we all filed into the store, received our games and hurried home to install it. We would never speak again.
I had taken the next five days off from work just so I could sit and play. The servers didn’t work that first night, so I went to bed early, but I knew when I got up in the morning, an icy wonderland, new spells, new professions, and five new levels awaited me.
Now this is where the story takes a super dark turn. The things I am about to tell you, I don’t think I have ever shared with anyone before.
This is where my life hit rock bottom. I spent the next five days in my basement bedroom playing. I didn’t get up to eat, I didn’t sleep, and when I needed to relieve myself I would do so in an old soda bottle I had in the room. Yes, I was pissing in a bottle just so I didn’t have to leave my computer. Not only was that disgusting but I was also neglecting my Dad who I lived with, I didn’t speak with Dawn the entire five days, and I was a complete mess. Hey, at least I was the first person in my guild to hit 70, right?
After that five day bender I swore I wouldn’t get sucked into the game that bad ever again, but boy was I wrong. The alluring siren that was World of Warcraft had finally lured me into the rocks that I had narrowly avoided twice in the past. I was now a slave to the game.
As the days grew shorter and the nights colder, I was 100% obsessed with World of Warcraft. I was playing from when I got home from work at about midnight til about 7 or 8 in the morning. On raid nights, I would put off making my deliveries of medication until after the raid was through. The weekends I spent with Dawn were torturous. I wanted to play so badly, but knew that she would get mad, so I would wait until she fell asleep before playing well into the wee hours of the morning. If she got up, I would just tell her I was checking my ingame mail to see if my auctions had sold, when in reality I was running heroics with my buddies. I was still pissing in bottles when Dawn was not around, and I had made sure to stock up on a healthy supply of Slim Jims, Cookies, Mountain Dew, and Coke so I would never have to leave my chair when I was playing.
This is how things continued for a while.For Christmas that year I had asked for a case of Bawls energy drinks, which I received. This allowed me to stay awake for longer stretches of time, which I gladly did as new updates to the game were released.
I was still only the second best Mage in the guild behind a dude named Peb, so I needed all the play time I could muster to be able to reach that top spot. My best friend that had introduced me to the game had begun playing again and rolled a character on my server, so things were getting better there, but I could tell Dawn was unhappy with me.
That New Year’s Eve I actually spent in-game. I had just gotten my epic flying mount and was sitting there watching the fireworks with my now good friend Darkleigh (who was actually a mid 30’s female from Canada that I was talking to both in and out of the game) on that shiny purple epic flyer. I still have screen shots saved on an old hard drive from that night. I had been invited to go out and party in real life, but at the time, I thought there was no place I would rather be than right there.
By March of 2009 my problems were at an all time high. After quitting college once before to play WoW, I had done it again within the first three weeks of classes. My relationship with Dawn was now super rocky. We would get into fights constantly about the game. She would tell me I had a problem, and that she was worried, which would just cause me to lose my temper and scream. I had a nice collection of urine-filled bottles going, empty soda cans, and half eaten food littered the floor of my room. I had used all sixteen of my vacation days at work already to stay home and play, and was still calling out sick to stay home, which caused me to jeopardize my job. My buddy who had been playing with me had won the roll on a piece of loot I had been lusting after, which caused me to go psycho on him, and he then stopped talking to me. I’m not sure if it was the WoW incident or something else that made someone I once regarded as a brother to cut his ties with me, but I can only guess it was thanks to the game. I was developing terrible wrist pains thanks to my hands constantly being at the keyboard. I was literally at rock bottom.
Dawn saved me from that life. One day during a very serious discussion, she actually found my collection of urine bottles. When she inquired what they were I told her. This caused her to cry. She told me she felt like she was losing me to World of Warcraft. She loved me and that she knew I loved her, but I had to make a choice. Either quit playing World of Warcraft, or she was leaving. I tried to fight back against her accusations that I had a problem. I felt that everything I was doing was perfectly normal. She would have none of it.
So I made the hardest decision of my life: I had to leave the world behind. Quitting World of Warcraft was necessary, and I needed to do it right then and now. I cleaned up my room, threw out the nasty pee bottles, uninstalled the game from my PC, and started to try and piece what life I had back together. I went through withdrawals from the game, getting angry just because I couldn’t play. Sometimes I would even find myself sitting at the computer just imagining myself playing.
It was hard, but nowhere near as hard as trying to mend things with the people I had neglected, repair the damage I had done to my body and mind, and become a functioning member of society once again. I had to basically start my relationship with Dawn over from scratch, prove to her that she meant more to me than a computer game. I spent weeks trying to get the pain in my wrists to go away, which after seeing a doctor turned out to be the start of carpal tunnel. I was told that if I hadn’t stopped spending so much time with my hands in the positions they were in for so many hours a day, that I would have needed surgery in about a year.
I think the hardest thing though was trying to remember who I was, as I had completely lost all sense of myself. Life outside of the game didn’t matter when I was playing. The idea of life without the game hadn’t crossed my mind in so long that it was a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. I had merged with Rhaedoc and felt we were one in the same, but now there was no powerful mage standing there: it was just an overweight 20 something with a crappy job. It took me about 8 months to really fix everything I had screwed up thanks to the addiction. My relationship with Dawn had gone back to normal, my family was there for me again, but most of all, I knew who I was without the game. The only thing I couldn’t fix was my relationship with my best friend. He hasn’t spoken a word to me in almost five years.
I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this article. It took a lot for me to write it. Looking back at the events that unfolded now I can see that I had a serious problem. At the time I had thought everything was copacetic, when it really wasn’t. It takes a lot to identify when you have a problem, and even more willpower to openly admit to it and do something to change it. It’s the dark side of gaming no one ever really thinks about. I just want you all to be able to admit when quitting a game is necessary – not only for yourself, but for those around you that care.