Video Games Are Like Ice Cream
Well, it’s been a while. After leaving my previous employer, I decided to take a one-month sabbatical and try to think things out, and find myself again. I learned a lot. I learned a bunch of ways to deal with my ADHD. I learned that I really need to adjust my heading, because the way I’ve been going is just not sustainable. I tend to work too hard, play too much, and the weeks just breeze by, and another month/year goes by, and I’m still in the same spot, like I’m running on a treadmill. It can get pretty discouraging.
Now that I’m back to work at my new employer (an exciting startup with lots of work to be done!), I’m trying to discipline myself on proper work-life balance. I want to get my work done, sign out of slack between 5-6pm, do a bit of work on my hobbies (blog, coding, ham radio), and get plenty of exercise and rest. It seems impossible, like there aren’t enough hours in the day, until I realized that the day lasts much longer if I cut down on video games. Treat them like ice cream.
Why video games are like ice cream#
If you eat too much of it, you’ll get fat
The first few bites taste and feel the best
Keep eating past that, and it’s diminishing returns
Make a habit of eating too much, and you feel like you need it
Playing too much video games has been a life-long problem for me. Well, I guess it wasn’t really a problem when I was 5 years old, but I never really learned proper balance. When I get home after a long day at work, I feel like I’ve earned some downtime, right? So I boot up the PC, fire up Windows, and play past midnight, stopping only for meals and when my partner snaps me out of it. It’s so hard to break away that I struggle to get to bed at a decent hour. One more match. One more mission. I just need to build out my new nuclear power plant design in Factorio.
I’ve weaned myself off of video games from time to time. During these periods, I actually get things done in my personal life. I clean up the apartment, get chores and paperwork done, etc. One of these times, I finally moved to a new apartment.
It took me a long time, but I’m finally realizing that I don’t actually enjoy video games that much. Well after the first 5-10 Rocket League matches, I usually feel grumpy. The first 3-5 are great, though. Getting in the zone, burning off some stress and anxiety with some sweet aerial moves, getting MVP by a mile… It’s great — like the first few bites of delicious chocolate-chip mint gelatto. I realized that I was playing more out of habit than for enjoyment. I always felt like I needed to rest and recharge, and I kept thinking I could do that with video games and watching television.
I read about people who have serious video game addiction. They have it so bad, they lose jobs, they fail at school, and their relationships with family/friends break apart.
I’ve never been that bad, but I always felt like I was short on energy and time. "I just need to rest some more." And then months pass, and I haven’t gotten around to upgrading my NAS, or writing code on my personal projects, or writing blog posts, or doing twitch streams.
Then I figured it out. Video games aren’t restful. They’re enjoyable, but they consume non-negligible amounts of brain energy. They also give a cheap sense of accomplishment. In-game achievements, winning a match, and in-game rewards are like junk food. I’m an ambitious person, so I crave accomplishments. I didn’t realize how modern video games have been taking advantage of me. I want actual accomplishments, like completing a new software project, or learning a new skill. These take more work and energy, though, so I had been defaulting to the easier video game accomplishments. Reward center in brain is over-stimulated… It’s hard to stop.
The first 2-3 days were the hardest. With a bit of conscious discipline, I limited myself to about 5-10 matches of Rocket League, then stopped. Then I did something else, then felt bored and tired, and I wanted to get back into a game, any game. I started reading a book. If I felt too tired for that, I would just stare out a window for a while.
Now, my video game sessions are like ice cream. A few matches in Rocket League, and I get that nice dopamine hit, then I’m done for the day. My energy level has been coming back up. I feel more rested, with more room to think and ponder. I feel like I can actually do things again. I did an ipv6 overhaul on my home network for fun. I learned how to properly use the Vyatta CLI interface on my Ubiquity EdgeRouter X (with help from a friend). And I’m getting some reading (actual books!) and household chores done. It feels great.
I briefly considered going "cold turkey", but I tend to get so immersed in my work that it’s very hard to disengage. Sometimes I get stuck in a mental loop, and I need something to pull me out of it. About 2-3 Rocket League casual matches are usually enough for this. Once my head is clear, I can move on to other things.
Thanks to this reddit post for inspiration. I never thought that smashing one’s own TV in a fit of rage could be a positive experience. It’s not something I would want to try, but I’m glad it worked out for them.
It’s been pointed out to me that playing in moderation may not work if you have a severe video game addiction. Everyone’s journey will be different, and there’s no "cure-all" solution. The StopGaming subreddit is good for tips and support.
That said, here are a few techniques that helped me moderate:
Play "boring" games when attempting to moderate. NES (Nintendo) roms are pretty simple, and they don’t have as many visual/audio stimuli. They also generally have save states, so you can stop at any point, not have to wait for a save opportunity.
Instead of saying "I’ll only play till X time", which leads to "just one more match/level!", plan out how many matches/levels/etc. you’ll play ahead of time, based on how much of the day you want to spend playing video games, and how much time you want for other things.
Set Discord/Steam so they don’t automatically sign in when you start your PC so you don’t feel pressured to play as often.
Don’t replace one bad habit with another. Don’t aimlessly surf the net or scroll through reddit/facebook. Instead, go through a list of things you’d like to do that you don’t normally have time for. Maybe call an old friend on the telephone.