No More Games Part 1

As I embark on another attempt to expel video games from my life, I feel the task is monumental. Even the thought of writing about it is so daunting that I had trouble getting started. So, I decided to break it down into smaller chunks! Welcome to the first chapter!

I've been a gamer since I was a kid, but I'll skip the life story this time. Now in my mid-thirties, I decided it's time to kick the habit. You might think: “Why is this guy talking about video games like some sort of addiction?” I challenge anyone who plays video games daily to take a break for one week (or one month if you're brave) and let me know if you still think they are not similar to any other addiction.

I tried quitting several times before, and at most I lasted for 6 months. That was before COVID hit. The lockdowns drew me back to gaming and re-ignited the craving for action and adventure in virtual realms. In itself, this sounds fairly innocent and harmless, even healthy if you think of the social aspect of online games in a time when socializing in the real world became hindered by the pandemic.

I finally mustered up the willpower to try quitting games again, and here I am writing about it to share my experience 38 days into it. My first observation is exactly this: it took just over a month to start seeing positive changes. I noticed that small things in life are starting to bring me more joy than before. Something as simple as a walk is more exciting and meaningful now. I notice more of my surroundings and I appreciate them a lot more.

While gaming, there is always a part of my mind that's occupied with the thought of gaming, of what I'll do next time I play, what game I'll play, what's the next feat to accomplish in the game. All that brain buzz has finally subsided, and it took a whole month! While I didn't think of a specific game this month, I did think about gaming in general and still felt like a gamer. Finally, I am starting to feel like a non-gamer inside my head.

Games are junk food for the mind, much like social media, TV and streaming. All these sources are easy providers of dopamine for the brain. Remove them, and you suddenly don't know why you're feeling down. All other sources of joy require at least a little bit more effort. And that is how these modern amusements become modern addictions: they are just so easy! Why sit down with a book that takes conscientious focus and effort when you can turn on the Playstation and be showered with excitement immediately? Replace “Playstation:” with “TikTok” and it's no different.

This brings me to my second observation. The tendency when quitting video games is to replace them with something else, because of the time gap they create. More free time is hard to come by, but with so many easy distractions, it's key to avoid replacing one bad habit with another. As such, I have been quite careful with how much time I spend online and in front of the TV (Netflix, Apple TV+, etc.). I read comments and stories from others who are trying to ditch video games, and many end up spending hours and hours on Reddit, for example. Others quit playing games, but they still watch YouTube or Twitch gaming streams. It's not easy to break the cycle, so I've tried to be cautious with all the digital forms of entertainment in order to avoid replacing one brain junk food with another.

My last point is exactly this focus on what to do. What should I replace games with? In previous attempts, I rushed to the logical, mechanical approach: replace games with one of the hobbies that lay in waiting and never really got much attention. This time, I'm trying a more holistic approach, a slower approach, grounded in feeling more than logic. I'm not rushing into any hobby, but rather I'm letting those interests manifest themselves. I like writing, but it took me over a month to finally put together this post. I like photography, but I'm not forcing that one either. I want to embrace the sense of discovery, to allow myself to be drawn into these interests and others, rather than dictate them to my brain.

Quitting an old habit – or an addiction – is hard. I hope this new approach will help me push past my previous record of 6 months, and into a life with less junk food for the brain, and more meaningful interests and hobbies.

In the next instalment of this series, I'll have to delve into the addictive facet of gaming and talk about how moderation is not an option for a lot of people when trying to stop playing video games.

Thanks for reading!

©️ Razvan Ungureanu