'The Aberrant Gamer': Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Leigh Alexander tries to quit gaming for a week.  How long does she last?

What I did learn – and this was the primary aim – was just a little bit more about why I play, and what gaming means to me, does for me. I thought that without games, the world might open up just a little; that I’d divert that gaming energy into learning new things, visiting new places, developing more relationships. But, even given only a few days to experiment, I realized I felt then, at least for that moment, content with the size of my world and the people in it as they are.

On the other hand, the absence of games left a distinct sense of feeling stranded, as if bridges I had made from my imagination into worlds made by others had been closed for repairs. I didn’t have a bad couple of days; more ordinary than I would have expected, and neither more nor less fulfilling.

But it did feel like my world was a bit smaller; there were emotions, impulses and dreams that had nowhere to travel to, that languished amid the everyday. It’s true that I learned perhaps gaming has cultivated in me a lack of long-term patience, a need for more regular stimulation, a poorer attention span. It’s also very possible that I zone out with games to avoid dealing directly with things that cause me frustration or sadness. But I’m now certain there is a singular fashion in which games engage both mind and emotion – not only for the purpose of play, but for personal reasons both creative and therapeutic – that no other form of media approaches. It’s a quality unique to gaming, it speaks to the power and responsibility game developers have assumed, and it makes sense out of the intense, often perplexing personalization we feel toward the games they make.

In the passage I quoted above she said her days without games were no less fulfilling than her days with games, but the crisis in her experiment comes when she is lying in bed, feeling sick, and cannot think of anything to do in order to make her happy again, other than give up her pledge to take a break from gaming. (She also apparently hangs around with gamers, watching them play.)

I’m lying sick on the couch in the basement (which is where my wife banishes me when I’m ill).  Playing a game won’t make me happy. Regaining enough mental capacity so I can evaluate the homework students submitted Friday — THAT will make me happy. Feeling well enough that I’m willing to crawl out of bed to find out which child is dragging something heavy across the kitchen floor (and why) — THAT wouldn’t exactly make me happy, but it would make me less anxious.

Every so often I wish I had access to the unbroken swaths of time — 12, 16, 20 hours at a time — when I could do whatever the heck I wanted. But then I read this article and I realize how fortunate I am to have a rich life (with the attendant responsibilities) that mean my life still has meaning even though I have to go through long game-less dry spells (and can only sip at the casual games, rather than delve into RPGs or figure out how the heck to get out of the canal where I’ve been stuck in Half-Life 2 since June 2005).