How gaming went from my coping mechanism to an unhealthy obsession
As someone who used to be an avid gamer, the draw of being transported to another world led me down a slippery slope into an obsession.
Growing up, gaming was always a core part of my identity.
From raising Tamagotchis in my early days to screaming at my computer in League of Legends, there was never really a period of time (up until recently) where I was not significantly invested in a game.
During reunions this Chinese New Year, as my family was reminiscing about old times, my aunt started talking about my obsession with gaming in the past. I never thought much about it before, so her words prompted me to do a little self reflection when I got home.
When I was first drawn to gaming in Primary 6, it was about forming connections.
Although most in-game characters are obviously fictional, I still occasionally found myself getting increasingly invested in their lives and stories. To a certain extent, I even felt like I was making friends with them.
It’s similar to crying over a drama or hardcore “stanning” a celebrity.
But strange as it may seem, it’s actually an increasingly common phenomenon known as a parasocial relationship, where a sort of psychological relationship is formed between an audience and a subject found in mass media.
However, what got me so hooked to gaming was that it offered me an escape from reality.
As someone who didn’t have the best of childhoods growing up (due to a messy home situation), I was always looking for avenues to “escape”. Whether it was through books or music, the main goal was always to find a medium where I could transport myself somewhere else.
So gaming was the sweet spot for me. When I was focused on finding diamonds in Minecraft, I didn’t need to worry about all the shouting and arguing going on around me. This immersion let me sit in my own worry-free bubble.
While these little escapes felt nice, I was unknowingly getting myself addicted to the feeling. It got to a point where even if I didn’t find the game fun, or I had urgent work to do, I would still mindlessly slog through a shooter just to take my mind off things.
Sound like an unhealthy coping mechanism to you? It definitely was. Too much of anything is never good.
Eventually, I was banned from the computer by my parents after complaints from teachers about my subpar studies.
But that didn’t stop me from spending large amounts of time and money at LAN shops, even skipping school sometimes to continue gaming.
It formed a vicious cycle where I would game even more to distract myself from my worsening academics – which of course was dropping in the first place because of my gaming.
Thankfully, my terrible O-Level prelim results were enough of a wake-up call for me, and I manage to tear myself away from all forms of gaming by banning myself from the LAN shop.
I acknowledged the importance of taking responsibility for myself, and that I could not continue blaming everything else instead of myself for this obsession. After all, the first step to recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem in the first place.
After my O-levels, I spoke to friends and family about it, and they acted as a support system for me. I distanced myself from friends who were enablers, and surrounded myself with people who would encourage me to pick up healthier habits, like making music or going to the gym.
Thankfully things got better and today, gaming no longer holds the same power over me.
Although I now see it as an extremely unhealthy period of time, I still do look back on those times fondly. There were still good things that resulted from my gaming phase.
I made plenty of friends both online and offline as a result of these games, many of which I still keep in touch with.
It also served as a coping mechanism for me when I desperately needed a way out.
So how did it turn from a form of escape into a form of obsession?
It’s just like bingeing shows on Netflix, reading books or any other hobby, really. Healthy in small amounts, but as usual, too much of anything is never good.
Gaming for fun is fine, but when it turns into a lifestyle? That’s when things can get dangerous.
If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.