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A Virtual Lesbian Life: Gaming Gone Too Far

A Virtual Lesbian Life: Gaming Gone Too Far

How much time gaming is too much? Five hours a week? Ten hours a week? How about thirty, forty or fifty hours a week? If you are in the latter category, you may have more to worry about than just getting a headache from staring at your computer screen.

The computer in the modern day has become more than just a great tool for research or a fun place to find entertainment. For many, it has become their home away from home (even at home!) People across the globe turn on, login, create virtual identities and build their own cyber worlds with themselves as the star. Most seem to manage to spend only a part of their free time on the computer, playing or surfing at whim. Others, however, have developed an obsession for turning on and logging in -- especially gamers.

How much time gaming is too much? Five hours a week? Ten hours a week? How about thirty, forty or fifty hours a week? If you are in the latter category, you may have more to worry about than just getting a headache from staring at your computer screen.

You see, I, like millions of people, am a computer addict. I spend up to sixty or seventy hours online every week. Granted, I work online, so I have somewhat of an excuse, but I spent at least half of my free time in a day at the keyboard. We addicts just can’t get enough of our computers and our games. We have to game like we have to eat.

Over the years, I’ve had to recognize my own addiction. While I haven’t given up gaming in the same way they say an alchoholic should never drink again, I have learned to make rules around my play time. My gaming time is strictly regulated to certain hours a few nights a week and during the weekend. My total number of hours gaming in a week is also strictly controlled. And if my partner asks me not to get on the computer and spend time with her instead, the powerstrip button stays in the off position.

Obsession with gaming can literally wreck your life. First, there are the physical detriments -- carpal tunnel, headaches, backaches, fatigue, eye problems, possibly even cancer if you subject yourself to all that electronic equipment in your face for years and years. Mentally, you can fry plenty of brain cells glued to the screen and find yourself feeling actual physical withdrawal symptoms if you don’t get your usual fix. But it is the emotional self that can receive the most damage.

Those who spend too much time gaming often find themselves not going out as much, not interacting with real-world friends, and even alienating their partners and/or lovers. Luckily, my partner spends a great deal of time on the computer herself, but one of my previous lovers often called herself a “Gaming Widow” and complained that I spent more time cuddled up to my laptop than I did being with her. For many, this isolation from others, especially their loved ones, can lead to serious depression, and in some extreme cases cause people to develop social anxiety or agoraphobia.

Some of the symptoms of gaming addiction include:

  • Gaming or visiting gaming sites every day without exception, even while on vacation or at other people’s houses.
  • Loosing track of time while gaming.
  • Going out less and less.
  • Eating meals in front of the computer.
  • Not taking a break to go to the restroom until it is painful.
  • Denying that you spend too much time gaming.
  • Others complaining that you spend too much time on the computer.
  • Compulsively checking your ranks and stats.
  • Sneaking time at work to play, check your stats, visit gaming sites, etc.
  • Sneaking time on the computer when your partner or family is not at home.
  • Finding yourself more thrilled over in-game achievements than real-life ones.

A Harris Interactive poll released in April 2007 found that 8.5% of "youth gamers" in the United States could be "classified as pathologically or clinically 'addicted' to playing video games, according to Wikipedia.com. A British survey reported in November 2006 indicated 12% of polled gamers exhibit addictive behaviours. A 2005 survey by the Entertainment Software Association found that "video game overuse" was more common in players of MMORPGs. In an interview in 2005, Dr. Maressa Orzack of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts estimated that 40% of the 10 million players of MMORPG World of Warcraft are addicted, a figure she derived from the survey managed by Nick Yee at the The Daedalus Project. However, Nick Yee has pointed out that caution should be exercised when interpreting this survey data.

So where does an gaming addict go to find out if they have a problem and to get help if they do? Well, ironically, the computer itself is the best source of information. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?) Call it “Immersion Therapy” if you will. One of the largest sites dedicated to the problem of computer-based addictions is the Center for Online and Internet Addiction (www.NetAddiction.com). It includes a ‘Guide to Healthy Computing,’ educational programs, self-help guides and tests to help you figure out if you have a web obsession problem. NetAddiction.com is geared to computer addicts of all types, but includes specific information for gaming addiction.

Online Gamers Anonymous is another site where gaming addicts can find support and help. The site, at www.olganon.org, features a 12 step program for gamers to overcome their addiction and even has a special hotline phone number for one-on-one support.

The Center for Internet Behavior at www.Virtual-Addiction.com features a variety of articles to help people learn more about computer addiction and how to manage their time online. They also offer personal and business counseling services (for a price of course.) There are a huge variety of similar type sites dedicated to providing free (or paid) services to individuals that think they might have a problem.

There are also tons of support groups for gaming and other computer addicts, like the one at www.InternetAddiction.com. You can even go to Amazon.com and pick up a copy of Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them.

At one time, Alcoholics Anonymous (www.Alcoholics-Anonymous.org) even considered setting up a separate division of their organization to work with people addicted to the computer; that’s how serious some consider the problem.

While to some, gaming addiction may be an amusing topic, or something to be viewed with scorn -- for thousands of gamer addicts across the world, it is nothing less than a disease that takes over their minds, bodies and lives.

So remember, gaming should be for relaxation and fun. If you find yourself spending more time gaming than you are participating in real life, or getting more stressed out over your character’s health than your own -- maybe it’s time to take a break and evaluate your gaming habits.

Miss the last "Virtual Lesbian Life"? Read it here.

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Laura Vess