Self-Medication Through Gaming

I’ve always played video games. For as long as I’ve been capable of making my own decisions, more or less, I’ve chosen to while away the hours playing a game. From the early days of a TV system to today, where I have a set of modern consoles and a self-built gaming PC system.

The thing is, though, while today I have far more systems on which to play a larger library of games than before, I find myself gaming far less than I ever did when I was younger. I say younger, really less than I did 2 years ago.

Last year I left my 20s, bought my first house and this year I’ll be getting married, so to a certain extent my available spare time is somewhat reduced compared to previous periods of my life, but I’ve found that recently a smaller and smaller proportion of that remaining spare time has been spent on gaming; despite the aforementioned abundance of systems and games available.

And with this being the first year of my 30s and having always been a bit of an analyst at heart, I found myself reflecting on why I don’t game so much anymore and I think I’ve worked out why:

I don’t need to anymore.


Pretty sure my first gaming experiences were on one of these…

I know that in the strictest sense in the eyes of the world neither I nor, indeed, anyone, ever actually need to game; it being a recreational activity and all. The thing is though, I’m not sure that’s true. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that without gaming, I’d be a very different person; in fact, for all I know I might not be here at all.

For context, this isn’t a woe-is-me tale; I’m very happy with how my life has turned out. As I said, I’m doing well, by my own estimations, and I’m getting married this year after meeting the love of my life. I’ve just been reflecting on my own experiences with gaming and how they may be echoed by others out there.

Throughout my life, gaming has been my solace and my refuge. When I was 13 my mother passed away; an event difficult enough to process and deal with as an adult, let alone as a boy entering his teens. Truth be told, I’d been gaming from the age of about 5, so my gaming hardly started there, but I’m fairly sure the frequency and duration of my habit increased in the time preceding her passing. She’d been diagnosed with cancer some years prior and had been getting ongoing treatment ever since, with the terminal diagnosis being made about a year before she passed, so we had a long time knowing what was was coming. During this period I believe my reliance on gaming as an escape and an outlet properly began.

I spent a lot of time on one of these

I spent a lot of time on one of these

Following her passing, we had the expected grief period, which brought with it continued levels of, effectively, self-administered anti-depressant in the form of video gaming.

Eventually my father re-married, which brought its own complications, the details of which I’ll spear you. Suffice to say. throughout this period, my main, nearly sole, recreational activity was video gaming.This continued on to university, where I sought refuge from continued family and study stresses in the familiar solace of gaming worlds.

Following university I continued heavy gaming to help deal with the challenges of unsatisfying jobs and relationship challenges; something with which I’m sure many can empathise.

The thing is, over the last two years, my life has changed. In essence, I’m happy. I’ve taken my career in hand, fallen in love, bought a house and, basically, settled into a pretty stereotypical family life. And along with that, there’s been a gradual and distinct drop in the amount of time I play games. Now, when given spare time, gaming tends to be much lower down my list of voluntary activities, rather than top and only thing on the list. I don’t generally find myself craving a gaming session or feeling the need to get whatever I’m doing over and done with so that I can get back to my computer and I’m certain that it’s because now I don’t have something I need to distract myself from.

Don’t get me wrong; I still game, but my gaming patterns have changed. On top of reducing my desire to game, I’m also a lot pickier about what I play. It used to be that I’d play more or less anything; I’d go into a gaming store and I’d find a hat-full of games I’d like to play. These days though, I find it hard to find a handful of games in a year that I really, really want to play. I put that down to that fact that these days I play solely for enjoyment, rather than to help cope, so I have different priorities motivating me.

These days I have many ways to game, but less motivation

These days I have many ways to game, but less motivation

I certainly don’t claim to be unique in any of this; in fact my point is the exact opposite. I think that my experience is fairly typical of a great many gamers. Not all, of course, but certainly a proportion. I’ve lost count over the years of the number of people who have remarked that I’d ‘grow out’ of gaming and I always dismissed it, but it’s certainly true that a significant number of people see a decline in their gaming as they get older. Like I said before, there’s a lot of factors influencing this, with greater time commitments in later life encroaching on your time, changing priorities and whatnot, but perhaps another contributing factor for many, as I believe it has been for me, is just that they find a way to be happy and gaming moves from being a need to just being a want; from being something that they have to do to escape, to being something they do just for the enjoyment.

I believe that video games have been a hugely important part of my life and that they’ve impacted who I am as a person. On top of that, I now believe that they’ve had a huge impact on helping me get through some of the challenging parts of my life and I’m certain that this is true of a great many people. I’m sure for many people that are reading this piece this will hardly be a startling revelation, but for me to take a step back and realise it about myself, it really made me think and to look at my gaming habits in a new light. I think we all have something we use to help cope with stress, be it smoking, eating, reading, running or whether. For me it was always gaming, and I expect it was the same for a great many people.

As for the future, I don’t mourn the change in my gaming habits; I embrace them. My gaming may be different, but it’s still there and still providing me the chance of escapism and enjoyment; to venture into worlds i wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

I was going to say it’s just on my own terms now, but, really, it’s always been on my own terms, it’s just that now those terms have changed; just like I have.

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  • Jack

    Let’s play hypotheticals…
    What if… you now believe your gaming habit changes are less due to X factors and you believe you’re happy?

    What if… you’re now truly unhappy because you’re not gaming at a pace that sincerely beings you happiness and denial is what’s on the plate here?

    You’ve entered the Twilight Zone (cue music)…

    • Paul Izod

      Ouch man, that’s brutal. having an existential crisis over here now…