Friday, August 6, 2010

Not all who game are addicts

Hi. My name is Ashley, and I am a gamer.

This post is brought to you by my raid sucking utterly and giving me lots of time between attempts to write up a rant.

Ashley: Dude if my raid can't get its act together, I'm never getting the Unwelcome Mat! It's such an easy fight; all you have to do is not screw up for fifteen minutes. That's all! DO NOT LET THE DRAGON EAT YOU. DO NOT KILL PEOPLE WITH THE PURPLE EYE.

Lulu: I like cake and string!

Ashley: Delicious string...

The thing about advice columnists is that they're mostly women; the thing about women is that most of them hate video games. I don't know what it is about this particular pastime that inspires such disdain, but columnists (and the women* who write to them) are quick to label gamers as "addicts" and dismiss any other potential issues that may be at play.

Before we get to some examples, in the interest of full disclosure, I spend an average of twenty hours per week playing video games. My boyfriend plays more than that (25? Maybe 30). It's not an unreasonable amount of time to spend on a hobby, and it tends to, at least in my experience, replace other "useless" hobbies such as watching tv.

In addition to actual time-sink elements, there are also qualitatively different ways to play video games. A lot of the letter writers are most concerned about multiplayer online games (usually World of Warcraft); I don't play that particular game but I have, for years, played very similar ones. With multiplayer games, one can play them, effectively, as a single-player game, or as a social event where the game is a background activity and the primary goal is to socialize with others. Why one plays a game is just as important as how much time one spends on it.

So, example the first: in an Annie's Mailbox letter, a woman writes in about her husband:
Dear Annie: Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize that I am married to an 80-year-old man, even though he is only 31 and I am 29.

On a typical day, "Jeremy" leaves for work at 4:30 a.m. and gets home 12 hours later. I know he works hard and is stressed, but he never does anything except eat dinner and then log onto the computer. He isn't looking at porn or stuff like that, but he does play an online game called World of Warcraft. He even plays during dinner. He logs on the moment he gets home and doesn't get off until 9 p.m. Of course, by then, he's too tired to do anything except crawl into bed.

We have two children, 8 and 5, and Jeremy never does anything with them. I'm also feeling the big chill. We never go anywhere or do anything. On the rare occasion I can get him to go out, he sulks like a 2-year-old. I won't go into our sex life, but we average about twice a month. The lack of intimacy is a real problem. We tried counseling a few years ago, but Jeremy refuses to go again. Any thoughts would be nice. -- Warcraft Widow
The reply is,
Dear Widow: Jeremy is addicted to his online game. It's not uncommon, particularly with World of Warcraft, and you won't be able to wean him off it without his cooperation. It's become his alternate reality, and he likes it there. (There is actually a website for people who have found reasons to quit at, or try On-Line Gamers Anonymous at

We suggest you remind Jeremy of the "Ring of Protection" he put on your finger. Now that you have his attention, talk to him about what else is important in his life and where the monthly subscription fee could be better used. Then find interesting things to distract him from the game and take a vacation away from the computer.
First of all, let's consider what would have happened if she'd written "doesn't pay attention to me or the children" instead of "plays World of Warcraft." That is her main complaint, right? Then, we'd require some clarification:
  1. is this recent, or was he always uninterested in socializing or activities that you enjoy?
    • if he's always been like this, why did you marry him and have two children with him?
    • if this is recent, does his anti-social behavior coincide with gaming specifically or with, for instance, his stressful job? or any other event?
  2. what happens on weekends?
  3. have you taken an interest in the game? do you know how he tends to play it?
What I'm getting at here is that the gaming may be a symptom of a larger issue, and it does not have to be addiction. By blaming the game, we're ignoring the root cause(s). It's possible he was a perfect husband before World of Warcraft, and the game has destroyed his personality and good nature, but it seems... unlikely.

The reason for the last question is this; I can see three possibilities here, based on his style of play:

1) He plays mostly solo. This I think would be an indicator that he wants alone time, and doesn't want to speak to anyone (so it's not just you). I would talk to him about other stressors in his life.

Lulu: Like watching TV. It's probably a work thing then, right? Seems like he could be depressed.

Ashley: Right, or he has to spend so much time with people at work that he can't handle any more interaction at all.

2) He plays mostly with a large group of people (raiding, for example). This I would take to mean that he's socializing in the game, and doesn't need any "real life" socializing on top of that (yes, those are real people and real interactions. They're not less real just because they live far away and you don't see their faces).

Lulu: So like spending all his time at the bar with his buddies. But how do you solve that?

Ashley: I think the solution in this case is really weekends; there's no work to recover from, and he should be able to schedule in family time or chores or whatever it is she needs on Saturday/Sunday.

Lulu: So now they have to figure out a schedule? He's allowed x hours of game time and has to do these x family activities? She's going to be the one who has to enforce that, and that sounds boring. You know? The only thing you can tell her to do is try to manage him in some weird momlike way. The problem is she wants him to want to hang out with her.

Ashley: So much of it depends on existing family dynamics. What are these family activities? It's entirely possible he just doesn't want to do the stuff she picks out, but he'd be OK if he were the one to plan it.

Lulu: I see what you're saying. It's the scientific method, to rule out the possibility that the fun family activities he FOR SOME REASON sulks about are like, going to see the world's largest ball of twine for the fifth time.

Ashley: Yeah, after the first four times, maybe it's more fun to do the chessboard raid! It would also take some responsibility off her shoulders. So the kids eat peanut butter for all three meals on the weekend... it won't kill em. Probably.

Lulu: As long as she doesn't make it seem like she's punishing him with child care. She has to actually let him be the one responsible, no matter what he chooses to do.

Ashley: Although, it might be a weekend of "let's all play our favorite game!"

Lulu: "...Alone."

3) He plays with mostly one person. I'd assume this person is (or pretends to be) female. That would be an area of concern.

Lulu: And affair questions are out of our jurisdiction.

Ashley: Yes, let's not get into that. The real advice columnists have too much of a head start.

My point is that although he could very well be addicted to the video game, it's important to find out if he actually is, and in what way, and why. I would look at why he doesn't want to spend time with the wife/kids rather than why he wants to play a video game.

The letter-writer needs to be open to the idea that there's something she could do which would make it more hospitable for him in the real world. But if he doesn't want to change, or is just too fragile to exist in the real world without specific unreasonable requirements, then she needs to decide if she can live with it or not. It's not particularly relevant if he is an addict; you can't make someone shake an addiction if they don't want to try.

The video game itself is a symptom, not a problem. It's not weird to want to play a video game, any more than it is to want to spend hours zoned out in front of soap operas (what does the wife do for a hobby, by the way? Is it "read advice columns for an hour every day?" Cause that's my other hobby...).

Another example: From Dear Amy this time, but I can't seem to find the original, so linking to another discussion of the post that cites it in its entirety.

Dear Amy: I have been a happily married wife for almost three months. My husband and I have been together for eight years. Naturally, we have changed over time.

He is a very loving, attentive man, and I feel confident that he will be a superb father.

While I am working toward my master's degree in nursing, he continues to dabble in actuarial studies. I have been in school for more than a year and have a set career path. He has failed his first actuary test three times. This is strange because he graduated with stellar scholastic achievements and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He says his dream is being an actuary.

Unfortunately, he spends massive amounts of time playing "World of Warcraft" instead of studying. He is upset that I don't support him in his endeavors. I told him I don't want to measure his successes as a person based on his salary, but many of the things we want in life, such as a house, will be based on our incomes.

I am interested in knowing if my frustrations are typical for any transitioning couple, or if my husband's "carefree attitude" is a phase and he will be more dedicated in getting settled in life.

—Concerned Wife

First off: nothing quite like saying "I don't want to measure successes based on salary" and then proceeding to do so. Road to Hell, Concerned Wife.

And the response:

Dear Concerned: By your description, your husband's current occupation is not that of a dedicated future actuary, but of an overgrown boy spending hours playing "WOW" while you advance your studies and plan for your shared future.

You are giving your guy way too much credit. I'll have to take your word for it, for instance, that this couch potato would make a "superb father." (Having opposable thumbs doesn't count.)

Your husband's online game-playing and possible addiction are what you and he should focus on.

Actuaries are students of risk. Your husband seems to have embraced that concept, but little else.
On the actuarial forum that I pulled the letter from, the response is tongue-in-cheek: "So who's getting heat at home for playing WOW and not studying for P?"

The thing is, this isn't even a good advice columnist response! To me, the guy sounds depressed; he's giving up on something he really loves because he can't seem to pass an exam. Have you never thought you were going to fail, and so didn't study so that you'd have an "excuse"? If he were avoiding studying in any other way, "get him screened for depression" is the standard response. The thing about video games (as opposed to say, retreating into tv-watching), is that they're a spectacular way to avoid real life, because it feels like you're accomplishing something. What a great way to get away from your failure and your depression! Playing video games does  not make someone a bad person; it does not mean he'll be a bad father (I'd be a bad mother, but it has very little to do with my video game "addiction").

Lulu: In one sense, I think it's a valid coping mechanism, because it's great to have something you're good at if you feel like there are things you're bad at but as the wife/Amy point out, if he isn't studying, he won't pass.

Ashley: hah! I was so incensed I didn't actually give any advice. I was all YOU ARE A HYPOCRITICAL ADVICE COLUMNIST SIR.

Lulu: I think he needs to make a serious commitment to passing or else decide it's not going to happen and come up with a new career goal. He can't keep going halfway. He doesn't have to stop playing, but he needs to find some way to make it a study break and not a study replacement, and she needs to be open to hearing that he doesn't really want to be an actuary, if that's how it turns out.

Ashley: Right. It kind of seems like she's ready for the Next Stage with House and Kids, and he maybe isn't. Especially if he's getting ready to admit that he has to change careers. But they got married, so he should communicate this to her.

Lulu: It seems like he's using the game to avoid (1) studying and (2) having a tough conversation where he disabuses her of various notions she has about him.

Ashley: He's no saint. But the game isn't to blame.

Lulu: Right, if it weren't the game, he'd be finding some other way to procrastinate and avoid. Watching TV, reading books, daydreaming. I'm guessing his gaming habits would change if he found a career or educational goal that made him feel good because he was good at it, but finding that would probably require them to put off the house and kids stuff while he got it figured out. Also, it would require him to get off his ass and do it.

Ashley: Details.

Lulu: Maybe he can farm gold in WoW!

Ashley: Can't compete with the Chinese in gold farming. It's a sad sad world.

*When men write to advice columnists about their wives/girlfriends who may be addicted, they usually legitimately seem to be. See, for instance: Wife Addicted to Warcraft, a Dear Amy submission.

No comments:

Post a Comment