Telling my experience of being addicted to Pokemon Go
Telling my experience of supporting pro-gamers with gaming addiction
Explaining that the benefit of screen technology really occurs when one foot is firmly placed in the real world, otherwise it's an escape***
Good afternoon year 10s, I’ve been looking forward to today’s final workshop on screentime. Thank you for your feedback. The 3 most popular requests I received from your feedback are as follows:
1. More information about my own personal experience with gaming addiction
2. More information about my patient’s experience with gaming addiction
3. How to use your devices in a ‘healthy’ way, what features are beneficial, how can these be used now to assist you with day-to-day life.
We have 30 mins to discuss this today because you felt 60 mins was too long! I hope to include some brief interactive sections. Lastly, you pointed out that I was using screens to talk about screens, so today, I’m not using any screens. It’s just a conversation between me and you.
One of the hardest things about internet technology and screens is that we can’t escape it, we are reminded of it wherever we go, everyone around us is using technology and everything in our lives appears to be connected somehow to the internet. In addiction psychology, we call these constant reminders, cues. Cues try to convince us to re-engage with something we might find pleasurable or addictive.
In July 2017, after playing for an entire year, I decided to quit playing Pokemon Go. I had been playing this game for over a year, built up a strong team or guild. I was a leader in the local Pokemon Go community. I was the first to organise car-loads of players on my team to meet at a specific physical area, to take over an entire section of Adelaide. We pulled this off so efficiently, other teams accused us of cheating. We had a great time. It was a real-life adventure, my childhood dream literally coming to life. However, this came at a cost, time and lots of it.
After playing so heavily for so long, I truly believed that my team needed me and I needed them. However, I reached a point where I realised I was spending too much time in this game. My family would often point out the irony that I helped others with addiction and yet I was addicted. I was in denial for a long time.
Enough was enough. I believed that I had the will power and I was smart enough to quit Pokemon Go for good. I was wrong. I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to quit. I quit the same week where they introduced “Legendary” Pokemon to the game. Powerful creatures. Exciting, new monsters compared to the ordinary, regular pokemons we had been catching day in day out for the past year. My friends kept messaging me to come back and I resisted the urge and used the online Gamequitters forum for support. I resisted the urge to play for an entire week! I was so proud of myself. It was an achievement unlocked.
However, that weekend, my friend messaged me that Pokemon Go were putting on a special event for only 48hrs where we could receive “double rewards”, something I had been waiting for months. This was a cue. My mind and my body immediately reacted to this cue, because I had saved up a collection of rare Chansey pokemon for such an event. I couldn’t help myself, I cashed in my hard-earned Pokemon for double Chansey rewards. After not touching the game for 1 week. I played for 45mins straight and my mind was buzzing.
I was so ashamed of myself, I felt defeated. How could I possibly outwit a game which knew so much about my playing style, it knew my every move, having collected my data for the past year. I fell into it’s trap. Not only that, because Pokemon Go was an augmented reality game, everything in my real world, reminded me of the game. Everything was a cue for me to play. “Oh I remember when I caught that Snorlax at the beach”. Or “That Church has a gym that I use to put my best Pokemons in.” It was extremely hard to escape. However, I was determined to reach my goal of 90 days without playing Pokémon, and this time I did something different. I gave my password away to my sister and asked her to change it. I left the group chats and social media groups, so they could not send me cues to play. There was no going back this time.
Fast forward to 2021, I’m now treating teenage esports gamers with gaming addiction. Yes, that’s right, young people your age, still at school earning thousands of dollars to play video games. These teens are very dedicated and they remind me a lot of myself and my own passion for gaming. However, they have had to suffer for their profession. One teenager, he went to hospital with severe headaches, so painful, he no longer wanted to live. He was one of the best players of a popular mobile game and like most great players, was self-taught by watching, learning and practising for long hours till eventually he became the best. He was so good he was invited to tournaments for cash prizes until they realised he was not old enough to even play the game, so he was asked to leave. The dark side of this story was, he could only play for 30 mins at a time, because he suffered neck and back pain from sitting in the same position all day, so he had to lie down on his back every 30 mins.
Another young pro gamer, he earns money from views on his Youtube and Twitch streams as well as winning tournaments. His parents asked me to speak to him because he refuses to have a “balanced” lifestyle. He believes that he should either be practising and competing or editing and uploading video content. His life was so unbalanced, one day he actually collapsed and had to be taken to hospital. The doctors said that he was very underweight and made him see a dietician. And yet, he is adamant he won’t have a balanced life until he earns $100,000. I asked him, how are you going to do this? He explained that he needs to make “content”. So I said, “So you’re not just a pro gamer, you’re a content creator and influencer.” His team mates are earning more than him even though he is better at playing the game, he is literally carrying the team. I asked him, do you know why? He said he didn’t know, but the only way he could get that many viewers was “to be the best”. I asked him what are the chances of that happening? He said “unlikely”. Rather than telling him that he should no longer play, I said, “you might want to try drama classes”. He looked puzzled. I explained, “your team mates who are not as good are more popular than you because they are charismatic, very likeable, people like watching their videos not because they are the best, but because they find them entertaining and funny. You don’t quite have that yet, but it’s something you can learn, but not from just playing video games, this requires just as much practise talking to and interacting with people face to face.”
Finally, talking about healthy tech use is something I struggle with. I honestly, feel as though its like explaining how to choose wisely on a Mcdonalds menu. My colleagues told me that junk food has it’s place and that I should not demonise it. The 3 things I want you to take away from healthy tech use is this.
1. Technology is designed to make our lives convenient and pretty much “outsource” functions of our brain to make life easier. For example, this is why we have watches and clocks, because we want to outsource keeping time and wearing a watch on our wrist is a convenient way to keep track of time.
2. Any benefit that internet technology brings us, has to have “one foot in the real world”. For example, when I first started playing Pokemon in Adelaide, when everyone played this game, it was winter time. People were wandering late at night in the cold winter’s night and they realised there were so many homeless people struggling to live on the street. From this, a group in the Pokemon Go community decided to make Winter packs with supplies for the homeless whilst they played Pokemon. This is an example of technology, when one foot in placed firmly in the real world, can be a source for good. Another example, there is a famous game designer, who created a video game to help them recover from a brain injury. They created a game called “Super Better” which is marketed as a way to make the world a better place through gaming. If you play this game, it is actually a convenient scheduler tool that tells you to do things in real life and rewards you when you have completed it. The game might tell you to do 10 push ups or phone a friend. It’s outsourcing physical activity and social connections. Again, the benefit of the technology occurs when there was one foot in the real world. There have been studies about automating follow ups for mental health patients who often “fall through the cracks”. Someone designed an automated messaging system, but they found that the benefit was from the actual humans talking to the patients and checking in on them. Not the technology themselves.
3. Finally, when using technology, you need to ask yourself this question, “if I use this tool now, am I still allowed to use this tool when I most need it? If not, I need to first master situations where I don’t have this tool”. For example, are you allowed to access your computer or the internet in your final exams? If not, you should be spending most of your time learning without these tools. When I was in year 12, universities had just started using face to face interviews as part of the application process. All this time, I had been spending learning using the tools at the time called “textbooks”, but I did not know how to speak to an adult let alone a panel of adults in one of the most stressful experiences of my life. So what did I do? I practised talking to adults, without notes, just me and the adult. So everyday, at my bus stop in the city on the way home from school, I forced myself to say hello to whoever was waiting for the bus. At first this was scary, but having practised this everyday for the entire year, I was able to confidently speak to a stranger and explain to them why I wanted to go to university. I know for a fact that it was not my natural ability to pass the interview and that the practice made a difference because I did not receive a first round offer to go to university. I got a second round offer because someone else better than me pulled out and the rest is history.
I have been asking some important people about what skills are needed from current high school students for the jobs of the future. The state’s “chief entrepreneur” said STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I asked another friend who has worked for companies like Uber and manages teams. He said that like him, a lot of young people are great at solving problems because of their experience playing games. However, the skill young people need is the ability to “explain” what they know and their solution. Again these are people skills. How can we use technology to help with your people skills? I think today’s virtual “people waiting at the bus stop” is an audience on YouTube. Rather than consuming videos on YouTube, you should be making videos to practice explaining what you learn at school.