Day Twenty - My Two Cents on Addiction
Had a showerthought during my morning shower and I'm gonna dump them here -- not sure if there's another place I should post it. It's still unrefined anyway. It got a lot longer than I expected it to be (>1000 words). Took me almost two hours to write out. But I think it's important to write this out for myself, get my thoughts out there.
My Two Cents on Gaming Addiction
I'm not a psychologist, everything I write below is based purely on my personal experience battling addiction. As someone who has been deep in the addiction abyss and still recovering from it, I think my opinion is worth sharing.
Our Brain, Willpower, and Pleasure
Humans are both complex and simple beings. We can train ourselves to achieve extraordinary feats but also to repeat simple activity loops endlessly.
The are two meters that measure our daily activities, the short term and long term pleasure (urges/benefits) meter.
(not the best diagram but gets the point across)
This is also why sheer willpower isn't a solution to addiction: you might overcome it in several occasions, but statistically you will fail over a longer period of time.
The Pleasure Combo and Why It's so Addictive
I've been addicted to many types of games. MOBAS, strategy, rhythm, shooters, gacha, I've been all over the place. And I think there's one overlapping factor: Short term (ST) and long term (LT) but deceptive pleasure.
Category 1: ST Displeasure, LT Pleasure
These are the category of 'beneficial' activities: they might seem daunting but are beneficial in the long run.
Jogging 10 km a day is painful and exhausting in the short term, but the long term benefits and sense of achievement keeps you going.
Learning a new language might be daunting and frustating at the start, but it pays off in the long run to open yourself up to more people worldwide.
Doing uni coursework might be stressful and tedious, but the prospect of getting a well-paying and interesting job keeps you going.
Category 2: ST Pleasure, LT Indifferent/Displeasure
These are the neutral/harmful but not (yet!) addictive activities. Unchecked they can grow into addictions.
Grabbing a pack of chips on your weekly grocery trip gives pleasure in the long term but displeasure (gain weight) on indifferent (you balance your diet) in the long term.
Watching Netflix gets you relaxed in the short term, but eventually guilt/boredom gets you over it.
Now this is where true addiction begins: When your brain slowly but subconsciously 'shifts' ST pleasure/LT displeasure into ST pleasure/LT pleasure. This priority shift is the root cause of addictions and why it varies so much in scope -- any pleasurable activity can be shifted into an addictive one.
Category 3: ST Pleasure, LT Pleasure (Deceptive) aka ADDICTION
Addiction fully emerges when your brain shifts its priorities to prioritize maximizing pleasure.
Almost all games give a sense of both short and long term achievements.
In my cases: (in retrospect this is kinda pointless to list out but I've already written it so no point in removing it)
MOBAS (e.g. Dota2, LoL)
ST: Winning your lane, outplaying opponents, winning a match
LT: master heroes, climbing leaderboards
Rhythm games (e.g. osu!)
ST: Hitting a cool pattern, full combo maps
LT: master skillsets, play harder maps, climbing leaderboards
Strategy games (e.g. Paradox, Civilization)
ST: winning a war, man-max profits
LT: expanding your nation, unlock achievements, map painting
Gacha mobile game: (e.g Genshin Impact, Arknights)
ST: gacha pulls, advancing gear
LT: full collection, finish story, climb leaderboard
MMORPGs (e.g. ESO, WoW)
ST: Killing monsters, clearing dungeons
LT: Optimize gear, housing, climb leaderboard
The problem is that these long term pleasure is deceptive -- and often unreachable.
It's harder to get addicted to Detroit: Become Human than Dota2; one has a definitive ending and the other doesn't. The most dangerous games are the endless ones, where the long term goal is unreachable or there is always another goal to reach. Modern games all trend towards this, whether it's lootboxes, subscriptions, or seasonal DLCs.
Dealing With It
Stage 1/Short Term: Removing addictive activities
These are the most addictive activities and should be get rid of immediately. Most people stuck in addiction hell can't get over this step: they try to justify to themselves why the activities (e.g. gaming, smoking) are not that harmful and that they could manage it with enough willpower. NO! That's the reason you're addicted in the first place. Remove it from your life, cleanly. Uninstall games, throw away cigs, delete some accounts if neccesary. The hardest step is always the first one.
Stage 2/Medium Term: Reducing urges, avoiding relapse
This is where I currently am. And this is probably where most quitters will stay, and that's fine. It doesn't fully solve the problem, you're technically still addicted and relapse is not out of the question, but if you correctly do your relapse management you won't be dealing with the problems anymore.
Stage 3/Long Term: Replace negative urges with positive ones
This is the ultimate endgoal of recovery: Reaching a state where given the choice between gaming and a more beneficial activity, you'd chose the latter. It can take months or years to supplement the gaming urges with another one (e.g. music, art, coding, language learning) but it's always something to strive for. A common pitfall is people in stage two thinking they've reached this stage when they actually haven't and fall back into addiction, resetting all progress.
Our brain assigns a pleasure meter to each activity and if uncontrolled will always chose the activity with highest (short term) pleasure. These activities, such as gaming, browsing the internet, or unhealthy snacking are harmful but not yet addicting. Addiction develops when the brain subconsciously shifts these activites from low priority to (false) high priority. At this stage, whenever given a choice between a low urge/high benefit and high urge/ (false)high benefit it will overwhelmingly chose the latter. Our willpower can override this, but it's statistically unlikely to keep it up in opposition to the our subconscious mind: this is where most people fail. Modern games are inherently designed with endless gameplay loops and progression since it is the most profitable method.
To overcome it there are three steps: Removal of harmful activity, relapse management, and reshifting priorities. Most people fail at step 1. Most quitters are at step 2(including myself), which is fine, but is fragile and all progress can be reversed after a relapse. Step 3 is full recovery, resetting of priorities, where gaming is no longer addictive and can be enjoyed in moderation.