Internet Addiction: What’s Your Drug of Choice?

Facebook for Dummies

a 12 step program for online games?

Hi.  My name is Emily Rossiter, and I am addicted to Facebook games. I confess I find immense pleasure in harvesting a crop of strawberries on Farmville or redecorating my cafe in Cafe World.    They aren’t my first online love affair either.  I’ve spent huge chunks of time on MMORPGs like City of Heroes and Warcraft, or Warcrack as some people aptly call it.

The games themselves are innocent enough.  They do give me and lots of others pleasure.  They do require, however, an enormous amount of upkeep, hours that I feel should be spent on an activity I find more valuable like reading or even watching a good movie.

Yes, it is pretty silly, but I have written extensively on what I believe to be the only “cure” for depression and anxiety.  That “cure” is a value driven life, modifying activities for the handicap of mental illness, and continuing to baby step forward bit by bit towards your dreams. That way no matter how sick you get, you are following a path that you have chosen, and your life has meaning.

When I made my life goals, I failed to account for the mastery of every crop in Farmville.

So why play these games?

What is the appeal? What makes us spend long stretches of time glued to the computer monitor?  Aren’t there better things to do?  The Atlantic featured an article called  Extreme Netflix?  Some Users Have Rated 50,000 Movies.    When I read this article, I had an “Aha! moment.  These games tap into the human need for reward much the way a behavioral specialist trains a monkey by giving him a banana when he does something correctly.

When you really think about it, the Netflix rating system works on the world’s simplest game mechanic: do something, get a point, move to a slightly more complex situation.

It’s not unlike a casual game, perhaps like Zynga‘s smash hit, Farmville, a Facebook game in which you raise virtual crops. Except in this case, what you’re growing isn’t a virtual representation of wheat or tomatoes, but your own personal movie-picking servant, a savant twin of yourself that knows nothing but you and movies.

Suddenly, it made sense.  Yes, it’s extremely hypnotic, and it feeds right into the tendency of people to avoid their problems through Zombie Mode.  You just click, click, click.  No thinking involved.  Your brain gets a little reward much like a lab rat pushing a lever for a pellet, and you get a few hours of not worrying about all the problems in your life.

Still don’t see a problem?

For most people, these games are a diversion, but you shouldn’t underestimate their power.  News stories in which parents neglect their children appear as a warning. One of the most recent stories was a UK woman who let her dogs starve and rot and made her children eat cold food using their hands out of cans because she couldn’t be bothered to cook or clean.  There are other cases.  The same article mentions a similar incident in North Korea, and in 2007, a case in Reno, Nevada made headlines.

Thankfully , I am not anywhere near crossing into the land of abuse and neglect. I am extremely aware and attentive to my husband and daughter’s well being, but I still feel that I spend too much time on these games.

aiming for the middle path

On the other hand, on my really bad days when it’s a heroic effort just to get up, these games provide a welcome reason to stay up. Even though they are simple, they do stimulate some brain activity, and they put me on Facebook, where I might have interactions with other people, which is a high value activity for me.

What is the answer? Denying myself the relief of having a no effort activity when I’m not feeling well is at one extreme.  Becoming so involved that I prioritize checking my cafe over my priorities on a good day is at the other extreme, where I am now.  The answer can only lie in moderation, or the “Middle Way.”

I need to set limits and stick to them. It’s surprisingly hard.  I quit smoking a few months ago,  so I know I can break a difficult habit.  However, to be kind to myself, my willpower may be stretched thin from the effort not to smoke and also recent physical illness.  I’ll forgive myself for the excessive time spent baking cakes made of 1’s and 0’s, and work on the problem for now.  How much is too much?  Are there other limits I should set?  How can I motivate myself to stay within these limits?  If you’re reading this, what’s your opinion?

Notes from the Author

My rant about Facebook games is in no way intended to be a judgment against anyone. You are in charge of you, and however much time you feel is worth spending playing online games is your decision. I only meant to raise awareness in case you are spending this time unconsciously rather than choosing. Where do they fit in your value system?  What role do you want them to play in your life?  How much time is too much for you?  Sometimes we all need to do a little “self check.”

PsychCentral has some excellent information and resources dealing with Internet Addiction.

I was extremely surprised and happy to be included in A Daring Adventure’s “link love” to blogs focused on quality content. Take a peak.  There’s some more great links there.

Photo Attribution:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveynin/2536574111/

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About emilyrossiter

Ever since I was little I was interested in reading and learning. I was the type of kid who did research for fun. Along the way, I have picked up interests in traditional Geek fare such as video games and tabletop RPGs. Science fiction, horror, and fantasy are my "brain candy." I have a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Education. I taught high school English for a while, but unfortunately, I developed an illness that made it impossible for me to work anymore. Staying at home, I rely on my "Geek Profession" to pass the time.

4 responses to “Internet Addiction: What’s Your Drug of Choice?

  1. my drug is watching TV. I put the volume on really high and just have my head popped out of the bed cover and just escape from the world. It is such a numbing feeling. But whenever commercial comes on I curl up into a ball and feel sorry for myself.

    farmville can be very time consuming. I agree that you should set a time limit. I allow myself to watch TV maybe 2 to 4 hours a day. (i don’t watch everyday). Doing something else like washing the dishes during commercial usually helps me gradually get away from it. Maybe you can put like an alarm for every 20 mins you go on farmville, and take breaks. It may motivate you to start doing some other stuff???

    • That’s an excellent idea. I have used the timer successfully in the past, and I read somewhere a tip about “chunking” your time and single tasking. In other words, you say I’m going to play Farmville for 20 minutes and set a timer. Then you take a short break for a glass of water or whatever you need to reorient yourself. Then you set the timer again and say I’m going to write for 20 minutes. Rinse and repeat. I’ll experiment and let you know how it goes. I’m starting to think I might need to take a step back even farther because I have great anxiety over decision making. That problem is key to this one–deciding how to spend that 20 minutes.

  2. that’s great! I think it might be a good way to practice disengaging yourself from the bad habbit. Goodluck!

  3. I used to play mmorpgs. Well only one. However, I played it almost 24/7. No exaggeration. You can ask my family. The more depressed I became, the more I played it, the more I played it the more depressed I became. It literally was all I could do, and yet in a weird kind of way it gave me purpose. My game name was Passion and every knew that I was good at kicking butts and loved to give stuff away.

    Slowly as my mind began to heal and I discovered other, more healthy outlets, I began to play it less and less. Now I have not logged into it for ages.

    The way you described it giving you a reason to get up and stay up is a good description for me as well.

    Good Post!

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