Saturday, June 23, 2007

Video-Game Addiction Prescription

The AMA is considering officially recognizing video-game addiction as a mental illness. Of course, a complete effort will take years of study and debate. Personally, I thought the American Medical Association had much bigger problems on their hands like Bird Flu, Cancer and Heart Disease. Nevertheless, apparently they feel video-game addiction is enough of a threat to our society that it warrants the time and effort required to officially list it among the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The initial debate begins Sunday and a preliminary vote will take place next week.

I do not even want to consider what this will do to the United States health care system. If it can be officially diagnosed, how many employees will be submitting for paid time off of work based on mental illness leave? And when left alone all day at home with no job to go to, what else will they have to do in between psychiatrist appointments? Besides play video games on the couch?

Speaking from first hand experience, there is nothing about video-game addiction that makes a person mentally ill. Video-game addiction is simply an addiction. And like other addictions, it can be beat. Oh, it is not easy. But with a little blindsided intervention from those who love you the most, it can be done.

Once upon a time (back in 2001), I too fell prey to the video-gaming industry's subtle addicting ways. My brother kindly loaded some simulator on my PC so I could play all the oldie but goodie video games from the 80's. I had Frogger, Tertris and what soon became my master: Dr. Mario.

It all began so innocently. While the children were napping, I'd venture down to the office and play some games for a little fun and relaxation. It was not long before Dr. Mario was the game that truly caught my fancy. Systematically ignoring all other games at my disposal, I became a die hard Dr. Mario fan.

As I got better, I could play for quite a stretch without "dying". This became a problem as the children would awake and while their cries could be heard from the office, I found it difficult, that is impossible, to leave my computer and go to them. Diapers went unchanged, meals went unprepared, baths went ungiven.

I knew it was time for a change. So I made some rules for myself. Only two lives (meaning after I died twice, I had to go back to being a mom), and I increased my speed from low to medium. I was still "living" until level 30 which means the pill bottle is all but full to start, so I increased the speed to high.

Still, I could play the game with relatively no trouble. It became so easy, I started on the highest level the game allows. Yep. Level 20. Speed set at high. That is where I always began.

I rationalized that with my new rules, my games were shorter so I could play more often than simply during nap time. So I decreased my life to one, and added more playing time to my schedule. I told myself I could play after finishing one chore. One load of laundry done equals time with Dr. Mario: Begin Level 20, Speed High, One Life. Unless I die immediately, then its a do-over.

A typical day went as follows: Feed the children breakfast = Dr. Mario. Change a diaper = Dr. Mario. Vacuum a couch = Dr. Mario. Make my bed = Dr. Mario. Brush my hair = Dr. Mario. Go to the bathroom = Dr. Mario. The fact that my minimal personal hygiene began to count as a chore did not alarm me in the least bit.

However, an alarm soon came. My brother and his friend Scott came over one day excited about an upcoming Dr. Mario Tournament at the Provo Towne Center. I encouraged them to enter, and offered if they needed any pointers, I would be happy to coach them. They looked at each other briefly, smiled, and then explained that it was me not them that they felt should enter the tournament.

Suddenly I saw a flash forward in my mind. I enter the tournament with a bunch of long haired, unshaven, fat thirty-somethings that don't shower. Then I kick their couch potato butts. I am called to the podium. With the National Anthem playing, I am awarded the Dr. Mario Regional Champion trophy. As I hold the heavy trophy high above my head, cameras flash. My name and picture with a brief article on how I rose to stardom, are on the front page of the local paper.

Hold the phone! I was not doing that. Despite their pleadings I refused to participate in the tournament because of only one fear. The fear that I knew I would win. At this time I realized that I had mastered Dr. Mario and my addiction had taken me to a place I did not want to be. That is when I realized I needed to change.

But I couldn't stop myself. So I continued.

One morning, after brushing my teeth (a chore complete: check) I went down to be with my love, Dr. Mario.

Houston, we have a problem. My video-gaming simulator for the PC was erroring out.

In a panic I called my brother. College term paper, finals to study for, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "Whatever, get over here now!" I loudly insisted and hung up the phone. Knowing it would take him all of five minutes to solve my computer problem, I was more than irritated that he did not show. As I laid my head on the desk, willing my computer to work as it should, soon minutes turned into hours. Hours turned into days. And days turned into weeks. With no Dr. Mario, my life seemed empty and boring.

Eventually, I stopped placing unreturned phone calls to my brother. I started to clothe, feed and bathe my children. Occasionally we even went to the library or a park. And I found my life could go on without Dr. Mario.

But like all addictions for me it must be all or nothing. So I have never picked up a controller to empty a Dr. Mario medicine bottle full of pills since. Nor do I have any intention of doing so. But if I do, don't even try to play doubles with me. 'Cause I will kick your Dr. Mario butt!


  1. I'm pretty sure you realize this, but in case you didn't, your rules ended up feeding your addiction since it made it more of a challenge and therefore more of a thrill to do so well.

    I used to be pretty darn good at Dr. M back when I had a first-gen NES. That, Super Mario 3, Bionic Commando, and Contra were my favs.

  2. Dr. Bart,

    Thank you for your diagnosis. I think you nailed it.

  3. Excellent!

    I understand the all or nothing thing. I'm a recovering e-Bay addict.

  4. Bart,

    Thinking out loud here. Maybe I could come out of retirement for a little Dr. Mario wager. I beat you at Dr. Mario, you let the Mormon missionaries in next time they knock on your door. You beat me at Dr. Mario and...well, doesn't really matter, you pick, because you will not beat me.

    Whatdya say?

  5. Hilarious. The AMA can't solve one of our basic problems with health care so they decide being hooked on smoking and video games are problems they can handle.
    Oh, that problem I mentioned? Waiting in the jammed office while they have their staff continue to overbook appointments so more of our money can reach their new Mercedes.

  6. Deborah,

    I too, though not addicted, played quite often... My addiction was buying games that I haven't even played!

    In college I found PinBall machines more of a challenge.

    Don't forget an Eagle cart. haha!

  7. Compulsive,

    Were you bidding on stuff you did not need or want? Or had you sold everthing in you house but the shower curtain and mattress?

  8. Catmoves,

    I'm guessing I've only scratched the surface of issues facing the AMA.

    How's New Mexico? I went to Albuquerque once. It July, 117 degrees and I was 7 months pregnant with a broken toe in a car with broken air conditioning. Not the fondest of memories. But there was the best Mexican food I have EVER had!

  9. Chewy,

    Please sit down and listen as I explain. The first step to fixing your problem is admitting you have a problem. Denial is not a happy place.

  10. No freakin' way. For one, I'm about 10 years out of practice. For two, Mormon missionaries (any missionaries for that matter) will enter my home over my dead body. :D

  11. Deb, I'm a blogger addict :) I've had to quell my addiction, since hubby uses the computer for work, now.

  12. Eve,

    Blogging can be most addicting! I agree:

  13. Sideline:

    I have spent many hours in the Family History Center at the Temple nearby. For their resources I am very grateful. I was nervous my first visit, didn't know what to expect. During the 2-1/2 years I used their facilities not once had religion been mentioned.

  14. Oh, my main point was: I found genealogy very, very addicting!

  15. Chewy,

    Glad you had such a good experience in the Family History Center at Temple Square in Salt Lake City!

    And it is one addiction probably worthy of having.

  16. Scared? No, I'm simply not a fool. Only a fool fights a battle he knows he can not win. Book it.

    Oh, and perhaps David is open to bribing? ;)

  17. I've been trying out a new game called, "Chocolatier". Similar to Lemonade Stand Tycoon. I think I am going to lose a few days of my life to this one.

  18. Bart,

    I respectifully disagree. With you! Imagine that! You are definitely scared.

  19. Annie,

    Chocolate sounds much better than lemonade. I'll try to steer clear of that one.

  20. I know what you're trying to do. 1) Not going to work; and 2) What are you, 10? :D

  21. Bart,

    I know I look young for my age - at least in the hand picked photo on my blog. But 10? Come on, you're only trying to get on my good side.

  22. Now that was a great blog! Had me crackin' up. Plus i've been there with many games...

    ...currently addicted to Pro Evolution Soccer, been about four years now . . . they release a new one each year.

    What the hell am i supposed to do?!!!!

  23. Ak-Man,

    So glad I am not alone. When you are ready for a cure let me know and I'll send my brother over to steal your equipment. Or at least take a sledge hammer to it. What should he be looking for? Computer? Wiii? PS3?

  24. name is b., and I'm an addict.

  25. b. -

    You sound so accepting. I prefer a pinch of denial for myself.

  26. Now it's time to stop playing around . . . no pun intended.

    Come near my PS2 with a sledge hammer and it's soooooooo on!!!

  27. Ak-man,

    I take you aren't ready to be cured. Yet.

  28. Ohhh Yes Nooo I disagree i love my ps2
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