There was a time, once, when all my energy was spent not in fighting my so-called “addiction” but in cherishing it and nurturing it. Because when I would stay up until two in the morning, neglecting homework that was due the next day, I actually believed that I was doing something worthwhile. There are millions of people who play a wasteful amount of video games, and my prayer is that they might be able to relate to my story of how I fell into this addiction, and perhaps be inspired by the way God lifted me out.
There’s no such thing as a video game addiction
In society today, a video game habit is nowhere near as glamorous as a drug habit. One is associated with sex and rock ‘n’ roll, and the other is associated with the impotent man-boy, the possessor of severely underdeveloped social skills. Some studies suggest that as many as 1 in 10 teenage gamers display similar traits as people who struggle with compulsive gambling. In fact, before I go further, let me point out that a video game addiction is not a medically accepted disorder. However, due to the habit-forming similarities it shares with gambling, perhaps “compulsion,” a term associated with gambling, would be more suitable to use. But for the purposes of this article, I am using "addiction," so just bear that in mind.
Are video games entirely to blame for an unengaged generation? Certainly they play a part, rewarding skill and countless hours of practice. What’s more alluring is the fact that some of the most addictive games, like Modern Warfare 3 and World of Warcraft
are all social in nature, rewarding players for both working together and outperforming other real people.
I grew up playing video games as often as I could. I remember them being a distraction from school and chores. But I don’t remember initially feeling like I was addicted. I just remember video games gradually becoming more and more a part of my life. At age 16, I joined Xbox Live, which enabled me to easily play and chat with real people all around the world. That was when things got bad.
It wasn’t only video games that consumed my time. I was an entertainment-aholic. Music, movies, comics … you name it. Mass consumption became my cultural currency, and I judged people by their cultural IQ. If you hadn’t heard of a cool TV show, you were a loser. If you didn’t listen to the music I liked, you had no taste. All day long, wherever I went, I had to put up with people that I gradually came to see as beneath me. I endured it but began to push them away. In my slow retreat from community, I began playing games increasingly. They were the closest thing I had to something meaningful.
The unasked question
It’s easy to vilify an addiction, but rarely is the question asked, “What need is this addiction meant to fill?” Anyone who struggles with an addiction of any kind is trying to cope with some source of pain in their life, at least at the onset of the addiction. For some it’s loneliness or depression. Some are angry or even bored. I think I just lacked purpose.
My parents are very wise. I didn’t realize that at the time, but I realize it now. On several occasions, as I struggled with school, my dad remarked to me: “Your problem isn’t that you’re lazy, it’s just that you haven’t yet found what you’re passionate about.” I see that truth in almost every high school student I talk to these days. They just don’t know what they’re passionate about.
Video games give purposeless people something to fight and a clear way to fight it. Growing up in suburbia, I sometimes heard of the problems the world faced, but they were so far removed my reality. I felt blessed that I didn’t have to deal with those things. It never occurred to me that I could actually do something to eradicate poverty, trafficking or any of the other myriad “real” problems. I just spent more and more of my time playing games, killing enemies, solving puzzles, saving worlds.
God doesn’t like video games
I never stopped attending church, or even youth group, but there was an increasing disconnect. I knew that video games would be considered an idol in my life, and I was sure God probably did not like them. Nobody ever actually told me that, but somehow I came to be convinced of it anyway. I thought I had to make a choice between serving God or pursuing my own entertainment. I chose games. That was when I knew I had a problem, for I certainly didn’t want to disappoint God. I was too afraid of hell.
But I already felt distant from God, and for that I cannot blame video games. The biggest cause of my shame was my ongoing, closeted addiction to pornography. Some nights, the reason I played Xbox until two in the morning was because I so desperately didn’t want to be lured over to my computer.
So I cannot blame video games for my problems, yet neither can I blame pornography. The root of my problem was internal, not just external. I was simply a broken person who had been born into a broken world and needed someone greater than myself to mend my brokenness and rid me of my disgrace.
The effects of addiction
High school ended (I almost didn’t graduate), and my already malnourished friendships slowly but surely starved to death. I only spent time with two other people—both of them gamers. I considered them my best friends, but our relationships never went deeper than goofing around and discussing the latest this or that. I loved them like brothers, but my love had no roots. It was that vague inkling of friendship based entirely on shared interests—friendship that had never been tested.
I was still working a part-time job, but I had no ambition. My life had settled down into a comfortable rut. I don’t think I ever had a moment of desperation, as I wasn’t nearly that passionate about life. Instead, I just sort of lowered my expectations and began to tell myself that the way things were is the way they would continue to be. As far as I was concerned, God was no longer a part of the picture.
But through it all, He was working behind the scenes to soften my heart to love Him and prepare me for the future that He dreamed of.
Check back soon for Part Two: Restoration.
Jordan Ekeroth is a regular contributor at Gamechurch and editor of Follow and Engage, an ongoing project to bring attention to the ways that Christians are interacting with video game culture. Follow it on Twitter.