Why I've left gaming behind for good
I am a Video Game addict.
For how long? Ever since I was 4 years old in 2000. I started with Pokémon on the Game Boy. Ever since then, I played video games almost every day for 22 years.
What pain was I experiencing as a child to become addicted to gaming? My pain was living with autism in a world that assaulted my senses. The world is loud and my sensitivity to noise made engaging with it deeply uncomfortable.
I wanted to control the volume of the world. I wanted to be in charge of what sounds I heard and where they were coming from.
Gaming met this need. I can adjust the volume of games whenever I wanted to and just stay still and focus on a screen. Narrowing the world to this one static place calmed me.
Another aspect of autism is that learning is harder to understand and memorise. Learning from mistakes was deeply uncomfortable for me because you couldn't just hit the reset button and continue as if it never happened.
Gaming was what I thought the world should be. I could be anyone, do anything, travel anywhere, engage with it on my own terms and fix mistakes immediately after making them.
What made Gaming such a long lasting addiction was that my friends loved gaming as much as I did. It would be a part of our every day conversation at school and it would be our main social activity.
But over the years, gaming would continue to get more realistic in terms of its visuals and depiction of violence.
When The Last of Us came out in 2013, my addiction to gaming would escalate and, over the years, negatively impact my mental health.
The Last of Us was such an exciting game for me when it came out. It had an amazing soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, excellent sound design and a compelling story.
I held onto this game and its soundtrack every day by playing it or obsessively thinking about it. What is disturbing about this is that for a decade, I was thinking about a video game that focused primarily on gratuitous violence. I played The Last of Us over 100 times and was desensitized to the violence.
After graduating from Rose Bruford College in 2018, I continued playing The Last of Us every day to cope with the stresses of my career as a Theatre Sound Technician. However, there came a point where I had to go to hospital in 2019 and get professional help.
When I left hospital, I was told by the Early Intervention Team to stop playing violent video games. I found it very difficult to internalise this because I was desperate to play The Last of Us: Part II a year later.
For a whole year, I kept attempting to convince my family therapists that it was ok for me to play violent games again. Once they gave me the approval, I played violent games like Spider-Man again and created the YouTube Channel, Games Without Music.
I made this channel because it was during the COVID lockdown and I wanted to do something more than just play games by myself. I wanted to show the world the impact that sound design and voice acting has on video games.
Oddly enough, playing The Last of Us: Part II would be the push I needed to eventually quit playing video games for good. I remember feeling upset and disturbed by the ending. This game was full of emotional suffering and the ending was just depressing. I couldn't shake this feeling.
But, later in 2020, Micah Edmonds would perfectly convey the hurt I was feeling playing this game in his video, Be Bloody or Be Nothing Worth - An Excision of The Last of Us Part II.
This video helped me see and realise that, everyday, I would come back and invest my time and energy to a fictional world full of violence and killing. For 22 years, I've had to deal with an art form that almost significantly revolves around violence. That's the definition of every popular big budget game. If it's not bloody, then its worth nothing.
A quote from this video hit me like a ton of bricks... "I just don't get why we're still here."
Why? Because that quote helped me internalise that I could leave this fictional world behind for good. Why come back to this world ever again when it was the reason why I had to go to hospital?
So I left it.
But this was still during the COVID pandemic. There were no theatre jobs anywhere. The only thing that I knew intimately apart from Theatre Sound was Gaming.
So for two years, I did a Masters in Game Design at Kingston University and decided to focus on designing non-violent games.
It was an amazing time but I noticed that even playing non-violent games and uploading videos about them still took a big chunk of time out of my day.
Through discussions I've had with my therapist and the amazing website Game Quitters, I decided to quit playing video games completely. I've sold my PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. I stopped listening to video game podcasts and watching YouTube videos about games. I went even further and stopped listening to video game soundtracks.
As of writing this blog, I haven't engaged in video games for 10 months and 23 days.
I graduated my Masters earlier this year. I now primarily read non-fiction books, listen to lo-fi music and recently worked in the West End as the Sound Operator for 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist'.
Addiction can be overcome! You can succeed!
If you are concerned about your consumption of video games or if you're a parent who is concerned about your child's use of video games, Game Quitters is the best place to go to get the right information on how to deal with it.
Images from The Last of Us: Part I and II from Naughty Dog.