How much is too much? – Part 2 – Indulgence and Addiction

This is part 2 of the “How much is too much?” series of posts. In this post I’ll talk about over indulgence and addiction since they are related. Everyone knows that too much of any one thing (even something like water) is bad for you physically, but what about spiritually? How does that relate to how you interact with the world outside of games?

These two things are multifaceted as well and I’ll touch on some of those such as fasting, pornography, and despair.

How it works

Let’s take food for example. If I have an addiction to food and overindulging every time I see a little coffee cake or when work brings in food, I find myself literally unable to resist. I must have it. Even if I don’t really want it. I’ve had a million candy bars, so why do I feel like I can’t resist it? After the indulgence, I don’t even really feel good about it.

The reality is that you’re not seeking food, you’re seeking a high from the dopamine that your brain produces. This comes from indulging in any action or preaction (thinking about it). Your brain is saying eating this food is good and as a reward I’ll make you feel good by releasing dopamine. So eating the delicious food ultimately releases dopamine. Almost all addictions work this way. Drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, etc. When you indulge in something that you crave, your brain releases dopamine and other endorphins which literally makes you high. Why you have the craving is related to human nature and the body trying to survive the best it can.

Not me certainly!

How do I know if I’m addicted? I would say if you smell like a dirty rag when you’re done playing. If you find yourself not showering or brushing your teeth. If you play too long, for example 3 hours a day. 3 is still a lot, but if you really like a game, that might seem reasonable, maybe a little more. Everyone is different so maybe it might be better to say x number of hours a week. If you forget to do things, like chores, homework, other responsibilities. If you have trash lying about in your living space. You’ll know it. In any case, the guidelines provided below should probably be practiced by anybody, gamers or not.

The result and dangers

The idea is that if you can say no to the little things, you can being to say no to the larger things such as pornography and drugs, which may seem impossible if you are highly addicted. For example, if you always say yes to coffee cakes, then you might find yourself unable to say no to the next cat video. Then you’re unable to say no to scantly clad lady pictures on the internet. Then it just keeps snow balling to pornography, expensive purchases, and then seductive women/men. No pedophile ever just decides one day to be a pedophile. They get there slowly by giving in to their cravings over and over and it becomes worse and worse until they no longer have the willpower to say no. Their brain has carved out a finely tuned well set of pathways that leads to a reward (regardless of how evil it may be). How they got there they don’t even know. This is why the Catholic church highly recommends fasting and praying frequently to curb addictions of all sorts.

Think of it like a pit. Every time you indulge you keep digging yourself into a deeper and deeper pit and the longer you’ve been digging, the more difficult it can be to get out of. Eventually you find yourself depressed and in despair thinking you can’t get out. So you give up. Your only relief in your eyes is more indulgence.This continued indulgence results in more addiction.

The Catholic church highly recommends fasting and praying frequently to curb addictions.

When you get so far down into the hole you actually believe you can’t get out, this is called despair and this is actually a sin. How you ask? It means you lack hope and faith that the power of God can bring you out of it. For example, let’s say for example you are addicted to pornography, a grave sin. But you reach a point where you’ve tried to give it up but no matter what you’ve tried, nothing seems to work. You’ve been beaten down so much by it and you’ve failed so many times you believe there’s no way to stop. So you give up and ultimately you stop going to confession. You stop asking for help. You stop asking for forgiveness. You stop praying. You stop going to mass, after all what’s the point if you can’t receive the Eucharist you say. You believe you’re destined to be doomed. You start blaming things, people, and God himself. This is why despair is a sin. It’s essentially the lack of faith in Jesus Christ to bring you out of the pit.

When you get so far down into the hole you actually believe you can’t get out, this is called despair.

So, what happens when you play a game for too long? You die. Literally. This has happened several times already where someone plays for too long without letting their body and mind rest. In a couple of cases I know the player fell asleep and passed away soon after, sometimes with their stream still going. These cases are extreme, but it is a good indication of what can happen if left unchecked physically.

The problem with games is that you spend lots of hours on a game. You get super strong by the end of the game and you’re kicking butt. You defeat the final boss and the whole way through the game, you’re brain is giving you dopamine and granting you the high because it’s like simulated caveman fighting to your brain. You brain says yes to it because it believes you’re gonna get a huge score of something (meat to eat?). Something perhaps to last the winter. So you defeat the final boss and the game is over. Now what? You reach for the next high. Another game. The cycle continues. Done with that game and you’re onto the next best high. You start to seek games with only the best high (9 or 10 ratings) to guarantee you won’t be let down this time.

So you defeat the final boss and the game is over. Now what? You reach for the next high. Another game.

Eventually after so many games, the highest rated game can’t even get you high. Just like drugs. The old drug you frequented to get you super high no longer performs, then it’s off to the next killer drug. Games don’t get you killed in that way, you just get bored. Then at some point you realize they were good memories but perhaps maybe feel like they sorta robbed you of your life at the same time with nothing to show for it. (I have never met a gamer that regretted wasting time on games though, including me, but you can see how one might feel that way right?)

So what happens when you get bored? Your brain wants it’s high from somewhere else. Some kids, as they start to get older start searching for a girlfriend/boyfriend frantically for sex. Their next big high. This is just an example, but you can see how it these themes are related to other addictions and highs.

The danger is: over indulgence in any activity that produces a lot of dopamine will affect other areas of life potentially leading to sin and overindulgence. Areas where you’re weak at saying no, such as looking a person of the opposite sex up and down like they’re a commodity to be consumed.

How to fight it

Sword Art Online II

What should you do if you find yourself over indulging or addicted to games? Here are a few suggestions, but you’ll have to be creative.

  1. Fast and practice saying “no” to things you like. This sucks and it’s hard, but it helps. If it’s not hard, it’s useless.
  2. Find other stuff to do. Seriously. Get out of the house. Get another hobby other than games. Or perhaps something game related, but not actually playing them.
  3. Don’t make gaming a huge core part of your life, but rather use it like sprinkles on your life to supplement it.
  4. Set up rules to only play games when it’s dark outside.
  5. As a reward for completing x number of hours on a project, you get to play x number of hours.
  6. Remember that God should be the center of your life and nothing else. Do you play games more than you pray? Try swapping for a week and see what happens. Boss #1!

Summary

At this point you may be fully convinced that I’m “anti-game”. This is absolutely not true. This post lays it out in order to show how little things can lead to bigger problems in real life and larger dangers in your life and others’ lives if left unchecked. In this post, particularly addictions.

  • Overindulgence and addictions are cyclic and feed off of each other leading you down a spiral that’s very difficult to get out of.
  • Addictions can be harmful both physically and spiritually in the long run.
  • Fasting and prayer is used to counter addictions.
  • God should be the center of your life, not games. Games are secondary. Pray more than gaming to avoid digging yourself a hole without realizing it.
  • Saying no to little things that you like or limiting your gaming sessions will help you say no to things that really matter, such as cheating on your spouse.

 

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How much is too much? – Part 1

Catholics sorta have a bad rap among non-Catholics in the sense that people seem to think that every little thing is a sin and this limits our freedom or makes us feel depressed or beat up all the time. The truth is that very small things can be sins, but it’s more about achieving perfection to the tiniest of detail. In other words, in heaven we’ll be perfect, but we should start to be perfect now by avoiding sin, no matter how small. But we also shouldn’t stress out about all the minute details of perfection either because this can distract us from sharing God’s love with others.

The sin I’m talking about in this post is multifaceted. It’s a combination of wasting time, over indulgence, addiction, reality avoidance, and sins of omission. To have one of the first posts of this blog be about sin almost leaves a bad taste in your mouth doesn’t it? “Man… Is this whole blog going to be ‘this is a sin and that is a sin?’ What a Debbie Downer Blog.” The answer is no, it just happens to be that way. It’s about answering difficult questions related to gaming while guiding players in a morally responsible direction.

World of Warcraft

So, how much gaming is too much? How much gaming is required before it turns into a sin? Let’s look at each facet one at a time. I will tackle each facet in a separate post.

Wasting Time

Gaming can be used to have a little fun, relax after a day’s work or even used to vent frustration. At some point it’s no longer about relaxing and venting, but rather it consumes hours and hours of your life. This prevents you from interacting with the real world with real people. In a game people are usually interested in one thing, playing the game. Having a real conversation in a game is more difficult. When you do interact, it’s more like you’re interacting with fake characters rather than real people.

Many games are virtually unending such as MMO’s. There are goals and quests, but there’s no real end to the game. The game keeps you coming back because games are money making machines designed to do so. That threshold between relaxation / fun versus wasting time is a grey area and different per person.

Time is a resource and a gift given to us by God. Once you use it, you can not get it back. Money you can get back. Food you can get back. Air you can get back. Time you can not. Wasting time therefore is a sin if left unbounded.

I can’t tell you where that line exists because it’s different per person. But what I can do is offer advice on how to avoid wasting too much time. These are only suggestions to keep in mind.

  1. Allocate x many hours per week for gaming in order to limit it.
  2. Only play games when the sun goes down, not before.
  3. Avoid games that require you to grind. Not all MMO’s, but some, require lots of grinding to level up. If you think this is fun, great, but avoiding the grind fest games will give you a larger reward sooner. Grinding ultimately makes you feel lonely in an otherwise social game.
  4. If you notice that you forget to eat, drink, or shower, this is a sign you might be wasting too much time.
  5. Mix gaming with charity. Don’t just game, but rather mix gaming with acts of kindness in the real world such as participating in church events, praying at an abortion clinic, or other things not virtual.
  6. Set a limit on the number of games you play per year.
  7. Only play games that have near excellent ratings or games that have lower ratings (cheaper to purchase too) that don’t take long to finish such as short indie games.
  8. Use http://www.howlongtobeat.com to see how much time a game takes to beat on average so you can plan ahead. Using this with #6 will help limit the amount of time wasted while maximizing your fun if used in conjunction with your search for good rated games.

Game Designer Responsibilities

The designers have a responsibility to make sure time isn’t wasted for millions of people but rather they need to make sure people achieve their goals and reach their “high” in a reasonable amount of time. In particular for MMOs and the “grinding problem”.

Rejected Metal Gear Solid – Image from Kotaku

I love spending hours grinding to level up. It’s super fun.
– said no gamer ever

Grinding is a huge problem for several reasons:

  1. It’s not fun for the player. I have yet to meet a gamer who said they like to grind.
  2. It consumes large quantities of time. This prevents the players from doing things such as spending time with their family, performing acts of kindness and charity in the real world or in the virtual world, and other good deeds. It essentially steals potential charity from the player.
  3. Everyone who plays an MMO are simultaneously grinding, which means large quantities of time are being wasted for everyone in total. If there are 100,000 players who waste 1 hour each grinding for 30 days, it really adds up, which means lots and lots of hours in total are wasted.
  4. It consumes electricity and manpower unnecessarily. Someone has to pay people to manage the servers and it wastes electricity ultimately killing the environment. And for what? The player doesn’t like it and the developers don’t care either. The designer now has a great responsibility in protecting the environment and protecting the theft of potential charity of the players.

Obviously there’s a line between the “hard work, achieving a goal, feeling good” game flow and the area of grinding. What that line is depends on many factors I will not discuss in this post.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that gaming isn’t the only thing that has this issue. Netflix binging also has the same problem. Vast quantities of time are wasted. What you should set your goal to be is to achieve a suitable amount of fun while wasting the minimum amount of time. In either case, when time is wasted the potential for charity is robbed from the person and potential charity given to others becomes nonexistent. In other words, the gamer is unable to perform works of good deeds to assist people in the real world. Remember, the dragon doesn’t need you to perform evil works to destroy you. He just needs to stop you from performing good ones. One way he does this is by wasting your time. Your maximum potential charity points have been decreased in the real world. This is a real life perma nerf no patch can fix.

Quest

Every post there will be action items. I call these quests or bosses or maybe powerups! This is your quest for this post.

  • Take the amount of time that you game and cut it in half for one week.

First blog post

I’ve been a gamer all of my life and I used to be a hard core gamer, sometimes playing games up to 14 hours a day, only taking a break to eat and use the bathroom. Although I play less games, I currently work in the gaming industry as an engine programmer. I am a Roman Catholic and at some point, (a few years?) I intend to enter the seminary to pursue my vocation as a priest. I decided to start this blog because I realized there’s a large community of people (gamers) and there is virtually no Catholic presence in this community. This is terrible. Many gamers are Catholic, and I haven’t really seen any priest gamers. Maybe it’s because they’re so busy, which is plausible. There is also a large quantity of difficult questions that no one has answered that need answering. For example, how does one love thy neighbor in the gaming community? Is it okay to steal items from people if the developers built that functionality into the game? Or is it still a sin?

I intend to tackle these questions as well as cover various other difficult topics such as violence in video games, the video game as an alternate reality, story lines and their implications on the real world, what games are okay to play and what games aren’t okay, etc.