10 Days As a Skyrim Widow: The Dark Side of Gaming Addiction
So when my boyfriend told me that Skyrim was coming out November 11 and that I shouldn't expect to see him for three months, I was like, "Oh, ha ha, funny joke about how time-consuming games are. I get it." But then I started reading horror stories about "gaming widows" on totally serious news sites, which are the ultimate authority in telling us what to be scared of. ("Could Illegal Immigrants Be Giving You Cancer?" etc.)
So that got me properly scared. Furthermore, I found out the so-called "experts" have refused to classify video game addiction as a real addiction, so I decided to keep a daily journal of Mike's actions, hoping to capture a real case study of a descent into video game addiction that would finally wake them up, and maybe win me some kind of science prize.
Day 1: 11/10
8:57 pm -- I ask Mike to help me change out the cat litter box. "OK," he says, winkingly, "but only if it takes less than 3 minutes." He gets to start playing Skyrim at midnight Eastern time, which I guess is 9:00 here. Already he's watching the clock like a hawk. His pupils might be dilated. I think that is something you are supposed to measure when you are assessing addiction. I saw it on CSI once.
9:02 pm -- How can cats not tell when their butt is not in the litter box? "Gee my ass feels kind of high and my back feet aren't touching any litter, but I sure see a litter box in front of me so I must be in it. Aaaahhhhhhh."
Yeah, I'm talking about you, you little asshole.
Well, it's cleaned up now. Mike saunters over to the computer and checks on the game. It's ready to go. I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the ordeal to come. I may not see him again for months. I must be brave.
9:45 pm -- Mike wanders over to the couch and passes out. It could be from the 10-hour days he's been working on his feet with no breaks, or it could be from the ton of Benadryl he just took to deal with his allergy symptoms, but I think the most likely cause is just emotional exhaustion after the excitement of the moment he's been building up to all week. His gaming obsession must have run deeper than I thought to make him this tired.
9:50 pm -- Well, now I have nothing to observe and a ton of time to kill. People say that Angry Birds game sure is a lot of fun, maybe I'll check it out.
Day 2: 11/11
6:30 pm -- On my way home from work. Bracing myself for the way the house is going to look when I get home -- messy dishes, lights off, probably forgot to let the dog out. I'll have to remember to keep an eye out for poop.
7:00 pm - No poop on the floor. Mike has a full three-course dinner ready. While we're eating, I can sense him itching to get back to the computer. He's not hurrying or flighty or showing any outward symptoms at all actually, but you know. I've got a sixth sense. He keeps asking me why I am staring at his pupils.
I can never remember whether dilated means bigger or smaller. I hope that doesn't impact this experiment.
7:30 pm -- At last, I'm getting a chance to fully observe him absorbed in the game. He's got his headphones on and is completely focused on the screen. I bet he won't even hear me if I talk to him. I'm going to test that theory out.
7:31 pm -- I tested it out with a "Hey." He paused the game after an almost 1 second delay, turned to me and said, "Hi." I gave him a hug and he hugged me back but I don't think he was giving it 100 percent. I would assess the hug at 75, maybe 78 percent. Clearly the game was already draining his focus.
8:05 pm -- Tracy Morgan, our fattest cat, has been sitting in his lap for the past 15 minutes and he hasn't even noticed.
I hope I don't damage her kitty body image with this comparison.
Some studies have shown that activity decreases in certain parts of the brain when playing video games, specifically a part responsible for decision-making and some higher cognitive functions, maybe like noticing a cat has climbed into your lap. If he can't even notice something that fat jumping on his lap, soon enough he will be just like those gaming addict couples that neglect their starving kids. It's scary to see what these games can do to your brain.
8:10 pm -- Lost all my research links about video games and brain chemistry. Somehow my cat got into my lap while I was typing that last paragraph and she just now rolled over onto the keyboard. She's a sneaky devil.
10:25 pm -- No new observations here. He's still scarily absorbed in that little world. I've downloaded some more iPhone games to kill time in between pupil checks. Plants vs. Zombies is awesome! I've been playing it for the past hour and didn't even notice. Good stuff.
Day 3: 11/12
8:30 am -- Picked up my phone to check my mail before I got up, and realized I'd left a level of Plants vs. Zombies unfinished yesterday. Spent half an hour finishing it up. Take that, pool zombies!
Seriously, the dolphin rider zombies can go fuck themselves.
9:00 am -- I had a great idea for a spreadsheet I was going to set up to track his pupil dilations and other physical signs. He is pretty agreeable about me putting electrodes on his chest and forehead but vetoed the colonoscopy because he "doesn't understand what that was going to show." Personally, I think he's afraid of seeing the physical evidence of how much this addiction is affecting him.
11:30 am -- He's back on the computer. Earlier, he took a shower, washed the dishes and started some laundry, which is what he normally does, but I don't think he was as into it as he usually is. I think I saw him frown when he picked up his dirty socks. Addiction often causes people to lose interest in the tasks they once loved.
He used to love doing this. Or maybe I loved it when he did it and I didn't have to. Either way.
2:45 pm -- Missed a bunch of vital-sign checks. I was busy downloading a bunch of iPhone games. One of the games I had gives you extra "coins" if you agree to download and open other games, so I got every single one. It's OK, they're all free, so I'm not spending any money. I don't fall for that kind of thing. I'll probably delete them all once I get the "coins" in my account.
5:45 pm -- Actually, a lot of those games aren't half bad. I've worked out a pretty good schedule. I'm checking on Mike every half hour, and I have to check on my persistent iPhone games regularly to collect my crops or coins or zoo animals or what have you, so it's actually a really great clock to keep me on schedule. Every time I collect from my laundromat in Crime City, I'll remember to go take down Mike's stats.
Or when it's time to train my tranny dinosaur.
8:30 pm -- Mike cooked again -- we had dinner in front of the TV and watched a couple of episodes of American Dad. I don't really like Roger so I decided to watch Mike during all his bits, and what I saw was ominous. He was clearly not laughing as hard as he did last week -- even at the exact same jokes he had cracked up at last week (this was a rerun). The game was sucking the life out of him before my eyes.
Day 4: 11/13
11:30 am -- Caught Mike cursing at the computer. Apparently he's having some trouble killing a dragon. One of the most worrisome issues about immersive video games, at least according to experts, is that players who spend enough time with them can have difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality. I can see Mike is at the first step of this: bringing his frustration with a fictional dragon into the real world.
He goes "Get down here!" and the dragon goes, "Flap, flap, flap!"
I realize I have to step in before the illusion consumes him. "It's OK, it's not a real dragon," I reassure him. He turns around and just stares at me. It hits me that he must be so deep in his immersion that he probably doesn't even recognize me and just sees me as a character in the game. "Forsooth, good sir!" I say. "Thou needeth not slay the dragon forthwith, but pray take thee a five minute break and refresh thyself!" Then I start to play a mirthful tune on the lute I happen to have handy.
He just sighs deeply, turns around in his chair, and goes back to playing the game. I catch my breath. It may already be too late for him.
11:35 am -- GOD FUCKING DAMMIT I MISSED THE TIME TO COLLECT MY MAFIA MONEY AND SOMEBODY ROBBED ME! FUCK THIS FUCKING PIECE OF CRAP IPHONE GAME! ROBIN_248718 SO HELP ME GOD I AM GOING TO KILL YOU AND YOUR WHOLE GANG! I DON'T MEAN IN THE GAME I MEAN I AM GOING TO GET YOUR PERSONAL ACCOUNT INFO FROM APPLE AND I AM GOING TO TRACK YOU DOWN AND PHYSICALLY KILL YOU AND IF THIS IS YOUR MOM'S PHONE I GUESS TOO BAD AND SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR MOM I HOPE YOU HAD MANY WONDERFUL YEARS TOGETHER
Robin_248718's mom. In the next life she will not be letting him play games on her phone.
10:25 pm -- Man, are my eyes tired. I've been sitting here in the study monitoring Mike all day and playing iPhone games in between checking on him. I've gotten to level 30 in Crime City, which seems kind of fast. Probably the level scaling is broken or something. I wish some of this shit recharged faster though. The minimum amount of time to collect money from a building is 5 minutes, which leaves me with 5 minutes of nothing to do. Maybe I'll pick up Bejeweled or something to get me through it.
Day 5: 11/14
9:00 am -- Back to work today, so I won't be able to observe Mike until evening. On a tangent though, you know what's great about iPhone games? If you hold your phone close enough, it looks like you're just checking your mail, which is a totally acceptable activity at work. All I have to do is open the program, make some disparaging comment about another department ("Oh, when is Surfacing going to get it?") and then all my furious clicking is just going to look like a diligent attempt to get this project on track.
"Yes! Straight flush! I mean, uh ... oh no, 20 messages since lunch! Better get to work!"
1:00 pm -- Man, Tower Defense: Lost Earth is the best thing. Funny thing about the title, though, they pissed off a lot of people when they came out with it because tower defense is a whole genre. It would be like naming a new game First Person Shooter or Role-Playing Game. All the grandmas buying gifts for their grandkids would end up buying them because they can't tell the difference between all the games in the genre. The kids would be mad, the people who make your Halos and Calls of Duty would be mad, and I totally get why this upsets people, but it turns out it's actually a pretty absorbing game. It really builds on a lot of the strengths of previous tower defense games while making some real UI improvements ... oh, listen to me. This journal is supposed to be about the onset of Mike's tragic video game addiction, not about me and my silly games.
6:00 pm -- Not entirely sure I got any work done today. Probably too worried about Mike.
Day 7: 11/16
9:00 am -- Oh shit, did I miss a day? Hang on, I think I can remember everything if I write it down quickly, like in the next couple hours or so. I just need to check in on my Pet Hotel first. I want to start construction on a 14-hour room and it has to be finished before I go to bed. Be right back in 5.
Day 8: 11/17
9:00 am -- FUCK
9:05 am -- OK, I've lost some valuable days of data here, but I've got a plan. I'll just use linear regression to extrapolate the data for the missing days. I'm not sure that's what linear regression is supposed to be used for but it sounds pretty fancy so I'm sure it can do a lot of things.
I believe it is some form of magic. The dots are probably fairy dust.
10:30 am -- Mental note: turn off sound when playing Bejeweled in boring meetings.
1:00 pm -- I missed lunch, but it was worth it. I beat Tower Defense's final boss on hard mode.
1:30 pm -- Called Mike to check on how his addiction is doing. It took him three rings to pick up so he clearly can barely tear himself away.
1:45 pm -- I talked to a smart friend and he said that I should be able to extrapolate the missing days from the data I got as long as I don't lose any more days, so I'll plug everything in when I get home tonight. Data. Tonight. Musn't forget!
Day 9: 11/18
9:00 am -- FUCK
Day 10: 11/19
9:00 am -- Okay, I'm officially canceling this experiment. I have a column to write for Cracked and don't really have time for this kind of diversion anymore. So I'm going to get cracking on that as soon as I check in on my Pet Hotel ...
For quality writing from Christina before her crippling addiction set in, check out 5 Multiplayer Video Games That Will Destroy Your Marriage and 5 Examples of Americans Thinking Foreign People Are Magic. We'll miss her.