He reached for the light switch the second he entered his room. It had been a long day for him. The temptation to continue where he had left off the previous night had been plaguing his mind the moment he first sat down on the stiff desk chairs provided by the school. It had only been 7:30 in the morning then. The energy he had burned–while trying to take his mind away from the urge to lose himself in another gameplay–had left him feeling drained. It did not help that he had to sit through several mind-numbing lectures for the whole day. But time was of the essence, he thought, as he forcibly dragged his feet across the rough, scratchy carpeted-floor of the room and towards the corner where his desk stood. There, he laid out all his work for the night, intending to finish most, if not, all of it as soon as possible.
It seemed, however, that the night was not on his side.
He soon found himself drifting away from the task-at-hand and instead closer towards the lingering thoughts at the back of his mind that tended to overwhelm his entire being. Slowly, those thoughts began to sneak past his defenses and disrupt his senses. As each second passed, he could feel his heartbeat accelerating, his breathing becoming labored, and his overall levels of anxiety increasing. The stress slightly pressing down on him recently seems to have finally caught up to him.
Finally, he gives in to the temptations that have been provoking him since the day began. His hands that had initially been flipping through the pages of an open book idly –suddenly start moving mechanically, as if on auto-pilot, to set up his computer.
Focus. The enemy could be anywhere.
A bullet came sizzling from the left. On instinct, his right hand shoves the mouse sideward, clicking furiously, as the fingers on his left hand pound keyboard keys hard — driving his frustrations against the popping plastic letters. It was a combination his body knew perhaps too well. As soon as the virtual danger had passed, the stiff tension in his joints quickly drained from body to device in contact; a secured kill meant his hunched shoulders could relax.
With realities formed by unique plot lines, characters, and entertaining narratives, video games never failed to entice people from all over the world to immerse themselves in the riveting alternate worlds. From children to adults, video games have been delighting its players time and time again. While others may play casually, some — like Mark*, Michael Gerra-Clarin, and Reflet* — devote more than six hours of their day to gaming. For them, gaming has become a necessary part of their daily activities, and not without reason or consequence.
“On days where I’m really busy and unable to, I’m fine with [not playing], but I feel like I deserve more time to play when I get the chance.” says Mark* who forces himself to detach from all gaming devices unless he has a minimum of three hours to spare for deep-diving into a gaming time block.
It is not uncommon for playtime to go beyond schedule; other things, like homework and dinner, get shuffled around to make way for the minutes elastically stretching to accommodate another round or two. Or three. Maybe four.
Gerra-Clarin admits his academics have taken the backseat at times, left unfinished in favor of more gaming hours–consumed in pursuit of completing another quest or climbing up the leaderboard. Reflet*, meanwhile, asserts that it’s his gaming life that has been disturbed and obstructed by pesky school work. But, it is evident that the time and effort dedicated to their playing are rarely considered wasted. For them, gaming has clear benefits.Aside from entertainment value, it purportedly serves as an avenue aiding in socialization processes, stress relief, cognitive development, and discipline formation.
Lengthy time commitment is a norm for the gaming community. Streamers spend much of their time exhibiting their gameplay and accumulating hundreds to thousands of views, especially when doing continuous 24-hour (or more) sleepless and break-less sessions. With games on all his devices, Reflet* says he “forces” himself to play; he’d find a way around the constraints of the clock through playing the lesser binding and time-consuming games. Even when they are not playing, they could still be thinking about gaming, as in the case of Gerra-Clarin who frequently finds himself watching others’ gameplay videos to compensate for his own lack of playing.
Gaming has grown into their lifeline. It has already been integrated into their lives, into who they are–so deeply that it has become difficult for them to even consider quitting what they have spent most of their time on, developing their personas and living through different storylines and gameplays.
But would things have really been any different if they had instead been invested in, say, activities such as marathon-ing TV dramas or sports match videos on demand (VODs), scrolling and refreshing social networking sites, or thumbing through just one more chapter? Mark* believes the end result to be the same, “It’s usually a problem with the individual, and not video games. […] If I did not want to do work, I would procrastinate regardless of whether I could play video games or not.”
In a way, video games can act like patchwork, fronts and cover-ups for underlying issues that individuals would understandably rather set aside. Since other hobbies do not pique his interest as much, Reflet* considers gaming as an alternative to vices and a welcome opportunity to “ignore depression.” As an outlet or escape, gaming can be a way to tussle with others, to go to war with coded characters instead of wrestling with inner emotions and ragged thoughts; it can be a way to keep their mind preoccupied rather than buzzed with the problems they’d much rather not face. For some, it represents a way to breathe and take a pause from a chaotic world; for others, it could be what sets them in motion, builds into them a sense of normalcy and control.
Flipping between sites, our protagonist finds a new gameplay highlight reel on YouTube. But then, his favorite Twitch streamer goes live at the same time, and that ding sound? It wasn’t a new Facebook message but a notification. On Discord, his fellow gamer friends were online, and already fired up with a fervor befitting a modern warrior ready to roll over some other team’s online personas and fronted champions. He shifts in his seat to find a more comfortable position, then drags his mouse to relaunch the game. He’s unphased upon realizing he was in for another long night.
This time around, the enemy is much smarter. Stepping right into a trap, his character’s position becomes compromised! Button smashing and neck elongating out of habit, he watches his health bar drain. Warning signs flash in his head, being too late — the screen ends up blinking to gray. He pulls his hands back from the keyboard,feeling a certain heaviness seep through his arms to settle atop his shoulders. Defeated, he pulls off his headset and lets his head fall back against the back of his chair.
For a moment, he lets the ever-growing to-do list catch up to him. He takes a deep, sharp breath of contemplation, his mood teetering between annoyance and terror. He considers getting up to do his work, his mind cramped with bickering thoughts. For a moment, he found his world at a standstill.
*Name(s) with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.