How To Change Your Gaming
If you want to reduce or eliminate your gaming, it’s important to start by understanding what needs your gaming is currently meeting for you. If you haven’t already, have a read of the ‘Why Do People Get Addicted To Games’ section of this website and see if you can identify which of the reasons discussed motivate you to play games the most. Is it to escape stress or painful feelings in your life? Is it to experience a sense of connection or belonging with others? Is it to experience a sense of having something meaningful to do? Or is it to experience a sense of potency and achievement? It’s important to try and work this out, because as you begin to cut back or quit your gaming, you will need to find other ways to meet these needs – otherwise, you are likely to find it challenging to stay away from the games. Later on I will suggest some other ways that you might be able to meet these needs outside of gaming.
The next thing is to decide how much you want to cut back. Do you want to stop entirely, or do you just want to reduce the time you spend gaming? Whatever the case, it is important that you make a clear decision about this with the intention of sticking with it. If you're not sure, or if you have never tried controlling your gaming before, it may be helpful to start with a challenging but manageable decrease. If you've been playing for 8 hours a day after work, you might start by cutting that back to 5 or 6. Trying it out in this way will also help give you a sense, if you don't already have one, about how much you are able to control your gaming. If you try this approach and find that it doesn't work for you, it may be helpful to get help from others such as a professional therapist or psychologist, or from a support group.
Lastly, and most importantly in reducing your gaming, is to follow through with it. Obviously, this is where it gets hard. Depending on how long you have been gaming for and how much, you may well experience a number of 'withdrawal' symptoms. These symptoms are very normal, and are a consequence both of neurological changes in the brain that occur with addiction, and potentially a very real loss of something that has been meeting particular psychological needs. You may experience a flatness of mood and a sense of emptiness, or the opposite - you may experience strong emotions or find yourself becoming upset or irritable easily. You may find it helpful at this stage to spend time away from where you normally spent time gaming. Go to a friend's place, to the library, to the park - and if you have to work or study on the computer, try and do this on a different computer from your gaming one.
The challenge of this stage lies in finding ways to manage and cope with the wide variety of difficult experiences that not gaming creates. You will probably feel, at various times: Bored, flat, irritable, tired, depressed, lost, confused, uncertain and many other feelings. At the same time, you will likely experience cravings to go back to playing games, and will find yourself asking questions like "Is this really a good idea?" or "What about if I just played for a little bit?" Maybe "What about if I played a different type of game from the one I was addicted to?" Again, all these questions and feelings are a very normal part of the process and will, given enough time, eventually pass.
In the meantime, there are a number of ways to help manage these feelings and thoughts. The most research-supported and reliable of these are exercise, mindfulness (or other similar practices) and social engagement. It's pretty normal for people who are quitting or cutting back games to be doing very little or nothing in the way of exercise, mindfulness and social engagement so bringing more of this into your life may be challenging at first, but these are also the things most likely to give you some relief from the gap left by gaming, and begin building a better life for yourself.
"I realized that games are at their core a way to fill up time. With minor exceptions, I don't grow as a person playing games, and the time I devote to them does not yield real, broad-reaching results that benefit my life. I've found after a lot -- and I mean, a hell of a lot -- of hard work, that I can do great things with my life if I only spend my time wisely, in fulfilling areas.
Exercise can be as simple as going for a walk every day, going to the gym or joining a community sports team. For many of us, exercising alone can be a difficult thing to do so if you're new to exercising then joining an exercise class at a gym can be a really good place to start - these classes are usually pretty anonymous, welcoming to new members and can help you build a regular exercise plan. Alternatively if you have a friend or family member who'll go walking or running with you (or will go to the gym) that might be a good option.
Mindfulness is another practice that can help immensely with managing difficult feelings and thoughts. Basically, it's a way of training yourself to observe and notice your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them, and with an attitude or curiosity and acceptance rather than judgement or analysis. It's also been shown in numerous studies to be highly effective for managing depression, anxiety and the sorts of obsessive thoughts and cravings that arise in addictions. Better still, there's a ton of free material available online that can teach you how to practice mindfulness at home. You might start with The Free Mindfulness Project which has a bunch of free exercises you can do and explains more about what's involved.
Getting out and spending time with others has also been shown time and again to have huge benefits in managing the withdrawal period in addiction. Particularly for gamers who have spent a lot of time socialising online, it can be a slow process to start making connections in the real world again but this can be a perfect time to begin. Whether it's connecting with old friends, taking up classes or attending hobby groups, or simply meeting people for the sake of meeting them through sites like Meetup, spending time with others can be a huge help in managing the early stages of giving up or cutting back on gaming.
As mentioned previously, the other part of managing the feelings created when cutting back or giving up gaming is finding other ways to meet the needs that were previously met by gaming. Below are a few ideas for other ways that you might meet some of these needs.
Here's some things that helped me most:
- Mutual support with fellow gaming addicts, especially with a sponsor in CGAA.
- Learning from people who successfully stay off games and turn their lives around.
- Being helpful to others.
- Getting honest with myself about the effects of so much compulsive gaming on every area of my life.
- Consistent effort at applying higher principles (acceptance, gratitude, honesty, service) to my life and striving for a higher purpose.
Finding A Sense Of Purpose And Goals
- Create a plan for where you want to be in five years' time, and identify the practical steps that you would need to take to get there. This might include further study or training, or engagement in new activities. Try and work back to something you can do today that could contribute, even in just a small way, towards that goal
- Look back at the things that you used to find meaningful and purposeful in your life before gaming. Could any of those things become meaningful to you again? Think about how you might be able to re-engage or pick up things that you stopped when you began gaming
- Take up a hobby or begin a project that interests you. Look up topic groups in your area through sites like meetup and see if any of them interest you.
- Join a support community like stopgaming or Olganon and use your own experiences with gaming to support others.
- If you are working or studying, look for new opportunities to focus yourself on a project or assignment. Look for ways to make these things more meaningful to you by working on things that you care about.
- Volunteer. Most places have many agencies that are always looking for volunteers, and this can be a great way to do something meaningful and make new friends and connections at the same time.
Finding A Sense Of Achievement And Potency
- Get involved in other challenging or competitive hobbies. Martial arts, sports, board gaming, weight lifting and many other hobbies provide an opportunity to challenge yourself and others. Although improvements and reward may come more slowly than with gaming, putting time into these things will lead to guaranteed improvements.
- Create challenges for yourself at work or in your study. Find ways to create a sense of progress through your daily activities by setting clear, measurable and achievable goals for yourself. One thing games do well is provide you with clear, well-defined goals and so this is something that it's important to be able to do for yourself.
- Consider areas of your life that you would like to improve and explore what you would need to do to achieve that. Try and identify things that you can do right now to improve the situation, even if the end result might be a long way off.
Finding A Sense Of Belonging And Community
- Join a support community like stopgaming or Olganon and share your experience with others and hear what others have to say.
- Connect with old friends, or make new ones through hobbies or social sites like Meetup or CouchSurfing
- Spend time with family. Either as a group, or one-on-one. Get out of the house and go for walks together, or find quiet places where you can talk together.
- Join community groups or teams. Community sports teams, community choirs or community theatre groups can be great for this.
- Volunteer! There are few better ways to meet people, and your contributions will always be valued. It can also help a lot with job opportunities in the future.
Finding A Sense Of Freedom And Escape
- Remember what you used to do to unwind before gaming. Get back to the things that used to help you relax, and be patient - it might take some time for them to feel quite as good as they used to.
- Read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, go for a walk, build something, plant something, draw something.
- Look at what other people in your life do to unwind, and if you feel like it, see if they'd be happy to teach you (if it's a hobby) or take part, or if you could apply it to your own life.
- Take up mindfulness (The Free Mindfulness Project)
Finding A Sense Of Identity
- Follow the steps above and this will come in time! Our identity is a combination of the things we do, how we see ourselves and how others see us. All these things will change if you follow the ideas above.
Changing or reducing the way you game if it has become addictive is not an easy process, and will generally bring up a lot of difficult thoughts and feelings. While exercise, mindfulness, socialising and talking with family and friends can all help, it's still often a challenging process. If you find that you are not managing on your own, then you may also find it helpful to get additional support including through professional services. Some of the places where you may be able to get help are listed here.