Sunday, January 1, 2012

The CRPG Compulsive?

Me and Irene--if I was dumb enough to face my computer in such way that she could walk up behind me and see what I was doing without me noticing.


If you're like many people, today is the first day of a new set of resolutions to finally get your life on track. Or tomorrow, since who starts resolutions on a weekend? Actually, I forgot: tomorrow is a holiday for most people. So Tuesday would be better. Definitely Tuesday.

Most resolutions have something to do with addiction. Quit smoking; quit drinking (or drink less); stop eating so much; stop spending so much. We tend to think about certain resolutions in terms of habits that we want to adopt, but most of the time, this means getting rid of a habit that we want to break. Going to the gym more means watching TV less. Spending more time with the family means spending less time on computer games.

Now before you get worried, I didn't make a resolution to stop playing games, though it would probably be better for my life if I did. But it's not something I should dismiss lightly. Unfortunately, I don't mean "CRPG Addict" as a metaphor. If I had a blog called "The Booze Addict"* in which I described my adventures drinking alcohol night after night, spending at least six hours with each brand before rating them on a custom scale you'd all regard it with numb horror, and my comments would be filled with pleas to get help and hyperlinks to Alcoholics Anonymous. But people can read "CRPG Addict" and think that it's meant in a cutesy way, like "chocoholic."

(After I wrote this, I typed http://boozeaddict.blogspot.com into the browser header, and found that it's a real blog, titled "My Family and My Booze: Daily reports on getting off my alcohol addiction." The blogger posted four consecutive days in a row between December 21, 2001 and December 24, 2001, and then never again. I really, really hope that he just discovered that he didn't like blogging.)

I don't mean to suggest that video game addiction is as devastating, or as hard to kick, as alcohol or drug addiction, but it's still a problem. Consider this: I played Skyrim from 3:00 p.m. yesterday until 7:00 a.m. this morning. The only reason that I didn't start playing until 3:00 p.m. yesterday is because I slept until 2:00 after playing until 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning. In fact, in the last seven days, I have done nothing but sleep, bathe, and play Skyrim, save for a couple hours here and there that I used to answer e-mail and crank out my posting on PEDIT5.

I can't help but wonder what I have to show for those 100+ hours. I haven't even won the freaking game. (I would have, of course, if I hadn't started over twice.) I'm way behind on work. I've probably gained 15 pounds, because all my meals have been taken from the couch and generally have involved some form of melted cheese. I only posted one blog entry. I didn't do any of the work in a class I'm taking.

Please, no Skyrim hate in the comments. The issue here isn't whether it's a good game. The issue is that, at least for me, it is an addictive game. Once I start playing it, I literally cannot seem to force myself to stop. "To do" lists, timers, appointments, meals, circadian rhythms, deadlines... Skyrim trumps all of them.


The secret to success surely must be treating your real "to do" list with as much fidelity as this.


This has happened before, of course. I started this blog writing about my "lost weekend" playing Oblivion, and I remember similar stretches of Might & Magic VI and Baldur's Gate in which I pushed the rest of the world aside and did nothing but play games. The advantage was that after about 40 hours, I won them. Skyrim, if you do all the quests--and we must do all the quests, even the bounty hunts and dragon hunts and giant hunts and burglary jobs that keep coming and coming and never actually end yes we must do them too must do them ALL hahahahahaha--must be one of the longest-playing CRPGs ever made--aside from MMORPGs, of course, which I treat like meth. Not even once.

I woke up this morning determined to understand my addiction a little better and, upon reflection, realized that many of my problems have a similar root. Consider:


  • I rarely sit down to play a game unless I know I'm going to have several hours to devote to it. Related, if I do start playing a game knowing that I'll only have a short time to devote to it, I almost always end up exceeding that time.
  • If I decide to cook myself some pasta for dinner, I intentionally make too much (i.e., the whole box) because I'm afraid if I don't, I'll run out of pasta before I'm ready to stop eating pasta (which is well past the point at which I'm full).
  • Although I might go weeks between drinks, when I do drink, I almost never have a single drink. Or even just two drinks.


The problem is, this might not be "addiction." A little time at the dictionary and Wikipedia suggests that addiction is a physical or psychological dependence, such that one suffers withdrawal if the object of the dependence is removed. This isn't quite my problem. I go long stretches--as you're all well aware--without playing any games. I also go long stretches without eating, drinking alcohol, or gambling, too. The problem is that when I do do those things, I tend to do them--just like playing Skyrim--to complete satiation. I have, in short, no sense of moderation. 

I then researched compulsion for a little while, and while it wasn't a perfect fit, either, it seemed to describe my problem a little better. Compulsives feel an inescapable urge to do something long past the point that it becomes sensible to do it. I had always assumed that the thing in question need be unproductive or unpleasurable, but apparently this need not be the case: witness compulsive eating or compulsive gambling.

The odd thing is that for the past two years, I've been feeling better about my computer game problem. Despite the fact that I've been playing and blogging about it, until recently, I haven't had a lot of days in which I've kicked myself for too much game playing. And the literature on compulsion helps me understand why: a key treatment (aside from medication) for compulsive disorders is to force yourself to do something that breaks the pattern. I'm largely not playing Skyrim right now because I ran out of soda earlier today. Having to get properly dressed, leave the house, and go to the store got me out of the Skyrim zone, and by the time I got home, I didn't feel any particular need to get back in it. When I play CRPGs on my computer and blog about them, the process of stopping to write notes and blog entries breaks the pattern of constant playing and keeps me from playing too much.

I have thus made one game-related resolution for 2012: Skyrim will be the last game that I play that is not part of this blog. After that, I don't play anything else unless I'm actively blogging about it. This should both increase the frequency of my postings in 2012 and also decrease my feelings of self-loathing over too much game-playing.

I should mention, before I sign off, that Irene has been an absolute angel, promising not to complain about my obsession or my odd hours as a sort-of Christmas gift, as long as I get it together this coming week. But Monday is a holiday and all, so I really hope she meant starting Tuesday.


54 comments:

  1. Well, I must say that this is a very enlightening post. I too must suffer from some CRPG Compulsiveness. The only game that I can say I've become addicted to, was Everquest. I really wanted to do nothing other than play that game. And since a game like that never ends, you can see the problem there.

    I must commend you as well: You are an excellent writer.

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  2. Very good blog post. I suppose everyone experiences some amount of compulsive behavior, you just take it a step further.

    Good luck with trying to get a handle on that, and in such a way to benefit us :-) I was afraid you were going to join a monastery or something...

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  3. I know exactly what you're talking about. In college I compulsively played a MUD at the expense of literally everything else in my life (except schoolwork; I somehow maintained a decent GPA). To put in perspective, my character had around 75 days (75 * 24 hours) of playtime in 1997. I'm sure there are people who spend even more time so 75 days is probably rather tame, but for me it was a huge wakeup call to realize that over two months of that year were simply gone with hardly anything to show for it.

    Thankfully I was able to kick the habit and since then haven't played anything really compulsively (except for the occasional weekend binge, but well within nominal life operating levels :-) but I totally understand the stories of people who got sucked into WOW etc.

    There is a crucial difference in MMOs over single-player games, however: it's not just a 'game', its your social contact. Online socializing is of course not the same as "real-life", but most articles and news reports about MMO addiction fail to realize that for most of the people playing them, that IS their society.

    But in any case, Mr. Addict, I feel your pain and wish you all the best at taming the compulsion. For your line of work, could you get by with using an older laptop? If so, then you might consider getting rid of any newer hardware you have so you can't play any modern games.

    Or, an even better suggestion, put a small SSD harddrive in your laptop - you will not believe how huge a performance boost it is (the single largest performance boost I've *ever* experienced) and the sizes are usually much smaller so you won't be able to install any games made in the past few years. That's a practical way to limit yourself and also tell yourself you're doing it to work more efficiently.

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    1. Heh, I have the same story, I did little more than MUD during college. I'd go to class once a month, do all my work over a 2-3 day binge, then take the rest of the month off and repeat. My GPA dropped an entire point from high school but still managed to graduate in 4 years. If Kennon = Kenon/Kenny then we played the same MUD, small world ;P.

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  4. Would it help to point out that you can't finish all the quests in Skyrim? The Radiant Quest Engine means that there will always be more of the lowest teir "GO here, get X from Y, bring it back" type quest, along with "Go here, steal Z from Y" and "Forge this book" type quests. Would it help you to finish if you only went after named quests + unique misc quests?

    Over the xmas break I've suck about 40 hours of playtime into Skyrim, reaching about level 25 (I make a lot of potions and enchant a lot....) and my brother has a bit less then me and is level 20, though he can't play Skyrim anymore (Sick and no focus, so he is stuck on wii minigames)

    Luckily, we have the inferior xbox version, my brother being a Mac user, so I will be unable to play once I go back to university later today.

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  5. OH. I had an idea as well: What if you forced yourself to blog after every completed quest? Possible make a 2nd blog (The CRPG Compulsive) to maintain theme. Then every couple hours you would be forced to take a break.

    And I don't mean quest chain, like The Collage of Winterhold quest line. I mean, every 'Quest completed' and you have to write a blog post. And not just write one, but get up, move somewhere else, and then write one.

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  6. I mentioned on one of your other posts that you should maintain two different blogs (one for old games and one for modern games when you play them).

    When it comes to Skyrim, I am planning to quit soon...because I found out that the game has no definitive ending and has been programmed to give out random quests forever. That means you never ever reach a conclusion until you decide for yourself to stop. I have one quest line I want to complete...and then I am planning to move on (having already done every other major quest line).

    At some point, you will come to the same conclusion.

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  7. As a note Skyrim does have an ending, you are just free to keep playing after it. Otherwise they would have a bunch of people railing at them for not letting them to finish the 15 side quests they have.

    The Radiant Quest Engine is also veryyy limited. Basically it has a few types of quests it gives out over and over. For example, the thieves guild will have you alter the ledgers placed in certain buildings, steal certain items, and so on. So while the game never ends, the quests that matter do.

    My main beef with it right now is that you can't turn down quests. Once you hear OF them they are added to your list. See: Not helping out the guys I fought in Oblivion. This also means you have to carry quest items forever. I found an unusual gem, then a bunch more. I now have 6 of them at 0.5 lb/each. I learned to get rid of the damn things I have to join the thieves guild. I'm a knight-mage in shining armour and would much more happily fireball the thieves guild, despite lifting the occasional item myself.

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  8. You are right about the random quests - they actually repeat (kill the same stupid bear in the same house in Solitude, for example).

    However, there are more unique quests than the main quest line and the "guild quests":
    - In each town are several unique quests, often connected to each other (bring item to A, who tasks you with getting another quest). There is a minimum of quests one has to fulfill to become Thane of the town, which is always unrelated to any major quest line.
    - According to a review in a magazine there are 14 quests associated with dungeons you only get when you actually visit them (no quest giver in a town).
    - There's also apparently a quest for each Daedra god - some of them consisting of several subquests, some "standalone" in nature. You can also often choose what outcome: Help the god with dire consequences to the people of Skyrim or decline and withstand their wrath.

    I have no exact number but there really is a *shitload* of quests in this game, most of course kill or FEDEX (fetch/bring). Hardly revolutionary, but personally, I think the quest writing is mostly better than in Oblivion or Morrowind. I'm still very satisfied with this.

    You *can* indeed turn down quests (on the PS3 you simply abort the dialog - I don't know what key it is on the PC...). There is no dedicated abort option in the dialogue, though, which often seems to confuse people.

    You should check if those "forced quest items" indeed have a weight on them - one guy in the official Skyrim forum claimed that he put all his stuff (except quest items) in a chest and he had zero weight on him.

    These unusual gems are a subquest for the thieves guild - apparently there are 24 of them, scattered through the whole game. That would be 12 lb of weight alone (not a problem for my Nord character with a point distribution of 200-300-290 or so). You can also boost your carrying capability by magic items and/or using one of the special pillars.

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  9. I am aware of all the non-guild quests; I'm doing them right now. However, there are not the infinite amount that the radiant people would like you to believe.

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  10. Oh, and yes, you can leave a conversation, but if you get to far into it, even if you don't accept, you get a 'Talk to X about Y' quest even if you don't accept.

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  11. The booze addict blog you joked about reminded me of 'My Drunk Kitchen' on Youtube. The premise is simple, Hannah Hart cooks some food while she's drunk. Sounds lame, I know, but the girl makes the show. She's actually pretty dang witty when she gets wasted. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

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  12. I hear you about the non-stop playing. I almost had my entire life collapse during a stint into the world of MMORPGs and raiding guilds years ago.

    These days, I find that I tend to play little if at all on weekdays and only sometimes on the weekends. I still love gaming and still spend way too much on them, but I have too many other things going on to really dig into any of them in the way I'd like. Of course, I found myself still playing Dark Souls at 4:30am the other night and had to push myself to shut it off since I was starting to make stupid mistakes. It's good that your wife isn't too critical and also keeps you grounded to reality.

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  13. Your wife is awesome. Some non-gaming spouses carp after an hour, much less 13 hours of gaming. I'm fortunate in that my partner and I are both gamers (TES, Fallout, WoW, and for me, retro CRPGs like the old sSI classics, Might and Magic, and so on.) she's in New Zealand and I'm in the States, most of my free time is spent talking to her online, but every last little minute I have free is gaming. Housework be damned; I'm saving the world! :D

    --Nyx

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  14. My wife played Skyrim yesterday from about 10am through to midnight -- call it 14 hours. I think she's back playing it again now. Of course, I was up until 5:30am playing Batman: Arkham City just before Christmas, so I understand completely.

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  15. Don't ever reconsider your stance on MMOs. I did that for WoW and lost the better part of five years. Meth is an appropriate metaphor.

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  16. Anthony Kiedis's Scar Tissue is a great read on the tragic user-sober-relapse cycle that grips addicts. Of course rather than spending hours vegging on video games he was getting high and then having amazing sex with tons of young hot women, but you get the point.

    AK

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  17. Feel your pain mate.. I've been through the 'game addiction'. ALA ex-WoW junkie.

    I *FEEL* I'm a better person now. MUCH better person. How much time do I spend playing games? I try to limit myself to 1 serious session per week. I found that the "1/2 hr per day" or whatever, doesn't work. It's disruptive and not immersive. But if you can say to the wife "1 night per week I want to be antisocial.. 7pm til midnight." That is quite often ok. It's a 5 hr window. CRPG-wise it's not overly disruptive. 5 hrs uninterrupted gameplay. But 6 days without ANY gameplay... It works.

    In fact, I haven't played any games since early-mid December (I think I played 2 hrs in first week of December and that's it).

    It IS an addiction, and you feel great when you beat it.

    Just remember, your family is more important than any game. Reinstall fixes a game. Doesn't do the same for a family.

    If you told me "I will play 6 hrs per month for CRPGAddict" then I'd say go for it.

    I enjoy your blog, but I *DON'T* want to read a "I have too many life problems now due to my gaming addiciton" post.

    AD

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  18. Yeah, stay away from MMOs. Some of my brothers friends play WOW. Wanna guess how fast that gets old?

    As for me, I have become a full-on reading and talking about games person since Spring 2009. I try to mix it up with movies, commedy, ask how you doing, but I'm just at this point in my life where I don't know what I want to do with my future and what I read online is pretty much my conversation pitch. I don't know how to get out of it and I don't know how to fill my time with other non-internet things I might like.

    There are a glut of other things that are challenges for me and my family that make change seem so hard. I keep telling myself it's not impossible to change because I'm going to want to work toward something better once I get myself in the correct growth mindset versus the fixed one I'm in now.

    Sorry to gab, Chet. Just wanted to say I, too, feel the grind of my habits, and change would be nice.

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  19. The Dread Pirate RodgersJanuary 3, 2012 at 12:22 AM

    Sounds like when I first bought the Sims back in the distant fog of what? '00, '01? I got it after work, ran home, installed it, played until I had to work again, came home, "A few hours", played until I had to work, came home, played until I passed out on my keyboard...

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  20. You might be fine with MMOs. I don't find my normal RPG compulsion activated by MMOs all that much. They're just too repetitive and there typically aren't enough options for ways to approach/solve problems. You also can't do anything on your own most of the time which means a lot of waiting around. Honestly, I love single player RPGs, but MMOs just bore me to tears.

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  21. You might be fine with smoking crack, too. I wouldn't recommend it though.

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  22. I'm a newspaper editor. Been one for 31 years. I must say that I would pay to visit this blog. The writing is captivating and engaging. This is stuff the pros do.
    Now I don't know if you have any experience in writing, but I can tell you that you have talent. Lots of it. Please keep the prose coming. It makes my day.
    And that's saying something...

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  23. I´ve always avoided online games because I am afraid I would be addicted. Hell, even with Skyrim, I managed to squeeze 20 hours into Dark heart of Uukrul during the christmas holidays without a single hour spent in Skyrim.
    http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.com

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  24. If the game is affecting your life that much, I'd highly recommend seeking professional help. The last thing you need is for a computer game to cost you the job, life, and wife that you still have.

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  25. I've always been a bit of a CRPGer (I've been playing them since the mid-80s), but I've found that I enjoy the games more if I stop playing after 3 or 4 hours (sometime less).

    Reading this blog is a pleasure; it makes me want to play (or replay) some of these old titles. I've found playing around with the non-DOS emulators so painful that I'm more likely to play the DOS version using the excellent DOSBOX though, even if the DOS version were flawed.

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  26. Ok I know what the name of my new blog will be THE BOOZE ADDICT Adventures of a drinker in front of his RPG's

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  27. I used to play CRPGs compulsively... Then I took an arrow to the knee.

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  28. some form of melted cheese.. good times

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  29. I love this blog.

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  30. Thanks to everyone who commented. I appreciate hearing about your MUD and MMORPG experiences, and it only re-affirms my committment to avoid them. With regular CRPGs, I don't think I'm quite at the point where I need to cripple my computer or visit a therapist. Skyrim has kicked my ass, sure, but I've otherwise managed to maintain this blog for the last two years while simultaneously finishing my PhD studies, teaching several classes, and transitioning to self-employment. Those long breaks that I sometimes take are usually me focusing on other things, and although I know they cost me some readers, they're proof that I have the ability to be responsible when I need to. Just not in the last few weeks.

    'Nym who talked about aborting dialouge: Yes, you can do that, but you often don't know that you're about to get a quest. I suppose you could reload at that point. The more annoying thing is that many quests are preceded by a "miscellaneous quest" that, if you abort the dialogue, or refuse to talk to the person, stays in your "miscellaneous quest" list. "Join the Imperial Legion" and "Join the Stormcloaks" both appear early on and if you don't want to join either, you just have to live with them sitting there. Mocking you.

    Newspaper editor 'Nym and Amy: comments on the writing are much appreciated. I do write professionally (mostly in trade publications), but I can't say that I love it. I'm very fond of Dorothy Parker's quite: "I hate writing, but I love having written."

    Where did all of you anonymous people come from all of a sudden?

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  31. It's really interesting how much more open you've become over the last year or two or however long it's been.

    As long as you figure out a system that works for you, that's great. There's nothing wrong with playing Skyrim (or watching soccer games, or attending a weeklong scrabble tournament, or reading all of Dickens' works or whatever) for an entire week, if the people in your life have their own things and you don't have any immediate responsibilities. It's when those two things aren't the case that you have problems.

    Good luck keeping it all under control.

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  32. Also maybe this makes me an asshole but I totally would read that booze addict blog and not tell him to go to AA. Functioning alcoholic rates booze using system he develops himself. Sounds good to me.

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  33. I have an addictive personality and I've fallen into the RPG rabbit-hole many, many times. Abstinence is the only solution that works for me.

    The way I scratch my RPG itch is by reading about other people's compulsive gaming -- keeping my drug of choice at arm's length, if you will.

    Good luck with your resolution!

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  34. Wow, your writing is incredible, you are creating a legion of crpgaddict-addicts.
    I've never done something like this in my entire life, but please put a donate button. I'm having more fun with your site than with most books I've read, I want you to skip some boring jobs and write more! If you put a paypal I'll donate on the spot.

    Hitnrun, from Brazil

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    Replies
    1. Kickstart the CRPGaddict!

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Hit. I'm glad you like the blog.

      A lot of people have been encouraging me to write a book. I honestly don't know what I'd put in it--it would either duplicate what I already have on the blog or Barton--probably both--but I was thinking if I could put something together that wasn't completely embarrassing, I'd self-publish it, and then anyone who wanted to "donate" could buy it. I'd feel much more comfortable with something like that than a "donate" button. It's not like I'm a 501(c)(3) providing a public service.

      Delete
  35. Good idea about making the To Do list look like a Quest Journal!

    I'll bet organizers that look like an old tome or grimoires would sell like hotcakes! At least to RPG addicts...

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  36. In astrology your Jupiter might be square or opposite your Sun,
    put your birthday into a website that does free astrology reports and see if it says 'jupiter square sun' or 'jupiter opposite sun'

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  37. I'm lucky to be almost immune to addictions, nicotine, alcohol, drugs, I never had any desire to take them - though I tried them for social reasons. The same happened to me with MMORPGs. I liked to play WoW, I really liked the game, but there was no addiction. However, there were social reasons to keep playing. Peer pressure, chit-chatting, the feeling of falling behind with character upgrades... It was great fun, but it disrupted my life. It wasn't that good before WoW anyway and the guild I played WoW with, was also the team I had played strategy games with before. They were best friends (and I am an introvert so I cant easily make friends.) So I was already focusing too much on computer games already, but with WoW, I came to a life-crisis. And WoW became joyless work once the "end-game" began.
    Then I was forced to stop studying what I pretended to be studying. I switched subjects, moved to another town, quit WoW, got a degree and got married. Ironically, my life situation right now would allow me to play rather much (because I could play at work), but I don't do it. Maybe a reason is age, or because my partner is watching over me, so to say. Anyway, maybe I am lucky that now I have other things to distract me with, the things that break routine. And it's amazing what you can do if you play a ...little... less. The mind works better if it isn't full of playing games. Only problem: I have decided to try Elder Scrolls Online next year...
    Anyway, I see that the combination of Skyrim and Wizardry V had broken the blog for half a year. Although I have to say that it had already looked like that half a year ago, but Ultima V and Wasteland kept you going because of their quality. Obviously, that break was a huge boon. Your speed and success rate since mid-2012 has been astonishing.

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  38. Get yourself a kid or two, seriously. Being bound to watch over them cures all sorts of addiction, especially those that take lots of time (like gaming).

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    Replies
    1. You mean I get to listen to constant screaming, clean shit, spend all the money I do not have, and lose all interest in the things I love? Sign me up immediately!

      Delete
    2. But in a few years you can play with a bunch of obsessive mini mes that have been indoctrinated to have the same obbsessions as you...

      Delete
    3. *Turns on Skyrim*
      "Okay, Mini-me #1, I'm going out to work. When I come back, I want my Argonnian Warrior Mage's Smithing to be 100 Legendary TWICE."

      Delete
    4. I believe Chet got Irene to grind for him at one point (what a woman!).

      Delete
    5. With Wizardry V, no less. Unfortunately, I forgot to show her how to level up, so she just kept fighting Level 1 monsters for hours. It didn't really work.

      Delete
    6. I started my Morrowind blog before my daughter was born and I expected to be able to do three posts a week. Lo and behold, she's born three months early and I'm lucky to make a single post a week, even two years later.

      I've contemplated on bringing my computer upstairs from the basement so that I could play games AND watch her, but I had to pull a Kleenex out of her mouth the other day, so I realize that even the slightest Morrowind time is pretty much impossible during the day.

      Sigh.

      Delete
    7. Immature as it is, that's probably the top reason I've never wanted children.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, but that's the initial phase, man. Once they are learn how to use the potty, it's also time for them to learn Alchemy, Archery, Weaponsmithing, Enchanting, 2-Weapon Fighting and start gaining their perks early in life.

      Delete
    9. Some of my earliest memories are my Dad playing Elite on his C64, and later Wolfenstein 3D and Doom on his 386.

      Delete
    10. And one day, you too shall be playing an RPG with your kid on your lap as he/she stares starry-eyed at the monitor showing you beheading some orcs and spilling M-Rated fountains of blood.

      Delete
  39. I found your blog and now I've blown the whole weekend. My girlfriend is out-of-town and I'm worried what she'll say when she gets back tonight. It fascinates me to read about these old games, but should be doing other stuff. Had to force myself not to read the entire script of 'Beyond Zork.' Thanks for this addictive blog.

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