Saturday, January 23, 2016

The End Of An Obsession

Then came the Halloween event.

The Hallows event, as it was called, started a week before Thanksgiving (Yeah ... a Halloween event three weeks after Halloween ... the game developers were weird like that).  During this two week event better equipment and better ships were provided if you were lucky enough or if you spent money to buy more chances.  The event turned the game into a bigger game of chance than it had been before.

Money.  You didn't need money to play the game but spending money meant you got more toys, faster.  People who spent a lot were known as coiners.  During the Hallows event the ultimate reward for coiners were the blueprints for a starship called the Valkyrie.  The Valky was one of the best ships you could get.  The blueprints also costed $800.  Yes, that is in US dollars.  I knew of four coiners who bought them.

I prided myself for having a strong fleet without spending any money.  Having said that, many smaller players, and players who had not played as long as others, jumped ahead during this event.  Low level players were flying around with starships that they probably shouldn't have had for several more weeks.  This irritated a few long term players.  I was bothered - it was unfair - but it wasn't a big deal since I also benefited from the Hallows event.

Two weeks after the Hallows event ended the Christmas event started.  With this one there was new, better equipments and even better starships.  The starships included a version of the Valky (we called it a HOHO Valky).  The HOHO Valky was not only better than the $800 version, but it was very easy to get one ... without spending any real money.  To make it worse, the game developers, who often provided compensation if the game malfunctioned for an extended period of time (which happened way too often), provided a compensation package that gave EVERYONE a HOHO Valky.  At the end of the Christmas event many people had fleets made up entirely of HOHO Valkies (I had four myself).

At the end of the Christmas event my fleet was still big but it was getting passed by other players who had been luckier than me.  Not wanting to become too far behind I'd bought a monthly card for $9.99 which provided needed resources and credits each day for a month.  I bought it near the beginning of the Christmas event.  While the monthly card helped a lot it didn't make me any luckier.  It did make me a minor coiner which, frankly, made me feel guilty and a bit dirty.

The events changed the game.  The game had been a game of long term planning and strategically spent credits (players received credits free in game for doing tasks).   There had always been luck driven parts of the game but the events turned the game into a casino.  Spend money, spin the wheel (yes, there was a wheel to spin to get prizes), and, if you were lucky, you got better stuff than other players.  Long term goals had been replaced with short term lucks of the draw.

Near the end of the Christmas event I realized that, not only was the game no longer fair, but it was becoming a repetitive chore.  The fun was not there like it had been early on.   I set a deadline of the end on my monthly card to decide if I wanted to continue playing.

As that deadline approached I took stock of what I'd done during the last six months.  I'd met my duties as a house husband but I realized I was just doing the minimum necessary so that I could spend more time gaming.  During family functions I would sneak into the den to check on the game and make sure I got the points and resources I needed.  I'd slept in only one (!) morning in the last six months getting up at 6:00AM everyday to play the game.  The first thought I had when I woke up each morning was "What do I need to do in the game today?"  The game was usually the last thing I thought about when I went to bed.  I would become irritated if something interrupted my game play.  I started cutting back on the hours I played but the game was always in my thoughts when I was away from the computer screen.  I stopped watching the news.  I stopped following social media.  I practically missed autumn entirely.    Everything was revolving around the game.  The Real World was the inconvenient place I occupied when I wasn't gaming.  I had become obsessed.

This game had become the closest thing to an addiction that I have ever experienced.  I've played other games nearly this obsessively but those games always had an endgame.  They were never social.  When the game ended I would come down and would return to reality.  This game had no end and it had a social element.  I was not prepared to handle it.

Near the end it started appearing that another event with new ships and equipment was coming, probably a valentine's day event.  This was too much for me.  Last Monday I announced to the other players that Wednesday, the last day of my monthly card, would be my last day.  Other players tried to convince me to change my mind, suggesting that I step away for a short while.  Others seemed a little disappointed.

My own feelings surprised me.  Imagine what it feels like to be quitting heroin and learning your best friend had just died - that's kind of how I felt.  I teared up a little.  My emotional reaction was the final straw.  Such an emotional reaction about a game is not healthy and the only option I had was to quit.

The game is still in my thoughts everyday but they are fading.  As I told my friends:  I won't miss the game, I will miss the players.  To ease myself away from the game I friended a few players on Facebook so some of the friendships I developed could continue.  This made it easier to quit.

The computer remained off the morning after I quit.  Frankly, I was afraid to turn it on - an alcoholic entering a bar.  I finally turned it on to draft this post and the last.  The temptation to log onto the game is there.  But now I am free.  I am free to start getting my health back.  I am free to prepare for the Appalachian Trail.  I am free to reconnect.  Most importantly, I am free to enjoy the Real World around me.

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