If you asked my parents what they like least about me, without hesitation they would answer, “How much he plays video games.” Initially I fell in love with gaming because I could make decisions without any repercussions. If I lost, I could simply start over. If I couldn't win a game, I could use a cheat code. And if a game was too easy, I could always set a seemingly unreachable goal (for example, collect 100,000 coins). However, this was when I was about eight years old. At that age I never spent more then 45 minutes a day playing.
Now here I am, 17, playing video games 15-plus hours a day, even during study periods. On weekends I sit in my computer chair for hours straight, talking to my Internet friends all over the country and the world. No one ever calls me to hang out or asks how I'm doing because I have no friends in what my therapist calls “the real world.” That seems to imply that my friends in the cyber-world are fake, however, the best friends I have are online, so playing video games with them is my equivalent to going to the mall with friends and watching a movie. I'm not sad that I have no friends locally, but I am sad that my deep relationships are viewed as shams in the eyes of others. I wish people would stop feeling bad for me; I don't feel bad myself. Just the other day I walked into my therapist's office and when asked how I felt, I replied “wonderful.” My smile quickly fell when the second question was, “Did you meet any real friends this week?”
My best friend, Joe, has been my online friend since last summer. We talk other every day and when we don't, there is always a reason. I've told Joe things that I wouldn't tell anyone else, and vice versa. To call that a “fake” relationship is insulting to me. I want people to understand that it is possible to be the closest of friends with someone over the Internet without ever meeting them face-to-face. Do I want to meet Joe? Of course, but for now I'll settle for talking to him over the Internet.
This year I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and general anxiety disorder. On top of that, this is my first year in public school (I was homeschooled), and I'm living in a new town. The only thing that has stayed the same for me is my relationships with Joe and my other Internet buddies. I needed something constant while everything in my life was changing – schools, relationships with family, grades, “real world” friends, my motivation, etc. Video games were the only thing that were constant for me. My avatars and levels in games stayed the same unless I changed them, my friends list stayed the same unless I added or removed them. I was in control of my video game life. Not so much my real life, but I started playing so many hours of video games that the only time I had to deal with the real world was at school.
Even there I was planning gaming strategies, laughing in my head at conversations with virtual buddies, and keeping my mind off anything that was real. I will be the first to admit this is a dangerous way to think. I started to believe I was “R41N” (my gamer-tag). I even started to sign some of my school papers that way. Walking down the halls, I felt like I was better than my peers because I was “R41nOf4rrows,” a level-80 archer and everyone else was just a noob (novice). It may sound funny, but I spent so much time looking at a computer screen that I sometimes forgot when I logged off I was not in the game anymore.
Besides the social aspects of gaming, there are reasons why I'm addicted to video games. When I was younger my life was very controlled by my parents. As I got older (third and fourth grade), I began to want to have a say in my life. I went to a public school for two years, and finally managed to make good friends, but my parents pulled me out without listening to my opinion. They decided to homeschool me, and every night I would cry myself to sleep. At school I had finally made friends – which was extremely difficult for me – and I wasn't able to connect with these friends because my parents had pulled me out of the school in a controversial manner that burned bridges with my friends' parents.
After this, I went into a period of depression. I wasn't angry, I wasn't sad – I just didn't care about making friends anymore. I was numb to everything around me. My parents tried desperately to arrange friendships for me, which just made me resentful. To this day, I'm 17 and my parents are still practically arranging playdates for me without my knowledge. I'm the kind of person who can never say no, so I just go along despite my desire to be in control of my life instead of my parents.
So maybe you understand now why I'm addicted to video games; I want control of something. Everything in my life has been controlled by someone else. I want to be my own person: I want tattoos, piercings, and clothes that my parents would never allow. In video games, I can dress my avatar however I want without anyone making a big deal. I'll be honest, I'm scared about the future; are my parents going to control where I go to college? What I major in? Who I decide to date? Even though I love my parents with all my heart, I am ready to make my own decisions and I want my parents to let go.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.