In January 2013, after a nine game losing streak in solo ranked DotA 2 matches or so (because I lost count and would rather not remember) I told my wife that I was going to take a thirty-day fast from the game and to hold me accountable. The losses were beginning to impact me at an emotional level. I have a sob-story which justifies why I am the sorest loser you will ever encounter in your life (short version: the HS football team that I played on sucked), but specifically in terms of DotA, when I lose a batch of games in succession, I begin to do things like tersely respond to my children and reciprocate my wife’s affections with taciturnity/callousness/coldness. I tend to reserve my focus, my innermost thoughts, on playing (and winning!!!) the next match.
This meant that I could not risk taking a break from DotA because that would mean remaining ignorant of all the “meta” changes that these sorts of patches bring such as nerfs or buffs to heroes. It’s hard enough to know the current meta, let alone having to play catch-up with an evolving one.
So despite my wounded pride (and MMR), I humbled myself and asked my wife for delay of that fast because it would effing suck if I couldn’t play the event. After all, I missed Frostivius in 2013 for reasons I have mentioned in previous posts and will further elaborate upon here, though I participated in Diretide and Wraith Night. Lo and behold, she granted to me an extension despite the fact that DotA is an anathema to her.
What a woman! I’m grateful and blessed to still have her, and that is because my devotion to win at DotA nearly cost me my marriage. It certainly contributed to the end of my career as an academic in combination with events that were out of my control (such as every professor in my field leaving the department) and Every Man’s Battle. The idea that one could be addicted to video games was a joke I myself told even in my younger years, and it remains a dubious diagnosis because the APA is slow to change, but the science of addictive pathology is undeniable. Of course, I am no psychologist, but the implications of expanding addiction-as-disease from extraneous drugs such as alcohol — which no one will debate — to psychologically training one’s self to be addicted to natural chemicals such as dopamine by binging on its porous flow has profound implications. The perspective, “Well at least I’m not a drug addict” would certainly lose its merit.
But as for me, there are plenty of gamers out there who may be able to relate to having pissed off girlfriends or wives because of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (to be gender-inclusive, I have yet to encounter guys complaining that their GFs don’t spend enough time with them because they play too many video games). Despite being a huge fan of the WarCraft and StarCraft universes, I ironically passed on WoW while believing it to be counterintuitive to maintaining a healthy relationship with my wife because the game would take too much time to play; that, and it would cost $15/mo.
Meanwhile, DotA was and still remains “free.” One need not spend a single penny to play DotA, though a healthy financial investment in DotA 2 under the FTP model, or as Gabe Newell said, “free with a twist” would undoubtedly enhance the experience. Even with people such as myself investing some serious change into some Arcana items, let alone WETA-tier items such as the Monarch Bow which gives me nocturnal emissions, the dollars are diminutive compared to the hours clocked to play. Of course, the more time I play, the less time I would have to do other things like write my dissertation or spend time with my wife and three kids, and that’s just the hours clocked playing DotA, not the hours spent theorycrafting and actually experimenting with the changes in the latest patch notes for entertainment purposes. I also “used” DotA as a coping mechanism for the annihilation of the soul that is called graduate school. Even if I was playing games like Uncharted, Ikaruga, or even Mario Galaxy (2), my cravings for an escape could not be satiated and I would turn to DotA. But like most addicts, I was taking in my “drug” in pairs; in one hand, the alcoholic has a drink and the other, a cigarette. For me, a mouse and the unmentionables because Prime Time for DotA has traditionally been at night when the Asians on the West Coast are out of school/work and log-in. Being on EST myself, that’s a four hour difference! My cravings became overpowering to the point where I would sacrifice (healthy) food, sleep, and even sex as I would find an excuse to evade the wife (sometimes, even after the act!) in order to play. At some arbitrary time that my internal clock determined for minimum hours of sleep required for adequate functionality in the ensuing day, I would stop playing DotA and begin surfing the internet for the kinds of lascivious images that a man looks for after everyone in the house has gone to sleep.
This cycle went on from 2006-November 2008, when my seven-months pregnant wife found inappropriate emails that I was sending to another (married) woman. My behavior had escalated from the virtual to the real. I sobered up temporarily, and even began participating in a ministry called Celebrate Recovery in January 2009 which I still attend every Thursday to this day. But I did not take any of it seriously enough and would eventually relapse. As some the experts say, when someone relapses into the kinds of things I struggle with, they make up for the “lost time” during periods of sobriety. Regretfully, I reified this theory by abusing a computer in an office that I shared with other graduate students on campus because it lacked accountability software. I would eventually destroy that computer so that I (and as collateral damage, no one else) could no longer use it. Feeling like I was out of options that would not get me busted, I then turned to what I told myself I would never do, where no (undergraduate) student would ever go: where the books are located in the campus library. The reason I never wanted to is because the campus computers require individually-assigned logins and I was afraid that campus security would discover my activity. After the first day, nothing happened, and consequentially, I spent an entire summer’s worth of studying doing this. I would even spend some days installing Steam and DotA 2 to play, but those computers couldn’t handle the system requirements and would crash upon launch.
Feeling trapped in an inescapable cycle beyond my control, I confessed all of this to my wife in November 2012. She then took some steps to protect me, herself, and the kids, as my behavior of public porn usage had crossed over into dubious legality, and my lack of production in my studies had already delayed the completion of my degree by a year past my personal goal of finishing before my ten-year high school reunion. I can still remember Saturday, December 15, 2012 when my wife hosted a sort of intervention at our apartment and I had to choose between her and my gaming PCs (yes, with an “s”). The choice was harder for me than it should have been, but I acquiesced and I remained sour about it the entire time that they were out of the house. I was more upset that I was going to miss Frostivus than I was at the fact that I did not have a home or portable computer to prepare for teaching my college classes or dissertate.
After that intervention, I soon logged on to a campus library computer as a final attempt to run Steam. Today, Steam tracks total time a user has spent playing a game. In 2012, Steam in those days, Steam would track how much time a user has spent playing a game in the last two weeks. I was probably only 80% or so into my addiction because I had confessed to my wife of my habits that prior November and had since reduced my usage. Even so, Steam revealed to me that I had played forty hours of DotA 2 in just the past two weeks, and for over 1000 hours in 1 year. I was treating DotA 2 like a part time job on top of everything else going on in my life.
I am still somewhat bitter about missing Frostivus even after doing some research and discovering what it’s really about. After all, there’s something special about having inventory items which remind you and everyone else that you were somehow involved with an event, even to trade for an item. That said, I behaved like an addict without his fix for months when I didn’t have my computers because I was an addict and I had yet to confront my denial. The computers were the facilitator for all my fixes, including cathartic writing such as this very piece.
During a B2G1 sale at Target, I purchased Ni No Kunai, Lego City, and StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm. I did this while my wife and I were at the point where we could not even have a simple conversation such as when we would go see Iron Man 3 without it exploding into an hour-long emotion-fest. We both agreed that it was time for us to separate, as the damage that I had caused seemed irreparable on our own power. I lived in a transitional house with individuals who at some point in their lives, had suffered from addictions that most would consider more severe (or even criminal) than mine, but there I was among them all the same because I was the same. After seven years of pursuing my Ph.D in English, I unofficially dropped out of graduate school with nothing to show but “all but dissertation” status, where “ABD” only means, according to my mentor from undergrad who has contributed more to my academic career than anyone post-bachelor’s, “all but done.” I was reduced from teaching college students to literally flipping burgers at Culver’s. During that time, I was supposed to sober up. After all, I had no choice but to do so for pornography because the house I stayed in not only used a router which that was specially designed to block that stuff, but the house also only had a 1Mb connection. I repossessed my computers from the previously-mentioned interventionists before lying in the face of my “landlord” by claiming that the house needed a faster internet so I could download .pdfs for my studies. I was pissed at the time, but I am now relieved that he said “No,” because I was really trying to find a way to stream filth from virtual drives that I had created before I was booted from my own house since computers in this transition house were subject to random inspections and discovery of illicit files on HDDs would result in eviction. Besides, StarCraft 2 required an internet connection to download, and that _____ GB game wasn’t gonna download itself. But like a true addict, I endured waiting days as it downloaded so I could play for the duration of my stay. Of course, mere days was nothing compared to the months I had already waited; remember, when I bought the game, I didn’t even have a computer to play it in the house! I was buying games that I could not play…how sick was I?!? Very. Because anticipating an extended stay at this place, I “wisened up” on two separate occasions and packed up my 30 lb tower and would go home while my wife was at work to download games queued on Steam (which I have yet to play to this day).
Even with a craptacular connection, I still tried to play DotA 2. See, 2013 was the first year that Valve had released the Compendium, and in those days I had decided to become a moderately successful trader after hearing about dota2lounge (which remains a bad place because of scalpers), so the associated Battle Point Bonus would help me earn free items every 3-4 games. Of course, they were mostly commons, but a man has to start somewhere!
The combination of my wife suddenly finding herself literally a single mother of three (rather than symbolically when I was physically in the house but not mentally engaged) and (again, for her) some painful marital counseling sessions that our church paid for led us to reconciliation. Note that our reunification after six weeks was mostly one of practicality; I’ll spare the details of how we revived our emotional attachment, but it was undoubtedly delayed by The International 2013. I had promised to take an extended break from playing DotA as we settled back in to re-learn how to be a couple, but I did not say anything about watching other people play. For her, it was like saying I would stop looking at porn and then subscribing to Maxim.
I have never smoked anything in my life, but I would speculate that my experience while watching TI3 is similar to a smoker with a nicotine patch. It was like scratching the itch of a mosquito bite: the sensation kept coming back, and while the desire for smut was under control, I went back to playing video games as if I were a bachelor. Of course, this would negatively impact my marriage, and we were beginning to regress until I had a divine epiphany: I would perform the unprecedented feat of fasting from playing video games for ninety days. And by “unprecedented,” I mean that I had not spent that much time not playing video games since I was two, when I first learned how to play them.
I say “divine” only to take this time to say, as I have not explicit done so until now, that the repair of our marriage can only be attributed to the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness granted through the power of Jesus Christ. Again, I said that our marriage was beyond our power to repair. But with God, all things are possible. CR is a Christ-centered ministry as is the Endeavor House, the transitional housing where I stayed (Imma be honest; I was grateful for free shelter but getting up for 6 AM Bible studies still sucked), as was our marital counseling sessions guided by the Lord. There is a lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence supporting “90 day recovery” plans, but mine had more to do with the crucifixion of an idol that I had pursued and worshiped all my life than detox. It was important that I do this because unlike with porn, this was a sacrifice that I was making voluntarily. Of course, my wife gleefully supported my decision.
It was during this time that I came on as writer for PTBN. Not to brag, but my knowledge of video games is considerable, and I don’t have to be actively playing them to write about them. I decided to (finally) turn all of this stuff in my head into something productive, and what you read before you is part of that endeavor.
If any of this sounds familiar to you — your potential to accomplish great things is hamstrung by some hurt, habit or hangup — I urge you to seek help whether you are the one stuck or in a relationship with someone who is (I invited my wife to CR halfway through 2009 and she, too, has gone since). It could be at CR or elsewhere (although plenty of my friends at CR know the Big Book of AA by heart and say CR has worked best). As I began this piece, I’m grateful and blessed to still have my wife. Many of my friends at CR can’t say the same.
The most important thing that I learned during my fast from video games is that I don’t need video games to live, unlike food and sleep which I would forgo for another match, another stage, another round. This is common sense to most people, but when you’re addicted to video games it feels as if the merit of real-world accomplishments are justified only through success in a virtual world. I had to “reset” myself, and learn how to prioritize my life. Get more sleep. Spend time with wife and kids. Read! I took on the staggering task of reading five books of A Song of Ice and Fire (most people recognize this series as the television show The Game of Thrones, which is the name of the first book) alongside several comic graphic novels. Read through The Walking Dead and find the censorship in the show (and those moved by it) comical, and the comic itself so dispiriting that I quit after All Out War.
I did not give up on DotA completely. Rather than try to squeeze in a game any time there is even a hint that I might have an hour before something must absolutely be done such as pick up my kids from school or meet the wife on a “daytime date,” I limit my playing to off days and nights before off days. When I used to say “no” to the few invites I receive from people on my friends list, I felt as if I would be negatively affecting a real world relationship rather than a bunch of random people who wouldn’t care if I ever logged on to Steam ever again. I thought I would be marked as unreliable and receive less invites. Whether or not that is true is irrelevant now. “‘No’ means ‘no'” and if they have a problem with it, I can get some more pubstar friends because they are everywhere.
During the incentivized sessions such as the New Bloom event, I don’t allow DotA to consume me. I now look at DotA as a game of both skill and probability rather than a direct indication of my worth as a human being. It still pisses me off when some idiot first-pics Riki when Slardar and Gondar are still available (or even “soft” counters such as Drow, whose silence makes Riki visible), because such a throw is a waste of 4 teammates’ time, but what can be done? DotA culture.
I’ll talk more about how I came to discover DotA and its culture in part 2.