"Hey, my Mom and Dad wanted to drive out to Lake Geneva to see their new house on Saturday, want to go?" said my wife.
"Eh, I was planning on gaming, but I guess we can go if we're just going to see the house," I replied.
Two days later I found myself grumbling in my mind, seething with anger as my in-laws decided to take a detour and walk down by the lake. I knew it! I knew this would happen. I knew I would get stuck hanging out all day again while I could be spending valuable time playing Diablo III!
Halfway through the walk on what was a beautiful spring day, my wife knew that I was pissed. She asked me why, but I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.
I didn't want to be there; I wanted to be at home collecting loot! I can sell it for real money! Doesn't she understand that?!?!?!
A week later, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage-four terminal stomach cancer that had spread to her liver. The cancer was incurable and inoperable. Chemotherapy may have given her a few months, but it may not have. She opted to not take the chemo.
I was pretty distraught to say the least as the woman who was dear to my heart — whom I had known since I dated her daughter in high school — was going to pass away. She was discharged from the hospital after they had performed the necessary tests, and my wife and I spent as much time as we could outside of work over at their house.
In the back of my mind: "I hope their Internet is fast enough so I can play Diablo III on my wife's laptop."
My wife tended to her mom, and I sat at the table playing Diablo III on the laptop. Tirelessly clicking through the endless grind of boss farming and auction-house scouring. Rinse and repeat.
All of the sudden, in my head came the image of my wife scolding me about my attitude that day at the lake, and I thought: "What am I doing? I am repeatedly playing the same quests and killing the same monsters to get better gear, to kill monsters faster, and to do the same thing over and over again ad infinitum. At the same time, I am neglecting the things that really matter in life. In the real world. Family. Even while I may not have much time left with them."
Little did I know, I had three precious weeks left with my mother-in-law before she would pass away. Little did I know what a joy it could be to just sit and listen and interact with family. To get to know my nieces a little more. To get closer to my brother- and sister-in-law. To spend time not being distracted by some form of digital entertainment and "just being." All the stuff that before I avoided at all cost.
Through no strength of my own did I come to the realization that gaming — as fun, enlightening, and entertaining as it can be — cannot replace face-to-face interactions with real human beings. For me, gaming can quickly move from a hobby to an all out addiction. One that if left unchecked can be as hurtful to myself and my loved ones as any illicit drug.
We like to fool ourselves that we're being social by playing a game online with friends. We fool ourselves into believing that "it's just a game" and that we're "not hurting anyone." The truth is that when we're addicted to something, we're blinded to the truth. That's when we need the help of a loved one to come alongside us and give it to us straight. That we are addicted and that it is hurting our relationships.
Don't get me wrong. I still love to play video games; however, I have asked my wife to keep me in check and let me know when too much is too much. I learned that if left to my own devices, I certainly won't be the one to turn that switch off. Maybe I'm the only one that struggles with this…but maybe I'm not.
My advice either way: The next time your wife or girlfriend, husband or boyfriend, mom or dad, friend, or any other loved one asks you to hang out and do something, put the controller down, release the mouse death-grip, and just do it! The game will most definitely be there when you get back, but the people you love may not.
Dedicated to the memory of Ernestina "Tina" Franco.