I used to have a significant problem with video games, playing them into almost the mornings trying to escape stress. When I couldn’t play video games, I used to tear up books out of frustration or fidget compulsively, feeling a stress akin to a sickness. I could also see that I was not alone with this frustration and that many people saw the digital worlds of video games, as well as those of social media, as something to plunge into to avoid the real world.
Around me I see many people, kids & adults alike, struggling with video games, much of the time for the same reasons. Our virtual environments and landscapes remain fascinating and more enjoyable our real ones, and indeed they should in some ways, after all, without virtual rules it would be impossible to have such tremendous and beautiful worlds as are developed in the likes of The Elder Scrolls (which has had full novels written about it’s lore) or the technicality of games like super smash bros melee, which despite being nearly 20 years old is still having new discoveries for what can be done with the techniques of inputting data into the console. Even in the very size of gaming our gaming matrices, our own planet has been beaten, as the popular video game Minecraft’s “overworld” is measured to be roughly 8 times larger than the size of Earth— comparable in surface area to the gas giant Neptune and even larger than several known stars.
Virtual reality is designed, simply put, to be anything but reality, and this can become a problem, very, very quickly. Just as the alcoholic dives into the state of inebriation, the escapist too can find another world where he can hide. I’ve known individuals with far more of a problem than I had had, and who claim to get headaches should they be unable to play their game of choice. The symptoms are very clearly withdrawal, and in almost all of those who I’ve met I’ve seen them bear deep stress in either home or schooling environments.
As in my story of dealing with virtuality addiction, schools can be a big driver for these forms of addiction, as well as others. For many, school is actively dulling creativity, curiosity, and interest. With bland walls, a rigid environment with often more rigid policies, and commonly top-down mistreatment from faculty to teachers to students, the environment is anything but healthy.
Yet, as the dulling environment of public education is perpetuated, in the background the highly stimulated industry of video games grows more rapidly than almost any other. There is fair warning to students that such products are dangerous for their young minds, just as there is fair warning that drugs, alcohol and risky behavior is, but come 3:30 on Friday, they have ample access to whatever fun they choose. Like a spring pushed down by extreme pressure, the force exerted initially, explodes.
Certainly, there are some who abstain from pleasure like nuns from sex, yet the majority are compelled to enjoy life more than labor at another’s request. The more rebellious students often become the partiers of the school system, indulging in alcohol, varying levels of drugs and other general risky behavior. Others perhaps indulge in different processes to cool off, some more healthy such as working out, and some even worse such as interests in violence and vandalism. In general, though, there is a grand impulse to escapism from the toxicity of the schooling environment.
This is not so different from other environments. The abused employee can turn to the bottle, the abused housewife can turn painkillers, the abused doctor can turn to morphine. Even the abused animals turn to more violent and aggressive behaviors.
However, one thing not taken into account is the agency those affected by an environment’s stresses still have. This remains unacknowledged because it is often the first thing to disappear. After all, the abusive partner will most often attempt to shift the blame and the guilt to those who are abused. Similarly, the cruel schoolteacher or controlling boss will attempt similar action. On the passive end, they may view that they have absolutely no responsibility in the wrongdoing, only blaming their subordinates for failure. On the more aggressive end, they may seek to maintain control by socially strangling the people beneath them, attempting to humiliate those they manage by indicating their every flaw and critically scrutinizing even the slightest misstep with extreme prejudice.
It is the pattern of an abuser to rob the abused of their power before continuing their assault, but in such environments as school and work, that power is an illusion that the subordinate is owned by the administrator, that the student is the property of the school and the employee is bound to his employer. In Ancient Egypt, the slaves of the pharaoh were buried with his master. Today this sounds insane, and the idea that any own person should own your being is recognized as madness. So why should any institution have the privilege of continuing this philosophy?
I began to see that my institutionalized environment was truly damaging to me, that I was being pressured into a million things I did not want and felt demeaned by. The very nature of standardized testing felt so unnatural with its excessively bland environments and subject that seemed design to drain the pleasure and interest from its contents, that one look at the hyper-stimulating environment of a video game felt like an amazing escape. Neither environment was healthy as they either perpetuated excessive stimulation or excessive boredom, with neither perpetuating healthiness.
But therein laid my solution. If you try and tell an addict to quit his candy, he’ll give you a million excuses for why he can’t do it, and indeed with many drugs he physically can’t. Yet if you tell the same man to escape whatever demon haunts him, evidently he will already be doing it. He already wished to escape his problem, he just chose a route that led in a circle from over-indulgence to shame to continued emotional problems to a furthered abusive environment back to over-indulgence. Take away the abusive environment, and the chain could be broken.
Even as our virtual realities and artificial states of being have become better, more fun, and more complex, there is no reason why the natural world cannot be recognized as great, ridiculously fun, and innately complex. It is borderline impossible to get the nuances of character that a real individual possesses, and there is no reason you cannot also enjoy the stimulating natural world for its wonderful scenery, cultures, societies and there is absolutely no game that will ever have the level of radically complex intricacies that the real world has.
The real environment, as well as the virtual, can be enjoyed. Just like a bad video game, you are free to leave those places that you do not enjoy or find fulfilling. Even in work and education, you have the freedom and the power to walk away and to find something that satisfies all your desires. Addictive substances or processes, however, are not that, and you have every freedom to walk the path that you and only you decide for yourself.
You don’t have to rely on ephemeral happiness to get through a life perpetual stress. You have every right to a life of perpetual happiness and ephemeral stress. The choice is yours.