Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypselife
Ever since the release of the Playstation 3 in 2006, I’ve played video games; Call of Duty, Battlefield, Fallout, Dark Souls, etc. Our parents, ever diligent, restricted our play-time to an hour at night on three weeknights, and one hour on Saturday. Like most kids, we also watched Saturday morning cartoons. Again, my parents restricted this to an hour or two a week (or more if we really pestered, or they weren’t home to enforce their rules). These past-times were permanently at the forefront of our minds; our free time revolved around playing video games and watching TV, or trying to do so, going so far as to stay up late to play once everyone else had gone to bed.
I would have hoped that, upon reaching adulthood, I would magically mature and develop the discipline to limit my time spent playing and watching as I pursue things of greater, more “adult” importance. I have been sorely mistaken. Video games, shows, movies, and now the internet have become pervasive overlords in my life, keeping a stranglehold on my attention and energy. Their influence extends beyond their intrinsic addictiveness; I will explore this after going over the obvious.
This post is coming from a place of self-condemnation and regret in the wake of binging video games, and so its flavour will be more polarized and partial than usual. I am also fully aware that I am responsibile for controlling my consumption habits; no-one is forcing me to watch TV or play video games. That said, my current environment is filled with all the above, unceasing and omnipresent, making them very difficult to avoid.
Media is Addictive
Media is addictive. It is design to be addictive. Video games give us a shot of dopamine and feeling of accomplishment while ultimately achieving nothing of worth, all in an effort to push microtransactions, DLC, or their next game. Movies and TV shows sit us gently back, inject a sedative, and then feed us some variant of the same drivel we’ve seen a million times before. I hate most movies with a burning passion; they’re lazy, logically broken, poorly animated, and just plain stupid. Despite that, they’re still enough to keep me passively content. The internet, on the other hand, hooks a 14 gauge IV into the pleasure center of our brains and pours in dopamine and other feel-good drugs directly while a deluge of information crashes into our eye sockets before dripping down the the floor, ultimately lost to us. I cannot count the number of articles, opinion pieces, and guides I’ve read and subsequently forgotten while binging Reddit, HackerNews and other websites.
All three treatement methods are addictive in their own way; this addictiveness, within itself, keeps me using them hour after hour, day after day, bleary-eyed and brain wound tight. Their influence extends beyond mere usage; they begin to permeate all other facets of my life.
Skewing the Graph
I think that plots will provide an excellent visual representation of why television, tv shows, and video games are so detrimental to my quality of life. These will measure my in-the-moment satisfaction while performing the specified activities (I’ll just refer to this as satisfaction, and contrast it with long-term satisfaction by explicitely labeling the latter).
Previously, my life has some main activities in it: exercise, reading (fictional novels, mostly), academic research, courses, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign prep, and Dungeons and Dragons DM-ing. If I had to plot the satisfaction level of each activity, it would look like this:
On average, playing D&D is the most satisfying thing I do, following by reading, then the more mentally demanding tasks such as research and D&D prep, followed by exercise. Activities such as research and D&D prep score lower because they are intellectually demanding work; world-building, deciphering papers and equations, trying concepts, etc. These don’t give quite such a visceral response as playing with friends or reading a really good book; they do, however, provide longer-term satisfaction, such as creating interesting job opportunities and actually preparing the D&D games which rank higher. Although I tend to gravitate towards the most satisfying activities, the relatively flatness across the board means I still put effort into the lower scoring activities; they’re not too much worse and are still tolerable.
Now enter video games, movies & TV, and browsing the internet:
These activities are designed to stimulate and satiate the reptilian part of our brains, and it shows. As satisfying as D&D, reading novels and to a lesser extend D&D prep and research are, they can’t compete (or require more effort, such as having to prep a D&D session to actually play it). Once more, I tend to gravitate towards the most satisfying activities.
The discrepancy between the newly introduced, hyper-optimized activities and other ones is so large that, after doing one of the more satisfying activities, my mind is hyped up on dopamine and needs to reset before tolerating more “boring”/long-term satisfaction activities; I need a cool-down period before I can sit down to read a paper or world-build. My brain seems almost indignant at having its catnip removed, and so will sulk for a time before working again. The cool down period, unfortunately, needs to be something unstimulating to counter-balance the previous activity, such as organizing LEGO, cleaning, or just sitting and staring at the wall. This means lost time beyond the time spent playing video games, watching a show, or doom-scrolling.
A further impact of video games, movies and TV shows, and the internet is that they all require staring at a screen. I find I have a finite tolerance for looking at a screen; after a couple hours, my vision blurs and my eyes feel lethargic and drained. Using their limited daily capacity on drivel means there is less left over for other more essential tasks.
Video games, movies and TV, and the internet are addictive, make transitioning to other activites much harder, and cause eye fatigue. So how to fix my consumption habits?
Previously, I’ve found revoking my own rights to the internet before noon keeps me from going on my phone and setting a bad precedent for the day, whereas removing video games entirely keeps me from having to “reset” my activity level before continuing with something else. I sold my desktop and didn’t buy a game console; having a weak laptop proved to be a boon in this case, as I could not longer play anything but the lowest requirement games. Movies and TV shows were also relatively easy to avoid since I simply don’t like them very much, and didn’t watch them out of my own volition.
I use the past tense because, since the beginning of covid, I moved back home with the family. A family which still plays lots of video games and watches tons and tons of television. My previous coping mechanism had been to cut any temptation out of my life, akin to not buying chocolate so it’s not sitting around at home teasing you. Now that I’m constantly surrounded by my vices, I’m finding I just can’t cope. I don’t want to pin the blame externally, because I’m the one with poor self-control.
So what’s the solution? No clue.