During a recent stay in Laos, spent mostly coped up in my air conditioned hotel room, I skyped and caught up with an old friend. As a result of that conversation, I started playing an MMORPG again, initially with the intentions of just playing socially, when he was online, as a way of hanging out across continents.
The funny thing is, I was already aware of what was likely going to happen. I was apprehensive because I worried that I would get sucked into that world again, and play almost non-stop for a few weeks, letting cloud my vision about what I should actually be concerned with at the moment. Bad habits are truly hard to kick.
Now, two weeks later, while I definitely managed to function at a higher level than a few years ago, I have to admit that I probably made the wrong decision.
While he might have been a bad influence at the time, it’s not like he has any ill will towards me. Bad influences are not always intentionally bad. My friend is a University student, and is in the middle of a summer break, and from the way I usually explain my working habits, he probably assumed that I was basically in the same position as him, or similar enough that no harm would be done.
Even though theoretically I often find myself with free time, given what I do, I spend a lot of it reading, seemingly aimlessly, and thinking, with a bit more purpose. From this “free time” is more often than not, where my ideas for writing come from, and spending a lot of it on a game has turned out to be more than just a time sink. It’s been an idea sink as well.
It also makes every ”real life” obligation seem that much more tedious. And over the course of a few weeks, it’s definitely taken a toll on my patience, and general demeanor. While I’m by no means happy mr. sunshine normally, I’ve noticed more sudden outbursts, a lower threshold to become annoyed, and even angry.
I don’t think online gaming is an abject evil, but I do think it’s far too easy to spend far too much time on it. Unless your goal is to make a career out of it (as is proving more and more possible, you don’t even have to be a pro gamer anymore as long as you can be entertaining) it is arguably, largely a waste of time. People will mention how FPS games improve their reflexes, their impromptu decision making skills, and their team coordination, but imagine what kind of skills you could develop if you spent even 50% of the time actually learning something. I know I would be speaking an additional language fluently by now. Or I might be miles ahead of where I am now when it comes to writing.
I think that there’s a time and place for gaming excessively, and that is while you’re still in school, with your life supported by someone else. When you’re out in the world, “trying to make it”, or just trying to make ends meet, it’s hard to make room for gaming without suffering in other departments. Of course if I had a more normal job, perhaps I would be all too happy to game my free time away, to escape from the boredom.
But at this moment, I’m all too aware that my free time has too many possibilities for me to spend a huge chunk of it on a computer game. After all, it was spending just a small chunk of that time right that has enabled me to get to this point.
The one useful thing I noticed about having a seemingly useless interest or passion, is that you can use it to circumvent Parkinson’s law. If you set a specific goal for any given day, you have an incentive to finish it quickly, leaving time for said interest or passion. So now if I become passionate about something with, say, health benefits instead, like martial arts, then I would be truly on the right path.
But thankfully, just as bad influences can be unintentional, good influences can be too. I woke up to an email about some writings I had submitted for review, and the news that one of my articles from last week having been published, so instead of defaulting to starting my day with the game, again, I’m starting my day with work. And to turn the tide, I will make sure that this is how I start my day, every day.
At the end of the day, I’m not with the camp that claims your best choice is to completely cut ties with old friends who could possibly be bad influences forever(unless they are intentionally being bad influences, or your health/well-being is at risk through their influence). I think that the goal is to become so rooted in your best self that you are impervious to such influences, and instead become a good influence on those friends. Although I concede that there’s exceptions, and that during a period of time when you’re struggling hard to get better, when your rebound risk is high, you’re probably better off avoiding people who might tip you over the wrong edge.
If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder. That if your gut tells you that doing something is a bad idea, even if your friend is encouraging you, just stick with your gut.