(A note to family members, loved ones, and clinicians).
Okay, first of all:
You may be reading this for a number of reasons but likely it’s because you are a support person to someone who is playing their MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) constantly. You’re worried about them. You’ve tried to help a number of different ways- all to no avail. So now you’re thinking: “It’s time. I need to just get them to pull the plug; to abstain from gaming; to quit cold turkey; to start engaging with the real world again!”
I hear you, it can be unsettling, feel damaging to your relationship, or feel scary even. Or hit on some existential notes: thinking about how you like to spend your time vs. how future generations might spend their time, and the black mirror, and downloading our memories into robots. Phew, am I going past your current worries? My mistake… it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, and to act based on fear of something you don’t understand.
Before you decide that pulling the plug is the only way please read these considerations from a psychological-player-type-perspective:
Let’s call our player friend Robbie for fun.
1. Playing a game with an avatar/character actually breeds the real life person to feel empathy towards their avatar.
This means that whenever Robbie’s avatar levels up in the game it feels good to make the avatar feel good. It kicks in our care-taker instincts and gives us motivation to help the avatar. This means that if Robbie suddenly stopped playing the game he might feel in a way that he is abandoning or neglecting his avatar.
2. In an MMORPG you can join a guild which is a group of real people that choose to play together to essentially fight tough monsters. Guild members can be people the player knows in real life or not, but they no doubt matter to the player.
So whether Robbie plays with people he is close to in real life or not, pulling the plug on the game might mean a sudden disconnect from his guild members. Losing a friend (whether or not it is an online friend) causes an understandable form of grief. Especially if Robbie feels like an outsider and has trouble making new connections with people in the first place.
3. Game designers create feedback systems within games that keep the player motivated to do better.
Do you know what it’s like to get positive feedback on the way to reaching a large goal? To hear someone say that you’re doing great so far and here are your next steps to achieving this goal? It really works for some people. It can make life so much simpler, more positive, and focused. It’s a source of motivation. A lot of folks lack motivation in life. Robbie is probably one of them. So when Robbie feels like he’s not motivated to achieve anything in real life, but he feels real fulfillment, pride, and satisfaction from the game then it makes the idea of quitting cold turkey feel, well, cold.
So unless you can replace a sense of empathy, close knit social connections, and motivation with positive feedback overnight I wouldn’t suggest pulling the plug on Robbie.
Does that mean that reduced playtime can’t be a goal? Of course not. However, there are certain benefits for Robbie playing the MMORPG whether or not he can articulate them. As with any habit (good or bad), removing that resource suddenly without understanding the need that is getting met and providing replacements for that need can possibly be damaging. When in doubt talk to Robbie about this! Try engaging him in the process of discussing his relationship with gaming.
Getting outside or professional help with this dilemma can be helpful if you feel overwhelmed. Are you in the Austin, TX area and would like to get some individualized help with this? I’m a local LPC-Intern supervised by Ann Stoneson, LPC-S at Counseling South Austin and I’m here for you. Call me at 512-766-4786 or email me here to get started with a free in-person consultation.
Julia Stamman, M.S., LPC-Intern
Supervised by Ann Stoneson, LPC-S