I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I fail at people.  I have trouble understanding many of their actions and much of their reasoning.  And as I’ve admitted before, I love chat-based RPGs.  Sadly, last night I began discussing such games and the current real life states of players.  Does Internet addiction cause them to be more okay with their situations?  Do people in these situations flock to Internet interaction?  Chicken, meet egg.

 

We’ve all heard plenty of stories about online gaming addiction, but we haven’t all necessarily seen what it looks like through actual observation.  There are so many options in online gaming that they all probably attract a very particular set of people of their own accord.  Personally, what I’ve seen most often is people who are or have the capacity to be quite brilliant who seem to just allow Real Life to pass by them without batting an eyelash.  Of the individuals with whom I began interacting more than a decade ago, very few could be said to be putting real effort toward their lives, toward getting better jobs, toward enriching themselves as human beings.

 

What flips the switch to cause Internet Life to replace Real Life in importance?  I can certainly understand Internet Life being important; we’re all pretty surgically attached to the Internet by now.  We have plenty of meaningful interactions with people we’ve never met, and we often consider these people friends.  In that sense, I understand why Internet Life is important to many people, myself included.  However, ultimately Real Life should trump all, shouldn’t it?  After all…that’s where your actions really matter.  That’s where you can affect your job, your living situation, your family, and your future.

 

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For some people, Real Life doesn’t trump all.  There is a role reversal between Real Life and Internet Life, and one’s status, interactions, and positions in Internet Life are very meaningful and very, very important.  These are the people who become upset if their Internet authority is challenged or if another person must leave Internet Life behind temporarily to take care of the demands of Real Life.  These are the people who become upset if it’s two in the morning and their peers can’t finish a quest, battle, or whatever because said peers have jobs with set schedules, are ill, have papers due, or have natural disasters lay waste to their Real Life cities.  No, the last was not an exaggeration; I have personally caught flak for not participating in Internet Life due to Hurricane Katrina.

 

People who put Internet Life ahead of the importance of Real Life can be tough to understand and very, very frustrating during interactions.  No, the house party is not for you to sit and play Xbox Live while sipping a beer; the house party is for you to imbibe spirits, mingle, and otherwise focus on Real Life interactions.

 

Fortunately, Internet addiction has garnered a bit more attention and study than in the past.  I remember when I was in middle school, spending more than thirty minutes a day online was considered an addiction.  I don’t know about you, but thirty minutes is probably only enough time to check my various e-mail accounts, update my Facebook status, write one half-assed forum post, and possibly hold a quick conversation via instant messenger.  Since then, the standards have thankfully been updated.  It’s a bit like the evolution of mental health care, although it’s progressed far more quickly.  Hint, hint, everybody else.

 

Believe it or not, Internet addiction actually gets different treatment than, say, crack addiction, alcoholism, or whatever trainwreck is on Intervention this week.  An actual video game addict rehab center was opened in Amsterdam.  There’s also one in China, apparently.  It’s rather easy to see why – Internet addiction is an escape like any other, but unlike many others it actually involves what some might consider “human interaction.”  The game Second Life has been responsible for many a marriage and many a divorce.  As previously mentioned, I tried it, it gave me a headache, and some guy flying around wouldn’t stop hitting on me in Spanish.  But since I participate in chat-based RPGs, I can sort of see the appeal, and I must mention that I met my first boyfriend in a Star Wars chatroom.  And it’s not that I have trouble with the menfolk, either – I think the phrase “female Tony Stark” has been thrown around here and there.  But by my experiences and those of other people I know, I wonder what really tips the scale to make the games go from “fun, semi-social pastime” to “most important thing ever.”  Is it a gradual thing?  In this day and age, we’re all connected to the Internet every second of every day, so at what point does that fact just…dominate everything else?  When does one turn from “Unreal Tournament enthusiast” to “no time for that naked time stuff honey, I’m playing Capture the Flag with my friends in Germany?”

 

Internet/gaming addiction does share many factors with other fixations.  People can actually experience tolerance (when more stimulation is required) and, if dragged away from their machines, withdrawal.  Apparently, some potential signs of Internet/gaming addiction include:

 

·         Staying online longer than intended

·         Neglecting housework to stay online

·         Preferring Internet excitement to excitement with one’s partner

·         Work or school performance strongly affected by time spent online

·         Becoming defensive/secretive when asked what one spends time doing online

·         Often fantasizing about being online

·         Being secretive about the amount of time spent online

·         Choosing an evening online/gaming over going out with friends

 

lolcatOf course, a lot of these are common sense, but I find it helps to actually see these things listed.  Some of them are clearly more serious than others; I’m sure almost everyone has hung out online instead of folding the forty pounds of laundry in the hamper.  And I’m sure we’ve all lost track of time at some point.

 

Believe it or not, sometimes behaviors within online communities can be a strong indication as to the importance of the Internet in one’s life.  As previously mentioned, if you’ve got someone in your online clique who is often hostile and unnecessarily nasty, chances are that person is putting the Internet before his or her Real Life.  After all, in Internet Life, he or she can throw his or her weight around at will, even if that “weight” is the ability to ban someone from a chatroom or approve new members to an email listserv or some such other “position.”  Challenging the authority, in this case, is taken as a very personal attack by the troll/asshat/whatever you want to call it…although it’s unlikely said troll/asshat/whatever will admit that sort of thing.

 

What do you do about it?  Well, assuming you’re not the one with the addiction (or maybe even if you are), the one common factor in everything I’ve read about countering it is Real Life interaction with Real Life people.  It might take some doing, but once you’ve pried the computer or game controller from your friend or family member’s over-caffeinated hands, he or she needs to be reminded about the good parts of Real Life.  And the good parts of Real Life social interaction.  That sort of thing comes in different forms for different people, so it’s really up to you to judge what would most likely coax the person out of the gaming world and into reality.