Dear Pink Hair Girl,
Me and a few other people are getting worried about a particular friend of ours because we think he’s addicted to his Xbox. It started as just all of us playing Halo at night after classes (we all attend the same college), and while we all still enjoy playing a few nights a week, this friend started doing it every night, not sleeping, missing dining hall hours, and now some of his classes too. He’s asking class mates to bring him notes for what he misses, and he asks us to bring up take-out from the dining hall. Lately he’s making up excuses so he doesn’t come out with us to hang out or party. We’ve even caught him lying about visiting his family, and later his roommate told us he was just there in the dorm room, playing. When we confront him, he says he’s still passing all his classes, and his girlfriend back home doesn’t see a problem, and he says it’s his business how he spends his time. But when we play with him, or do him favors so he doesn’t have to leave the room, its starting to feel like we’re enabling. I don’t wanna be jerk and tell him ‘no’ on the principle of the thing, I have no problem showing him my notes for class. And I don’t want to be telling him what to do. But soon we’re all going to stop being worried, and just start getting fed up. We’d rather stay friends with him if we can though. Have any suggestions?
– Bothered Bro
Damn. Tough noogies, man. You’re not his parents, and you’re not his girlfriend, so how do you even comment? You feel bad because you’re trying to be cool, cuz you like the guy and don’t want to be a drag. But how do you have a say in his habits, how do you make a stand without coming off like a tool?
The fact that you’re concerned enough to A. ask for suggestions, B. put up with his crap, and C. STILL want to try being his friend, tells me that you and his other friends genuinely care about him. Or at the very least, would rather step in and do something than see him waste away in front of the screen.
If you’ve caught him lying about his gaming habits before, then what he says about still passing his classes might also be stretching it. It’s also possible that his ‘girlfriend back home’ (see also, My girlfriend who lives in Canada) left him weeks ago…how would you know? But that part he said about how the way he spends his time is his own business, that part he at least has a point about. In all fairness, it’s his life and if he wants, he has a right to spend it addicted to whatever, like meth. Wait. No wait, according to the law, he doesn’t have THAT right. Video games though, yes.
And even though you’re not really trying to control his behavior or tell him what to do, you guys do want to let him know that you’re concerned, and that asking you guys to do him favors to keep going with this behavior is starting to make you uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to get him to change his behavior, only he can make that call, but there are some things you and your friends can do to make things easier on all of you.
- Arm yourselves with knowledge –Learn a thing or two about what ‘game addiction’ is and is not. There’s a lot of sensationalized crap out there about gaming that’s bogus and just meant to scare parents into believing that video games are the gateway to hell. But at the same time, the behavior you describe does imply some unhealthy habits when it comes to gaming. Like avoiding engaging in face-to-face social activities and skipping important obligations (class).
Lying about it and losing sleep are also bad signs. I’m still reluctant to call behavior associated with video games ‘addictive’, because in general that’s reserved for substances or something that changes how your brain chemicals work over time. It’s more the fact that video games these days have carefully planned out reward systems, that are designed to simulate the feeling of achievement. Of course, these are short term achievements that have little basis or impact outside the digital environment, so you feel accomplished, you feel good because your brain is telling you you’re doing something right, you’re winning, or getting a better score. That feels good, but doesn’t actually change the way your brain processes chemicals… so technically not an addiction. It’s just a matter of wanting to feel like you’re accomplishments are rewarding. Things you do in real life can also feel that rewarding (and much more so), they just take longer to achieve in most cases than in a video game setting. Penny Arcade TV actually has a couple episodes addressing their ideas on help for video game addicts that I find useful. (Part 1, Part 2)
- Make a personal decision and stick with it –Generally, no one minds sharing notes now and then when a friend partied too hard and slept through class the next day. Because we’re human, we overestimate our invincibility now and again. But when someone blatantly acts in a way that causes them to miss out on their obligations repeatedly, they’re abusing your willingness to help, and using you like a crutch.
It’s not fair to you or your friends and classmates. And actually, it’s not fair to him either. If he doesn’t put in the time, he doesn’t deserve to pass his classes, and that might only get through his head if he learns the hard way. By now, you’ve realized this because you’re uncomfortable helping him. This is not news to you. The real problem is that you’re going to be asked to do it again, and if you say no, you’re going to have to have a confrontation. Accept this. Take the time now to confirm to yourself why you don’t want to do it anymore and hold on to that conviction. Think about how to explain this to your friend. And when he inevitably calls you an asshole, just remind yourself that’s he’s doing it out of anger, and because he feels threatened. By removing support, you’re threatening his ability to get away with the behavior he finds rewarding. But in this case, it’s his behavior that you feel is bad, that you don’t want to support anymore. You kind of just need to be ok with the fact that he’s going to hate you for it for a while. And the next part will help you with this.
- Confide in mutual friends – Let your mutual friends know ahead of time about your decision to stop supporting his behavior, so that if in anger your friend goes and badmouths you to them, they already know your side of it. And you’re way more likely to have their support, considering that they’re not happy about his habits either. You should have enough conviction to make a choice without them, but having their support just makes it that much easier to stick with it. And if at all possible, you guys might decide to all work together to stop doing all the little things that allow him to get away with the non-stop Xbox binges, especially if it’s making them uncomfortable the way it does you. Talking to them as a group might also be a good way to decide whether or not to play with him when you all sign on a few nights a week.
- Let him go – If he’s not leaving his room, and he’s not coming to hang out with you guys, maybe it’s time to stop trying so hard to be a close friend. He said himself that he’s making his own choices about how he wants to spend his time, and maybe you have to respect that.
- Keep track of him, just in case –Ok, so you’ve stopped bringing him food and stopped sharing your notes. You don’t stay in touch with him much now that he’s always in his room and you decided not to play with him in-game.
But it’s possible he may still continue to go and play as much as he ever did, because again, that’s up to him. Just in case he does something completely crazy, like stop eating completely, then it might be time to tell someone. Basically, if you get any hint that he might be a danger to himself, alert school authorities. This scenario is unlikely, but it’s better to be safe than sorry about these things. (NOTE: It’s also possible that he’s using gaming as a means of coping with depression of some sort, and if it takes a turn for the worse, someone should at least be keeping tabs of the signs.)
- Take him back – So there may come a point when the games stop being as rewarding as they used to be, or he realizes that it’s not nearly as fun without you guys to validate his gaming achievements outside in real life. If he does come around and start wanting to hang out again, be receptive and supportive. Chances are he’ll be concerned that you’ll throw his bad behavior in his face and reject him. If you give him any ‘I told you so’ flavored flack, it might just validate his own excuses to run and hide back inside the game. So if you’re really willing to give him another chance, try your best to forgive and forget. If he offers to talk about it, try your best to just listen first and not pile on all the pissed-offness you felt about this. You can bring it up later, but give the guy some time to re-adjust to real life challenges first.
It kinda sucks that you’re friend has put you between a rock and a hard place here. Really the best thing you can do is make some decisions for yourself based around what you’re willing to put up with and just how close you can stay to a person who’s choosing to behave this way. And this pretty much applies for any kind of self-destructive personality I think. In the end his own choices will boil down to whether or not he’s happy with the life that kind of hardcore gaming affords him (which I can tell you, won’t be much. Especially after his Canadian girlfriend leaves him). If you care about him, you offer to help him reconnect to the real world when he decides he’s ready, and that’s pretty much it.
Pink Hair Girl