Old habits die hard, or something

August 15, 2021

Did you know I was once European champion at Call of Duty, one of the most popular first-person shooter games?

Granted, this was in 2005, when gaming was much less competitive and professional. There were no big prizes and this was an unofficial competition. Still, my team—or “clan”, in the jargon—ranked #1 in Europe.

That didn’t happen overnight, of course. I spent years gaming a lot. I estimate that I played six to eight hours a day. At the time I was in high school, but school wasn’t particularly challenging. And I suppose I didn’t feel like doing much else with my life.

No doubt about it: I was a video game addict.

Many times I told myself that I was gaming too much and that I should stop. It never happened, though. The addiction was simply too strong.

Everything changed when I heard about the so-called United World Colleges (UWC), a group of schools with the purpose of bringing together students from all parts of the world. I applied for a UWC scholarship, was offered a position at the UWC in Hong Kong, and my life changed dramatically.

I had never been outside Europe. My family didn’t come with me, so I stepped off the plane in Hong Kong and knew nobody. Older kids from the school picked me up and soon I found myself among 120 other students who also didn’t know anybody. There wasn’t anything to do but become friends with each other! It was a dramatic change of environment that destroyed many of my old habits.

Two years later, I had made friends from dozens of different countries, visited crazy places such as North Korea, and started yet another new life in the United States, where I’d study and work for over seven years. For some of those years, I was still gaming a few hours a day, but the habit waned over time.

These days, I like to play a little Hitman to decompress, but that’s a singleplayer game, so it’s not very addictive. It‘s a safe game for an ex-addict like me.

Then, the other day, I discovered League of Legends: Wild Rift, which is a MOBA game available on iPadOS—and which runs great on my shiny new 10.5” iPad Pro. Apple’s Screen Time tells me that in the past week, I spent 12 hours playing the game. Whoops.

To be fair, I worked quite hard earlier this year. Then again, I spent six of the past eight weeks on holiday, so I’ve really had a proper break. It’s about time to get back to work, especially since I’ve already committed myself to a big project. But this game is so addictive. It tickles my brain in just the right way. I keep wanting to play “just one more game”.

Fortunately, I have encountered as well as overcome this hurdle before. Periodically, I discover a new game and go nuts with it for a while. It’s like a recovered (or recovering?) alcoholic tasting a new drink. It fires up very familiar and lovely combinations of neurons.

But I know how to deal with this challenge now: just let the excitement run its course. Soon, the game will become less shiny. Other things—even work 😉—will become more interesting again. As long as I remain vigilant, I won’t slip back into full-on addict mode.

It’s fascinating, though, to watch my brain go through the familiar motions, those same behaviors I engaged in when I was a teenager playing video games for six or eight hours a day. I feel grateful to be much more in control now.

So what about your (past or present) addictions? Which bad old habits do you have? Which challenges pop up repeatedly, even predictably? Do you have them under control?

If you don’t have your challenges under control, you might just have to make a drastic break. Something like moving to the other side of the world, where you know no-one… it could be the start of a whole new life.

In the meantime, I will just play one more game.

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