Three weeks ago, I restarted playing a social video game I had stopped playing back in December. This was multi-pronged move. I missed my friends, and wanted to see them. I enjoy playing that game, and I perceived it to be a highly rewarding activity even when I wasn’t actively playing. I had some time to kill between then and my move to a new city.
I was also doing science, gathering data about whether or not I can play an MMORPG when my health is relatively good and things are looking up without it eating up more of my life than I wanted it to–I’d previously used MMORPGs as escape hatches from a life I needed to escape, but then I struggled to close the hatch when I needed to return to IRL. The data suggests I shouldn’t be playing right now, but it’s complicated.
Final Fantasy Fourteen keeps me in touch with friends who live far away, and we have fun and do fun stuff and our relationships grow from the time we spend in game. I get to be a community builder among trans fam in there. I lead hunts against giant monsters and make people (myself included) rich (in game currency). I get to have an approximately female body of my own design. I can get my teaching feels by mentoring new players and helping ppl learn mechanics and overcome obstacles we have a shared interest in toppling. My gender is never questioned or suspect. I can alter my appearance with an ease I wish I enjoyed IRL. I can be out and feel 114% safe about that, and the communities I am a part of are full of badass queer allies who more often than not shut down hate before I get a chance to, though the hate is so rare the allies don’t have much to do. The game validates my effort and accomplishments via simple and intricate systems of growth and reward. Directly, it combats my gender dysphoria (somewhat) and helps other mental health issues I have (somewhat) through socialization, validation of my lived gender, and providing a sense of forward motion when I don’t feel I have any IRL.
But the costs of these benefits is pretty steep. In the few recent weeks I’ve been playing, I’ve felt the game competing with almost every other project I’ve wanted to work on and sucking up precious energy I would otherwise devote to them. I haven’t done anything new to learn how to code since February. It’s taking time away from my freelancing gig and interfering with productivity goals I set for myself. I haven’t been writing (outside of the game). I haven’t been reading (outside of the game). I haven’t been cooking nearly as much as I was before (outside of the game). I haven’t been drumming as much as I was before. I haven’t been sleeping as well because the game is keeping me up late, or I’m already up late and the game keeps me up a little later, but whatever’s happening my circadian rhythm is more chaotic than it is without the game. I haven’t been leaving the house as much, even for short walks. I’ve gained back some of the weight I lost in the last two months, likely from spending so much time sitting and eating processed food out of a box or the freezer instead of stuff I prepare on my own. My back gets sore and sometimes my legs swell up from sitting in my shitty task chair all day, either working on the freelance thing or gaming.
I HAVE made forward motion on some large-scale important-type things while playing FF14. I found short-term work, and I worked it, and I met my deadlines. I cooked some badass soup and some more beautiful veggie quesadillas and saw a doctor about my hormones and went to therapy and returned a pair of glasses that kept fucking up my nose. I real talked with my mom. I packed. I took walks. I planned my upcoming move some more with my future roommie. I drummed. I worked for my aunt. I stop gaming to do all these things, and that felt like a success.
But that’s kind of my insight here:
>>I had to stop gaming to do these things, and stopping gaming to do stuff I needed/wanted to do felt like a success.<<
Doing normal stuff I want to do, that I enjoy doing, and taking care of business I need to take care of, and getting my life back together financially, can all be successes, sure. But I have to work extra hard to do them when I have FF14 in my life. And some things I’ve just stopped doing because FF14 is more rewarding than them in the short-term, like writing or submitting my work for publication or reading challenging stuff or learning to code or being awake in the daytime so I can drum without getting the cops called on me or soaking up horrible karma from being that drummer neighbor.
I love FF14. It is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done, and its living world, Eorzea, is so beautifully rendered sometimes that I get goosebumps and have transcendent experiences I usually only have when surrounded by natural beauty in the sandstone and sunshine high Arizona desert or deep in a lichen-dripping old-growth Oregon forest. FF14 honors some of my values, like community and compassion, spontaneity and playfulness, being a healing and restorative presence, building independence and taking charge of my decisions, generosity and reciprocity, and femmeing the fuck out. But it doesn’t honor others, like curiosity about the real world, taking care of my health and body, having new experiences, nurturing my intellect, my allegiance to art and participating in artistic communities, interpersonal bravery, being vulnerable and trusting, or a warts-and-all and ideally fearless self-awareness. It makes doing other things I want to do more difficult, and though, again, it is very fulfilling to play, it’s just not worth the sacrifices it asks of me.
I’d like to be the sort of player where I only play on weekends, or the kind who pops in for a few hours each evening to run a few instances or zerg a few hunt trains. But either I don’t have the self-control for that right now, or the allure of the game is just too immersive for me to play like that. I log in thinking I’ll just water my garden, check if my stuff is selling on the market, and dip out before the top of the hour, and next thing I know the sun has set and I’ve lost half a day and my deadlines are still pressing and I’m kinda hungry but I can’t eat anything I spent the day hunting. So I uninstalled tonight.
I played other games in the last few months when I took my break from FF14. None of them were MMOs, most were RPGs, and they were all infinitely more easy to put down and walk away from when I had the urge to do other things, or when responsibility demanded I do other things. I healed a lot in those months, in real life, and though I don’t feel my health dramatically backsliding right now, I can see some of the positive habits I developed slipping while I traipse across Eorzea, fingers ticking at my keyboard.
This isn’t a pan on all games. I still love video games, and I’m still the person I am today because I played the games I played when I was growing up. Video games can be high art, even literature. The medium can produce moving experiences and improve people’s lives just like reading or sculpture or graffiti or music can. I’m a better person because of the empathy they’ve helped me develop, the bravery and determination and introspection and self-care and authenticity their characters modeled and invited me to emulate in my own life, the rebellious speaking of truth to tyrannical power beneath overwhelming odds I underwent as part of the normal course of life in those games. They’ve helped me learn to analyze systems, and see chains of influence stretching across the world, between people, within people. Everything we do, this daily dehumanizing capitalist money-chasing, the debt, the income, the ownership, the resource-trading, the resource destroying, the value-making, the politicking, the rhetoricking, the world-shaping, language, is games. My project right now is being very intentional about what, and how, I play.
Right now, immediately now, this girl has other shit she needs to focus on, and in the game that is me building a more fulfilling and more livable life for myself via Capitalist Acquisition 2018: Poverty Edition, FF14 functions as a major distraction from the paths I would put myself on. So I am putting it aside, and doing more IRL again. IRL has been pretty grand the last few months, and I’d hate to sacrifice that for something I know is rewarding, but not as rewarding as reality has been.