Swapping Digital Addictions

As of Tuesday I have logged out of YouTube for 30 days. Last Friday I learned to love my PS4 by rearranging the setup that I use to play it on. A reasonable question can be asked, “Have I swapped one digital addiction for another?”

The primary point that this question balances on is the fundamental definition of what an addiction is. Many people have habits, and even bad habits but don’t have an addiction. There are wastes of time and money that are not addictions. An addiction is something specific. You can have other issues, but the primary concept of an addiction is that it is something that you know is bad for you, and yet you have a drive to keep on doing it.

Something that gets overlooked with an addiction is that it is not what other people think about your actions. It’s not about your mom thinking you’re addicted to video games, or a friend telling you that you’re an alcoholic. Addiction is when you look in the mirror and you don’t like what you see. You know what you are doing is causing yourself harm. You want to stop. But then you go back to take another hit.

Frankly I’ve never felt bad about playing video games. I’ve been a bit embarrassed when I realize an entire day has flown by and I didn’t get to the 20 minutes of chores my wife asked me to do. But that’s the point I generally turn the console off for a few days and catch up on work that needs to get done. Video games are enjoyable, they can be engrossing, but for myself I don’t lose myself in them. Even with as much as I loved Zelda Breath of the Wild the fact was that by the end I was growing a bit bored. I only accidentally beat the game, but if I hadn’t I may have put the game away out of lack of interest.

For myself I don’t like first person shooter games which really takes me out of the running for how most people get hooked to games. Horizon Zero Dawn may take 50 hours to beat, but once it’s done then I’m done. Folks who love online first person shooters can play twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. When they start to get bored of one game three more appear like clockwork. I think those people should ask themselves if they are happy with how they spend their time. For me I’m just swapping reading time for game play, and as someone of Generation X I don’t see that as something to be ashamed of.

I look at video games the way I look at when I was reading John Scalzi or Terry Pratchett. I loved every minute of reading their books. I got a little depressed when I had finished all of their writings. I was truly sad when Pratchett ended up dying. That doesn’t make me a Disk World addict…

YouTube on the other hand was… is… an addiction. I can’t remember the last time I felt better for watching it. ZeFrank and Vlogbrothers sucked me in, but since I finished their library of videos… … I don’t even feel like I click on the videos so much the time. It’s the lizard that clicks. The tiny, primal part of my mind that just has to know what the SJW’s did today!

The biggest issue for me revolves around my paycheck from YouTube. If I didn’t get paid a chunk of money I could delete my account and be done with it. It was hard for a week or so after I killed my Facebook account, but once it was done I could move on. With YouTube even when I decided that I was done I still needed to login to upload videos, do maintenance, etc. At the point I was finished my work there was the moment for the recommendation engine to say, “Come on.. you know you want just a little…”. And then the click happens… Did I click on the video..? Well… I have a few minutes to spare…

Then one video references another video. One creator responds to another creator. The lizard wants to know what was originally said and so there’s another click. By the end I just feel irritated. I don’t like what I just participated in. I feel worse for the experience. Yet when I log in the next day I know there will be another click…

For me that’s the difference between video games, Netflix, my Kindle and YouTube. Only with YouTube do I feel worse for the experience. Only with YouTube do I feel drained of my own soul. Only with YouTube do I go back even when I decide that I don’t want to. I had the exact same feeling with Facebook a few years ago. I’d login, and then see a barrage of every stupid opinion people have. I wouldn’t like it, but there were just enough cute Corgi pictures mixed in for me to want to come back. At some point no Corgi picture in the world was worth it.

So as to if I’m swapping one addiction for another? I don’t believe so. Being that Horizon Zero Dawn apparently has 50 hours of game play with a DLC that adds another 15 I can see where it may seem as if I’ve gone from drooling at one screen, to another. But I don’t feel bad playing the PS4. It takes a lot of time, but I don’t feel as if I’m bargaining away my soul.

As always I’m just talking for myself. I’m saying how I react, and how these systems effect me. For you video games may be an addiction, and YouTube is just fine. Just like some people are addicted to sex, food and adrenaline yet others can simply enjoy those things. I’m sharing my experience not simply because it is what I am experiencing, but also it’s because this is what the platforms are being designed for. The idea of being addicted to YouTube is so utterly ridiculous that when Google comes right out and says they’re trying to make the platform more addictive people shrug it off. What I find amazing is that so many modern tech companies are literally writing Press Releases stating what they are doing and yet even then people don’t think twice about it. YouTube and Facebook publicize that they are trying to get people to be on the platforms as long as possible. Video game companies are selling games with gambling mechanics targeted towards kids. It’s not that the companies are sneaking things in. They are screaming about it with bull horns.

So think about what you are doing, and just ask yourself if you feel happier for it. I may not feel like I’ve accomplished something when I watch an episode of Supernatural or played a video game, but I don’t feel worse about life for it either.


  1. Thanks for sharing Eli, I just got off of video game addiction to League of legends. One thing I fill my time with is tv and movies. TV and movies are way less stressful than the game. Because of it I’m more relaxed, sleep more and less anxious as when gaming all the time, less irritable at work. Only when I see how healthy I’m becoming off the game can I understand how bad the game was for me and they way I played it. I like the advice “just ask yourself if you feel happier for it” because its simple and practical and easy to decode a situation when I’m in it.

    I think understanding these technologies we live in also helps keep our guard up. We can ask does this make me happy because it fulfills my needs and desires, or somebody elses?

  2. may i suggest borderlands collection 3 games full dlc included lots of humor and sub quests comedy and different choices of weapons and play types.
    also fallout with its karma based sub system changes the way people talk to you , and etc….
    yeah just suggestions for you that dont require the straight linear a+b= c you win formula

    • … I’ll think about that. The only thing is I don’t really like First Person Shooters. For some reason my brain just doesn’t seem to deal well with them. It can grasp the concept of moving Zelda or Aloy around, but FPS just futzses with me…

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