A little while ago, I was playing a match of Team Slayer in Halo 3 with my brother, Mike, and his then-25 year old friend, Bill. We all were having a conversation about the number of kills each of us have acquired in the Halo games. Mike bragged about acquiring nearly 30,000 kills in Halo: Reach, while I bragged about acquiring over 33,000 kills—an accomplishment (if that’s what you want to call it) that consumed up to 26 days in real time! Bill stated, “Well, I’ve gotten over 50,000 kills in Halo 3.” But he didn’t sound too proud of himself. Instead, Bill lamented how he wished that, in retrospect, he put his time to better use, improving his skills in playing the guitar, learning to speak a foreign language, or traveling to exotic countries. This caused him to argue to Mike that video games, no matter how enjoyable they are in the moment, in the long run they don’t get you very far in life. If anything, video games are no less harmful than a psychoactive drug.
I used to define a drug as any substance that alters the experience of consciousness, but in light of the prodigious amount of time I’ve spent watching television shows and movies and playing video games, I’ve since expanded this definition to better accommodate for a wide range of situations and behaviors. To me, a drug is now characterized by the prolonged, sustained engagement in an activity unconducive to the security of a hopeful future and the need for self-actualization, with ‘self-actualization’ a psychological term coined by Abraham Maslow that refers to the need for individuals to fully realize their potential and cement their identities.
In certain respects, I would contend that unchecked lifestyle habits like playing video games for too long are more dangerous than abusing mind-altering substances because, unlike the video game addicts, the substance abusers know that they’ll eventually kill themselves if they don’t stop or substantially cut back. But does it do us any justice to know when an unchecked lifestyle habit has crossed a line?
Consider Doctor Gregory House, who embraces his Vicodin addiction and regularly flaunts it around in front of his patients and colleagues for five straight seasons. It’s only when House hallucinates his best friend’s dead girlfriend and deludes himself into thinking that he’s slept with his boss, Doctor Cuddy, does he decide to check into rehab and get treatment for fear of turning schizophrenic. Granted, House eventually relapses into his Vicodin addiction and reverts back to the same misanthropic cynic he’s always been, because he wouldn’t be the House we all know and love were it not for his incessant sarcastic quips and assertions that everybody lies. However, through experiencing disturbing hallucinations, damaging his work relationships, and suffering intense withdrawal symptoms, the insidiousness of the Vicodin became evident.
Any habit or ritual can progress into an addiction, at which point the damage is already done and cannot be reversed. But by taking a step back and replacing a habit that you know is bad for you with one that is more constructive, you’ll thank yourself ten, twenty, or thirty years from now.