Geeky addictions: harrysaxon’s reply

November 28, 2008

I originally started this as reply thread to bloginhood’s Geeky Addictions post; it grew so long it became an article itself with a little more fleshing out.

I strongly disagree with the use of the word “addiction”. This is a bit of a personal bugbear; I think this word is overwhelmingly over-used these days. An addiction, even beyond its more proper use in referring to substances which cause physical dependency, should be something significantly debilitating. Something you pursue to the exclusion of virtually all other things in your life, with a lack of concern of how the pursuit of this thing harms the rest of your life.

I’m an avid video game player, it’s certainly a major hobby, but “addiction” is too strong a word, though I don’t deny that addiction to video games is possible. I’ve dealt with and seen actual video game addiction, myself with Everquest and friends with World of Warcraft, and it’s a much different thing. Gaming 30 hours straight, ceasing to do anything but game, including bathe or eat properly; one guy playing 50 WoW machines hooked up simultaneously, generating $3k+ in monthly subscription fees; leaving your children to starve to death; that’s addiction.

Playing, as I do, around 20 hours a week of a combination of solo, online and co-operative video games just means that gaming is my principal, but by no means only, form of leisure and entertainment, and even a major avenue of socialization, from friends I’ve met online to Rock Band parties. Video games never take away from my time with my family, my love for other hobbies (though, as with NAPA lately, sometimes a leisure time balancing act must occur); I go out for dinner, read books, cook, etc… video gaming dominates my leisure time, but it definitely doesn’t dominate my whole life.

By the same token, I would not consider your love for buying books an addiction, not unless you’re having problems paying the bills and feeding yourself because of it. I actually knew someone once who was addicted to buying books; he didn’t read 10% of them, I’d wager, and he’d just spend hundreds of dollars a month on, literally, random books bundled up by booksellers and sent to him on spec. He rarely had enough money for food or anything else for the month.

No, I think that the word “addiction” gets thrown around so casually and constantly in sub-cultures like SF and video gaming for one simple and rather depressing reason; self-loathing and shame about our chosen hobbies. Someone who works 20 hours a week would never be called an addict; someone who spends 20 hours a week reading Shakespeare would be lauded for their intellectualism; someone who spends 20 hours a week knitting blankets for the homeless would be called a saint. The truth is, video gamers, SF fans, even television lovers, all can’t get over this stupid, prejudiced opinion that mainstream society has bludgeoned into their heads: Your hobby is a waste of time. Why don’t you do something useful. How can you like that stuff, isn’t it for kids?

Even amongst many of my video game playing friends, there’s a strong element of self-loathing; the idea that it’s okay to like video games to a point, but you must keep an element of cool detachment; almost an attitude that you should never get too good at them, because that brands you as lacking a social life or other, “healthier” hobbies.

I think hobbies are hobbies, and that’s that. Yeah, they suck the funds, but all hobbies do. I sometimes would like to travel more, but frankly, traveling’s a bit of a bother these days. And most people I know have a favourite destination, like Mexico, they go to repeatedly; to me, sitting on a beach and getting drunk in a foreign country seems like a colossal waste of money to me… but I’m sure they think plastic guitar controllers are a colossal waste of money. It’s just different strokes.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. When we both refer to the “mainstream”, we’re really talking about people of our own generation or older – the tail end of Gen-Xers. Those under, say, 30 these days grow up in a world where not playing video games to one degree or another is as unthinkable as not watching TV or movies. They’re growing up in a world where geek is the new cool; in the UK and US, the Doctor and Chuck are prime examples of modern geek chic. Fantasy books like Harry Potter and Twilight dominate their reading habits. The mainstream is changing, my friend, the only problem is, we were born 20 years too early to really be within that group.

I grew up in a time where video games were a pernicious waste of time, which your never admitted to playing very much. And truthfully, they were pretty simplistic things; only recently have video games become a valid and emerging modern form of expression and art, and its appreciators have been able to come up out of the basement and into the sun for a few years now. We just have to hold our heads high and not allow even ourselves to convince ourselves that our hobby is not a worthwhile one.

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