Escapism, Addiction, and the Paralyzing Trap of Online Gaming

How to Break the Cycle and Get Back on Track in Your Life

You know that game you love to play on your smartphone? The one that is riddled with ads for other games marketed to get you to download even more games? The ads that you are forced to watch so you can continue to the next round of solitaire that sometimes, just … maybe … sometimes you decide to download and try. I did that this week, and realized after six hours of gameplay that I was developing an addiction fast, and needed to delete the game before it became an unhealthy habit. 

These games are designed for quick wins that produce a never-ending supply to your dopamine drip. 

Six hours of my Sunday gone and I didn’t even realize what was happening. All I knew was that the grain needed to get harvested, the cows needed more food, and the townspeople each had a list of goods that they were waiting on me, the Mayor, to supply. 

It was… 

  • mildly stressful because I’m a pleaser and wanted to deliver in a timely fashion. 
  • rewarding because my crops grew fast.
  • mindless enough that it didn’t take much effort.

As I became aware of the time it was sucking from my day I knew I must delete this game now or I would never walk away. The addiction was already strong. I mean, if I just waited for 3 more minutes the cheese would be done and I could fill that order! Then if I hung out for 7 more minutes the tomatoes would be ready for harvest and I could plant the sugar cane for the school teacher. And since I’m here I might as well wait an additional 2 minutes and collect the eggs. 

You see my issue. 

There was never a good time to turn it off. I couldn’t just walk away. I knew the carrots were ready and if I planned it just right I could plant another crop before I fell asleep so it would be ready when I woke up. 

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

This started spiraling fast. 

When I play Flow Free it’s like five minutes a game and I’m out. Just one puzzle is all I need. But this isn’t just a puzzle, it’s a world. I have responsibilities! I’m the mayor!

I woke up Monday thinking about my crops and knew what I had to do. 

I grabbed my phone and deleted the app and went to take a shower. Letting the water cleanse away any lingering thoughts about what supplies might have arrived with the morning train. I would never know. 

This scared me. 

How could a mindless game inch its way into my life so easily and take control of six hours of my time? The time I need to work on my business. 

The award center of my brain was on fire. I was doing good things and could see quick progress – something less accessible in my real-world business. 

  • The harvest I crop takes more time. 
  • The connections I’m building aren’t artificial.
  • The rewards are fewer and further apart.
  • The work is harder and I sometimes feel lost.

Is this what escapism is? Addiction? Boredom? Depression? A little of all of these things?

It’s easy to see how mindless these games are. Watching time tick away when you have real responsibilities feels paralyzing. In the game, I know exactly what I need to do, what’s expected of me, and how I will be rewarded. 

In my life, I have no answers. 

It’s unclear if what I’m doing is actually going to work out. I don’t have a clear road map of what my business should look like and what others expect of me. Certainly, there is no way to know what the reward for my work will look or feel like. 

I chose to be an entrepreneur. I knew it was going to come with long bouts of uncertainty. But I didn’t anticipate downloading a game that would awaken such a deep need to serve and succeed. 

Breaking the Cycle

If you find yourself, as I did, stuck in a cycle of not wanting to turn away from the quick hit of your dopamine, then listen up. There is a way to quit. But like all things necessary for success, it’s not going to feel easy. At least not at first. 

Step 1. Move Your Focus

First, you need to start transitioning your time away from the game. This might mean finding ways to fill your time that is equally rewarding. 

For instance, you can set up your daily tasks with rewards. If you think you can handle it, one reward might be 10 minutes to check in on your crops and fill the orders left by the townspeople. For me, this is too risky. My rewards are more like a star chart. This gives me a visual of how I’m doing. Seeing forward motion and offering myself a treat once I hit 10 stars on my chart. For me this is ice cream from my favorite ice cream parlor, Molly Moons

I get a star for every workshop I book, client I land, and article I post. This adds up fairly quickly. Not as quickly as my virtual crops, but it helps keep my focus where it needs to be. 

Step 2. Delete the Game 

If you haven’t gone cold turkey, as I did, it’s totally ok. Six hours in one stretch was enough for me to see there was an issue. For you, it might look more like an hour a day every day for the past 6 months. Whatever the case, if you’re here, reading this, you know there’s an issue to be dealt with. So do it. Delete the game. Or at the very least, put a stop timer on your phone and block yourself from playing it for more than 20 minutes per day. And if that sounds hard, then make it 15. 

I know, I’m so mean. 

Step 3. Journal Your Success

And finally… Start a journal of daily wins for yourself. Every night before bed write down three things you did that day that you consider a win. It doesn’t have to do with your business, it can be family things or friend things. Heck, it could be that you didn’t get caught up in your online world. Wins can be big or small. 

Wins help you to focus your brain on all the good things you are accomplishing during the day and start seeing them as positive choices that are moving your life forward in a productive way. 

The more you can do this, the less you will be drawn back to the fake world you’ve been wasting time in. Yes, you got to be mayor. In that world, you had power, and crops, and chickens too, but the more you begin to separate yourself from that, the more you will open your eyes to all the real things that surround you. 

The truth is, you are the mayor of your world. You hold all the power. It’s up to you to choose to spend it online and accomplish nothing real or to turn the game off and start producing the results you want to see here, now, in this shared reality; building something you can be proud of. Because that is the ultimate dopamine high my friends.

Reach out and let me know how the transition is going for you. What rewards are you finding in your life and where are you getting stuck? What online trap has left you looking for a support group? And what tool has worked best to prevent a relapse?