Recovering From My Gaming Addiction

Ryan Fan

I can play a video game for just an hour these days and then stop. I have no problem asserting control over my gaming because I have more important obligations.

However, it wasn’t always this way. When I was in late elementary school to middle school, I struggled with a gaming addiction — to MapleStory, specifically. I would play almost eight hours a day on weekdays, and weekends could mainly more than 12 hours per day. During summers, MapleStory was all I did while my parents worked and largely left me alone.

I had no control over my gaming.

A couple of times, I stole my parents’ credit card to pay for in-game currency called NX in the game. On another occasion, I begged my mom to drive me to Target, the only store that sold NX in MapleStory. The Target ran out of NX cards, and I pouted and whined and got into a major argument with my mom as I scapegoated her for not taking me there earlier. She then gave in to my demands and then drove me to another target to buy the $25 card.

My addiction to MapleStory brought out the absolute worst in me. Already a whiny child, I became a flat-out demon to my parents when they attempted to take the computer away. I got mad at anyone else who spent more than an hour at the computer. I distanced myself from my friends in real life all for the game.

You know it’s terrible when maintenance for the game, which only lasted two or three hours, was a significant source of distress in my life.

While I played MapleStory, in part, to get over a hectic home life, my parents worked a lot and got home late. I was virtually unsupervised by anyone but my brother, and let’s be real: my brother liked video games too. He had no interest in being my babysitter.

The game meant a lot to me. It was the only source of stability in my life in a time I had none. When my parents were home, they got into screaming matches. They had gotten divorced when I was eight, and were in this strange arrangement due to financial constraints where they still lived together. It was hard for me as a kid, and it’s hard for me to talk about it as an adult. I’m withholding significant information about how bad it was because of the possible repercussions for my family.

My parents weren’t big on capital punishment. They learned that it didn’t work for them with my older brother. However, one of the only times I remember one of my parents hit me was when I would not stop playing MapleStory one day in fourth grade. I had homework to do, and I was just glued to the monitor of my old eMachines desktop the whole weekend, and I acted like I was doing my homework whenever my parents came out of their room. But they were not fools.

My brother played a lot of video games too — his favorite was World of Warcraft. He spent days in Internet cafes playing the game and got to the max level in the game. But he wasn’t obsessed like I was — he had a social life and friends. I had, well, MapleStory. Some days, I would wake up at 2 a.m. to play MapleStory and have an easier time getting into quests. I’d later fall asleep in almost all of my classes.

MapleStory provided me with a distraction to fill a huge void in my life — and as an MMORPG, MapleStory gave me friends too and social life. Of course, I never met any of these friends in real life, but I grinded with them to gain experience points, and I did party quests with them.

For Maplers who know, I got to level 122 as a fire/poison mage before the Big Bang patch. It doesn’t sound like a big deal to Maplers today, but it was a huge deal at the time.

But that’s jargon for another day. When MapleStory was down on maintenance, I watched YouTube videos about MapleStory. I went on forums that allowed you to trade items. I invested in scrolls that gave me high attack weapons and gloves and spent a lot of real-life money on the game (again, stealing my parents’ credit card).

Anyway, MapleStory not only drained whole evenings and whole days. It drained entire summers. Time would pass by extremely fast when I was playing MapleStory. I tried even to quit the game a couple of times, but I would always come back, and then play for six to seven hours on weekdays, and 12 hours on weekends. I would criticize other players who weren’t as active as me, especially if they were in my guild.

I had a couple of close friends in Maple who I interacted with all the time. It was where I learned emojis like XD and acronyms like “lmao,” “lol,” and “rofl,” after all. I had three close friends in a guild I created, and we would play legitimately all the time. One of those friends was Nancy, who was college-aged and married, and I was online friends with her husband (although we weren’t as close). At the time, I was 12.

If the stolen credit cards weren’t bad enough, my grades would suffer. It wasn’t horrible, and I thought I could rely on my natural intelligence at the time to get through middle school. I did alright, but I didn’t study or perform to my potential because I was so addicted to MapleStory.

How did I recover from it? Well, I did through sheer luck, or I don’t know where my life would have gone. I scroll through Reddit threads occasionally about how MapleStory ruined people’s lives, and I count my graces to God — after all, it could have been me if I never stopped. I must have logged tens of thousands of hours, but I stopped.

One reason is that I got hacked. Well, hacked is a generous term of describing it — I was just a fool. Someone in my guild said they could get me hundreds of millions of mesos (MapleStory currency) and unlimited NX. 11-year-old me thought it was possible, so I gave him my account information. I didn’t get that account back. As a result, I took a bit of a hiatus because I was so angry at myself for being such an idiot.

In another instance, I also gave my friend, Chris, the information to my account in elementary school. I started to lash out at him in class and the playground to give my account back after he changed the password. I couldn’t control my temper, and I threatened to beat him up a couple of times. He denied that it ever happened. Tensions between us got so heated that our classmates reported my behavior to the guidance counselor, and I was called in to settle things with Chris. It didn’t work.

When I was at level 122, I used my parents’ PayPal information to pay $5 for NX, obviously without them knowing. My dad canceled the charge and reported it as a fraud. The next day, my account was suspended until the purchase went through, and I wasn’t going to have that conversation with my dad about how I stole his PayPal information.

I simply wasn’t in control of my life: MapleStory was.

To this day, it is MapleStory that reminds me I’m an addict. It was my first addiction, but I can become obsessively fixated and lose control just as easily over my work, over my athletic accomplishments.

To people who don’t think gaming addiction is serious, the WHO, in 2018, declared “gaming disorder” a diagnosable condition under three conditions:

  • It’s a pattern of behavior for at least 12 months where gaming is out of control.
  • The behavior pattern has to show an “increased priority given to gaming,” and gaming has to take precedence over different interests and activities.
  • There has to be behavior that affects someone’s relationships, education, or occupation
Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash.

Ultimately, gaming controlled my life and showed me that I have to be careful because I will always be an addict. There are times where I lose control again — at the beginning of the pandemic, I played Civilization a couple of days for 10 hours on end, neglecting all my daily tasks and obligations at work and home.

I have greater self-control than I did when I was 12. But the feeling that I need to play “just one more turn” or “just one more quest” is something I felt in MapleStory that I need to catch myself doing.

I am working on myself in a lot of ways. I’ve been actively pursuing going back to therapy and my confronting some childhood trauma. I’ve matured, but I always have to be careful that I don’t fall into the same gaming traps that I used to.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me:

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