My strange addiction

Pressing Restart

mumulin_mug

Horns blared as the computer screen came alive with the “Overwatch” menu screen’s song. Yet another late start to my day. My phone, resting next to my hand, flashes a reminder announcing that it’s time for my computer science lecture. “It’s useless to go,” I thought to myself, “I’m too behind to understand anything now.”

Determined to forget about it, I returned my eyes to my computer screen, where “Overwatch” waited patiently for me to choose which game mode I wanted. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Life would be so much easier if it were a game.”

Everyday, I felt energized by the whirring of my computer as I clicked the “Overwatch” icon on my desktop, not by sleeping early, eating healthy, or exercising. No, it was the explosions and whizzing of bullets as I navigated my character around the chaos of the game that I reveled in.

In the rare moment that I did drag myself to class, it was a break between more sessions of “Overwatch.” I played so often that I began dreaming in “Overwatch” matches. My muscle memory became more accustomed to a game’s controls than to other aspects of my life.

I had severe depression that semester. I’ve explained this to myself, my journals, my therapist and to the powers that be that grant appeals for continued financial aid despite unsatisfactory academic work. I neglected my mental health and ruined my grades. I failed two classes and was given an incomplete on a third.

I had great times with my boyfriend and friends on “Overwatch,” and video games do contain potential for self-care. But “Overwatch” was also a crutch.

While the rush of dopamine and adrenaline that I would receive from playing from dawn to dusk did feel great, the feeling would inevitably fade into unproductivity. It didn’t help me study, understand lectures, or finish homework. It only contributed to my lack of motivation, as I masked my negative emotions behind winning matches on “Overwatch.” Linking my self-esteem to my performance in a video game just made sense to me at the time, no matter how bonkers it sounds now.

I was deeply in the impossible zone in terms of passing all of my classes. I was undeclared and panicking about GPA cutoffs. I was barely keeping up with lectures. The slew of “I should haves” bubbled in my mind daily. But instead of going to office hours, the Student Learning Center, or any of the other resources that this institution of higher learning provided for me, I turned to my personal version of a drug.

Sure, I felt like a horrible failure, but I’d be a happy failure when playing “Overwatch.”

As the sole daughter of two hardworking immigrants (one a surgeon and the other a holder of two master’s degrees), the importance of education was drilled into my head as soon as I learned to read. They surely succeeded in cultivating my love for learning, if you point to my near straight A’s from fifth to 12th grade and my admission to UC Berkeley. They crossed an ocean to lead me to the American dream, and I’m spending my semester on a $40 video game.

Every misstep, every moment of procrastination told me that I was failing deeply ingrained expectations. Not only my parents’ expectations, but my own. How could I call myself a good UC Berkeley student if I was failing nearly all of my classes?

But, delusional video game addict that I was, I’d return time and time again to this virtual world instead of my very real one, because it simply felt better to be in.

I’m definitely not the only student on this campus who has had to deal with self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, stress, sleep deprivation, etc. Even how I coped was not unique: Overheard at UC Berkeley is filled with posts about “League of Legends” addicts.

I felt incredibly powerless that semester, and I reasoned that I could at least enjoy a couple of hours on “Overwatch” instead of thinking about it. Looking back, I know that no matter how horrible I felt, I had to take responsibility for my actions. My situation felt hopeless because I let myself stay there, with a copy of “Overwatch” in tow.

We accept the help and responsibility we think we deserve, and I felt for a long time that I deserved nothing.

Taking the first step was thankfully the hardest. With the help of my boyfriend and my friends, I figured out a less stressful course load for the following semester. I chose classes and a major that actually interested me. I went to lectures. I studied with friends. I played “Overwatch” less frequently. I went to the RSF a couple of times. I didn’t ace everything, but I passed.

The path of recovery is not easy. This week, I sat in Main Stacks nearly every day for six-plus hours, studying for a midterm I was worried about. I ended up leaving much of the test blank. I might have failed it, or I might be okay. But I know exactly a year ago, I would have responded to my anxiety by opening my laptop, clicking “Overwatch,” and losing myself in a flash of colorful bullets. Instead, I snuck food in and watched lectures.

Mumu Lin writes the Monday column on living life through video games. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @spacelass.