You don’t have a problem. You can quit any time. It’s not like you’re one of those guys who starves to death playing World of Warcraft or Counterstrike. On the other hand, the mountain of Mountain Dew cans beside the computer chair is becoming a major safety hazard, and you attempted to cast a fireball at a bank teller last week.
Welcome to the world of the functioning addict. You have a job, friends, maybe even a girlfriend, but you spend more time in games like World of Warcraft and Eve Online than you’d like, and you want to cut back. Here are a few simple tips to make it easier.
1) Quit your guild.
One of the tricks online games employ to keep you coming back is the guild (or corporation, depending on the game). A guild provides friends, a community, and a sense of duty. If people are relying on you, you’ll sink hour after hour in the game to fulfill your responsibilities. The human brain is evolved to view social demands, even artificial ones, as extremely high priorities.
Guilds exploit this to cause your brain to ascribe real-world significance to a game, thus making it more important to you. By quitting your guild or scaling back your involvement, you reduce this factor, and help to put the game back into its proper context: that of a fun diversion or hobby. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to give up the friends you’ve made through the game. You can still talk to them on the phone or over chat, or through other channels. Just don’t do it in-game.
2) Change how you play.
Every aspect of online games are engineered to draw you in. The vast worlds, the hundreds of quests to perform, the Chinese dwarves spamming gold in broken English. Okay, well, not that last part.
Let’s look at an average night of gaming. You figure you’ll walk for twenty minutes, and then you’ll go feed the cat and take out the trash. Halfway along the way, you meet an attractive night-elf (actually an accountant named Phil with a very high voice). You spend some time chatting Phil up before he logs off, then, feeling rejected, you get lost and eventually meet a wizard who offers you endless treasures to go hunt down the great and powerful staff of Macguffin. Before you know it it’s the next day, the cat has died of dysentery, and the garbage smells like a mass grave.
In order to avoid this kind of thing, it’s important to do two things. First, never sit down to play without a distinct goal in mind. Don’t just wander. Always have something that you’re doing or somewhere that you’re going, and make sure it can all be done in less than an hour. Second, take ten percent off the time you think it’ll take you to do it, and set a timer. Try to get it done before the timer goes off. This’ll provide an element of challenge that’ll make the game more interesting, and also make you less likely to spend all night fighting mud-goblins and pining over Phil.
3) Find something else to do with your time. Whenever someone discards or cuts down on a hobby, it leaves large stretches of empty time in their life. These stretches are dangerous, as they can easily end with you sitting at home in front of the computer, bored senseless. Under these circumstances, it’s likely your willpower won’t hold out, and you’ll be back to your old levels of activity within a week. Given this, it makes sense to try to find a new hobby. Ideally, it should be something that interests you, and something that involves spending time with other people. Exposure to direct sunlight and girls are also good.
4) Stop reading the magazines and websites. There are hundreds of websites, magazines, and feeds devoted to any game. If you found this article helpful, you probably read most of them. Stop. This is the equivalent of a recovering Vicodin addict buying a crate of tic-tacs.
By reading them, you first give yourself more material to obsess over, and second, by reading about all these other people obsessing over it, you increase the subconscious importance you give to game events. Incidentally, this goes for all of your habits that surround you with game-related media. Get rid of the posters, the T-shirt, and the sword on the wall. You should be able to walk through your house without being constantly reminded of the game.
5) Find other forms of entertainment. Odds are, you got into the game because you like high fantasy. Or space operas. Or gritty neo-noir. Or Asian people with implausible hair. Whatever. The point is, there’s nothing wrong with any of those things.
You can just as easily enjoy those things out of the context of the game. Start reading fantasy novels. Watch sci-fi movies. Hand out hair-gel samples in chinatown. Find something else that makes you happy, and eats less of your life. With these tricks, and a bit of willpower, you should soon be back to where you want to be: playing a fun game infrequently, and having fun with your other friends and hobbies.