Content warning: This article discusses addiction, mental health and suicidal thoughts.

When I was in university, I got into League of Legends. A lot. I would play every single night; if I won a match, I’d be pumped and would want to start up another game right away. If I lost, I’d start a new game to redeem myself. In either case, I’d end up playing for hours at a stretch.

It was an unhealthy pattern, and playing that often took its toll. Weeks when I was doing well in the game felt great, but if things started to go south for me, I would quickly get bummed out and irritable. My foul mood would affect my gameplay, too. I would start playing poorly, which meant I would lose more, which in turn made me feel worse. I would keep digging myself into a deeper and deeper hole until I could luck into a win or two.

At the time I didn’t recognize the full extent of how this impacted my mood. It only made sense that I’d get frustrated when I lost, and besides, it was only a game, right? I dismissed it as a problem and ignored it. The trouble was, without meaning to, I started equating my entire self worth to my in-game performance. I played so much and so often that I felt I should be better. When I wasn’t meeting my own expectations it would bleed over into everything else I did, and I would start to think that I couldn’t do anything right… and that maybe I didn’t deserve for things to go right, either.

When you’re in a downward spiral like this it can be hard to self-reflect. I had this weight gradually crushing me, but I couldn’t see what was causing it. I didn’t feel it all the time, either, which made me think it wasn’t a big deal; after all, if I was winning I felt fine, so all I needed to do was win more. Clearly I was just being a sore loser and would get over it. I let this pattern continue, and unsurprisingly, it didn’t get any better.

I remember after a particularly bad string of losses, I finally put my foot down and forced myself to take a break from playing for a couple of days. I could finally see that my mood and performance were impacting one another, though at the time I was more concerned about how it affected my winrate. I knew that given my mood, I was only going to do poorly and keep losing; feeling better was entirely secondary. I felt a compulsion to play anyway, thinking I might luck out with a win, but thankfully I held firm.

After a few days, I started to feel better. I decided to give the game another try and sat back down at the keyboard. I broke my losing streak, which of course made me feel better, so I played another game or two. I settled back into my old routine, but this time I started watching out for those downward trends. If I saw that I was getting into a funk, I would stop playing and go do something else to clear my head. It wasn’t a perfect system, and I didn’t always catch myself right away, but it was a big step in the right direction for me.

These moods weren’t just because of losing at a video game, mind you. They were a persistent, recurring issue, and it was wearing at me. The job I had at the time was also a major source of stress, and much like my all-in approach to League of Legends, I poured myself into it completely. I would regularly stay late after my shift to help out, or even come in on my days off. I ended up running myself ragged. My job was who I was, and when things didn’t go as I expected, I would take it hard. The longer I worked there, the worse it got; by the end I was miserable. My route to work involved walking over a bridge, and I remember thinking about jumping several times.

It wasn’t really until I started talking about how I felt that I actually had a chance to work through it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but opening up about my recurring depression and suicidal thoughts did me a lot of good. It was a turning point; I started spotting my own warning signs earlier, and thanks in part to my lessons dealing with my League of Legends obsession, I knew I needed to back off to manage my feelings. I cut back on the extra time I was spending at the store, which helped a bit, but ultimately the answer was to leave and find a new job entirely.

I ended up getting hired at a restaurant. The hours there were strictly enforced, which ensured that I left when I was supposed to and didn’t overwork. I also made a point not to take my problems home with me anymore. It was hard to do, but it meant I could actually spend my time off enjoying myself. Mentally, I wasn’t always working, which meant my days off were actually refreshing, and I maintained a pretty good mood.

I did keep an eye out for dangerous thoughts I might be having, which did creep in from time to time, but they didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as they used to. What’s more, I made sure to face them head on when they did pop up, rather than letting them stew and fester. By dragging them out into the open and actually talking about them, I could keep them from getting out of hand.

Lately, I’ve noticed a familiar, obsessive trend when playing Arena. I’ll spend entire evenings chasing wins, only to feel down when my deck isn’t working. What’s worse, I feel compelled to keep playing long after the game has stopped being fun. I know now that it’s a sign I need to stop and do something else for a while. If I don’t, I’ll be inviting those dark thoughts to creep in, and it’ll be hard to dig myself out again.

The thing is, I do enjoy the challenge that competitive games provide, whether it’s League of Legends or Magic: The Gathering. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, however, it’s that I tend to dive into things fully, and that if I’m not careful I’ll end up burying myself in them. Given the addictive nature of games like these, my all-in nature can be particularly hazardous, making it all the more important for me to tread carefully. If I force myself to take a break, even if it’s only for a few days, it’ll do me a world of good.

I’m going to turn my screen off and focus on my other hobbies for a bit, then see how I feel. I know have a bunch of miniatures I’ve been meaning to paint; it’ll be nice to get some work done on them.

Arena will still be there when I come back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.