A public reaming of myself, and Overwatch, and our relationship

Boy, when I said Blizzard and Overwatch were out to ruin my life, I both did and didn’t realize how much I wasn’t joking.

My primary hobby since my youth has been video gaming. Whenever I have some time to burn, I return to it. Historically this hasn’t been a huge issue in that it doesn’t impact my general productivity. A few cases stand out from this statement, and they each involve a multiplayer setting.

World of Warcraft (Burning Crusade) was my first true addictive experience. I was unhappy at work and at home and trying (badly) to make all the broken pieces fit. World of Warcraft provided a social setting in which each of my outsized cares could be ignored for a while, and I happily participated until I was laid off and then maxed out all my credit cards acting like nothing had changed. Eventually I realized that whatever I was trying to do wasn’t working, and I made a split from the relationship and the game, which was around the time I was in the Emerson MFA program.

World of Warcraft (Wrath of the Lich King) reared its head again when I began working an overnight security job in early 2009. I reconnected with some of my old guildies and felt the old fanaticism begin to creep in, and between that the mind-destroying act of changing my sleeping patterns twice a week, I new I just had to give up both the job and the game.

When we were living in Walnut Creek (so 2014 or 2015), Ashley and I played some Mists of Pandaria together. She wanted to give video games a fair shake since I liked them, and I had a spare laptop that could run WoW, and I knew that I liked it even though I was annoyed at the idea that it still charged a monthly subscription. Ashley liked the experience well enough, getting to level 72 or so and the introduction of Northrend, but she didn’t want to participate in the multiplayer aspects of the game, even running dungeons, and eventually she grew bored, and I tinkered with the idea of playing without her, but finally I had gotten to a point where the game made me sick to my stomach, and that made it relatively easy to give up.

When Cataclysm came out, they also let you play the first 20 levels for free, and I wanted to see the Goblin starting area since they’d never been a playable race before. Even playing those entry-level quests made me feel both bored and queasy, and I cut it off before anything had an opportunity to take root.

Even so, I still geek out talking Burning Crusade and general WoW Lore with anyone who’s interested, which is of course close to nobody. It just shows how deeply World of Warcraft affected me.

Sometime around early 2013, when we were living on Barrow Street, Ashley was attending an evening courses and Montclair and sometimes going out with her school friends, which left me a lot of time at home. I picked up Battlefield 3, which stuck until around when Titanfall came out. Ashley hated that I was playing these games so often, but I mostly kept it out of sight and played only when she wasn’t around. I tinkered with the idea of joining a guild and becoming more socially active, but I never did. Eventually I grew bored of the experience organically lost interest.

In May 2016, Blizzard released Overwatch, which got hyped because Blizzard hadn’t released a new IP basically since World of Warcraft launched, but I wasn’t very interested. I actually refused to buy it at the main price point of $60, but when someone (probably Justin, but I’m not sure) let me know there was a $40 version available, I decided to go ahead and get it.

Over the rest of 2016, Overwatch clawed its way into my psyche until it was all I wanted to pay attention to. The metrics of competitive play — not only Season Rating but also sites like overbuff.com — and the elation of a good experience (1:10 vs the frustration of a bad experience) kept me enthralled, and I made friends, and I joined a team, and then I co-captained a new team after that. We participated in tournaments, we practiced in scrims, and we played in competitive together. I would play for hours a day, usually at least 3, including beginning twice-a-week practice sessions the second I got off the bus from the commute home. Ashley was livid, beside herself with both jealousy and concern, demanding my attention at least one weekend day and one weeknight.

The only thing that really got me disinvested was that the team kept falling apart as people lost interest, and it fell apart for the fourth or fifth time while I was in Puerta Vallarta with Ashley and my parents. I had spent a few days without the game, without obsessively looking at my phone, and just relaxing, and the downtime gave me a real opportunity to genuflect and realize that experiences like Overwatch (and even Facebook) were causing me more anxiety than they were relieving.

And so I stopped. At least for a little while. I made a promise to myself and to Ashley and other friends and family that I was through with multiplayer competitive games. They negatively impacted my life and caused me to be less productive in general, and so they were banned, period.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus came out on 10/27/2017, and I was genuinely excited to play it since I had enjoyed the first game so much. I played through it almost three times, once on the hardest available mode (which unlocks the actual hardest mode), once on an easy mode, and then once again on its hardest mode, which I didn’t finish because… um… it was hard, yo.

Wolfenstein in itself didn’t cause any problems. I just played some when I was bored here and there, and then when I got bored with that game I switched to some other single player games like the older DOOM (2016) and even trying Fallout 3: New Vegas, which I hadn’t played before but had stuck around in gaming consciousness much like Skyrim had, which piqued my interest. Around this time buzz for the new Overwatch league started gaining some traction, so I watched a video here or there, just to see what it was about.

Within a month I was playing Overwatch again and struggling with myself about how to control its sway in my life. I lied to Ashley about it at first, then I told her, saying things like “I’m a grown-ass man, and I can do what I want,” which, of course, isn’t the best way to defend anything. In this time Ashley got diagnosed with an illness that didn’t have much impact on our day to day but did kind of throw us for a loop, and she had to fire one of her employees at work which meant she had to work Saturdays and fill his duties until a replacement could be found. Under the emotional toll of the diagnosis and in the empty space no Ashley and no car left in my Saturdays, I found myself playing often, and wanting to play often, and watching professionals play whenever I couldn’t play. Shit got real serious real fast.

The whole time I kept telling myself that I was participating in addictive behavior. I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t even a good time and asking myself if I wasn’t having a good time why I kept playing, and yet I kept playing. I would uninstall and reinstall, or talk with Ashley about letting her take my computer plug and put it somewhere so that I couldn’t turn the computer on without her agreeing that I could play for a while, which we didn’t do. I even looked into blocking Blizzard IPs on my router just to add an additional step of friction into the process of playing, but none of it mattered. I was deep in the hole, and I had to find my way back out.

Ashley’s sister had her baby shower this last weekend, so Ashley was gone again for the entire weekend, and on Saturday even though it was sunny and gorgeous out and the dogs were bored, I played Overwatch from 7am until 2:30am Sunday with a few breaks for letting the dogs out and eating and whatever. Two different teams I knew from my original Overwatch foray reached out to me and asked me to fill for their scrims, which I agreed to but both of which fell through.

When I woke up around 830a on Sunday, I knew that I had gone far enough to take myself back out of it again. I had told myself 1000 times that the difference between this time and last time is that this time I wouldn’t play with a team, and I had tossed that aside like nothing. And besides which, I knew that “team” wasn’t the difference. I had cited the connecting factor to friends and family before: competitive multiplayer play. I let the Overwatch experience slip back in under the radar telling myself at the same time that I could and couldn’t control it, and the proof is in the pudding: I can’t. I can’t control it.

So I uninstalled it again but went even a step further: I took the computer apart and put it and the table I had for it away. I had mentioned to Ashley several times after I finished Wolfenstein that I was thinking about selling the computer, and now I’m considering it again. How many times do I have to let this pastime come into my life and steal productivity from me and leave bags of stress in their place?

Not today, mother fucker. I’ve eschewed you before, and though I’ll never want to have to do it again, I’ll do it again at least once more. I’m worth it. My writing is worth it. My life is worth it.

Blizzard, you’ve always been good at what you do. Of course, what you used to do is tell stories through video games. What you do now is take advantage of gambling and compulsive behavior. Kudos, I guess. But leave me alone.

Fam, please keep me accountable. No competitive multiplayer video games, period. I’ll do my best to live up to my own expectations of myself.

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