Nothing is wrong with videogames! In fact, they helped me become a better surgeon. Like anything else potentially addicting, nothing is wrong with them...

...until you let them detract from your relationships and responsibilities.





I grew up a gamer. In fact, my first game was Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo system. Being able to run around in a virtual world larger than my own, pitted in a battle of good versus evil, trying desperately to rescue the love of my life from an evil mastermind... I was hooked immediately.

I graduated to the Nintendo 64, PlayStation 1 and 2, and eventually desktop MMOs (massive multiplayer online games) like Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft that had expansive worlds and online communities. Although MMOs required the dedication of a full time job to get ahead, they also allowed human interaction and connection on a completely different level than I was used to. I could be whoever I wanted to be behind my avatar. I was judged solely on my ability to play my character, and the consequences of all of my words and actions were limited to the computer screen.

Or so I thought. Putting myself in a position where I could arbitrarily drop my commitments to others or curse at random strangers without any repercussions allowed me to become a very crass, demanding, and selfish person. Seeing others become the same way online made me think that it was actually normal. I unconsciously carried that attitude and mentality into my real life relationships throughout college and medical school, which led to very destructive habits and experiences.

I lost a lot of friends this way and even suffered heavily in my first real relationship because of my addiction to videogames, but I didn't care because I could escape the real world and get lost in them again whenever I wanted. I also used them to block out my parents' fights and eventual separation as well as to ignore talking about the problems that were slowly distancing me from each of my family members.

(Healthy coping habits, I know.)



It was no surprise then that I eventually started to play iPhone app games like Clash Royale and PokemonGo. I had given up the other games during the latter years of medical school and through residency because they soaked up way too much time. These app games created a similar line of progression and achievement in the foundation of their gameplay, and I was hooked by my need to be "the best."

Becoming "the best" sometimes doesn't require you to be the fastest or strongest person around, but rather requires you to work the hardest. Normally, this is a great attitude about how to approach life, and it explains why I became so high achieving in academics. I was addicted to trying to be better than others through hard work.

Hard work in academics meant spending sleepless nights studying in college when other people were out partying or wasting time watching Netflix. Hard work was bringing meals back to my dorm room so I could study and eat or, conversely, bringing my notes to every dining hall meal to eat and study. I was all about maximizing my productivity by trying to squeeze studying in whenever I could. The same applied to PokemonGo. I tried to squeeze catching Pokemon in between everything I did... studying, walking to work, while waiting between OR cases, etc.

Unfortunately, that didn't change when I hung out or went out on dates with Jewelz. I would play while walking around with her or occasionally during meals just to fit in some extra catches on my way towards "ultimate domination" of this game. I even bought the PokemonGo Plus in New York to help myself catch stuff while we walked around. It did allow me to focus more on her (I only had to press a button when it buzzed instead of looking at my phone), but I noticed the incessant buzzing would more often than not bother her because my focus wasn't totally on her. I could say I didn't care enough to put it down for her. Or rather... I would say that I didn't have the proper understanding or motivation to put it down for her.

After becoming Christian (and after Jewelz had broken up with me), I was reading "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. On Day 16, he talks about how relationships matter most in life. It was in this chapter that I really understood that time is the most precious thing you have in life. That is why giving someone the gift of time is the most important thing you can do for them. You can always make more money to give someone flowers or diamonds, but the time you give them is a part of your life that you will never get back.

Giving time to someone comes in the form of focused attention. When you focus intently on someone and on what they have to say, you are telling them that "what you say is important to me" and by extension, "you matter to me." I didn't give Jewelz that.

My actions said otherwise. The fact that I couldn't put down the phone or the stupid button to be present with her signaled to her that she was, in fact, not the most important thing to me in the world. Time with her fell short to my selfish desire to prove myself in a virtual game. When I finally realized this, I felt crushed inside for how I must have made her feel for months. However, regret doesn't bring any value to my life, so I've taken the time to learn and grow from this mistake.



Final thoughts:

Carrying this new knowledge and perspective forward, I first and foremost gave away the stupid button thing to a close friend who could benefit from it more than I would (and he plays in moderation). It doesn't benefit me anymore, and I won't let it control my mindset. I am now more conscious about how much time I devote to games. I went from playing hours a day in residency to potentially opening up the app for 1-2 minutes each day if I even remember to do it. I don't let myself get caught up in it because I know how detrimental it will be to my work and my time with other people.

I am more disciplined in the time I spend with other people in my life. It no longer seems like a "waste of time" because I'm not getting work done. Instead, building the relationship with a friend, a colleague, or whoever I am dating is now the most important aspect of my day. I put my phone away, and I give them the gift of focused attention. That has made all the difference these past few months, and I know my future wife will REALLY appreciate that too lol.




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