MoTG Help!
December 2, 2009 12:11 AM   Subscribe

I've never been so addicted in my life...

I think I'm addicted to Magic the Gathering: Online. I don't know what is wrong with me. Seriously. I feel pretty silly posting about this, but I'm moderately concerned. I've been playing this game for 3+ hours a day, on bad days 5+ hours for maybe a month now. It's interfering with my life, and I want it to stop. It interferes with my school work and my sleeping habits. It feels...out of control. I tried deleting the game. I re-installed it. I tried having my GF change the password. That worked for a week, until I retrieved it via email. Then I started playing regularly again. (isn't that objectively sketch-ball behavior?) I left my computer at my friends house by accident for a couple days, and didn't play. My GF came over for Thanksgiving, and I didn't play. During the periods where I don't play, I seem totally fine. I don't miss it, or crave it. But I inevitably come back to the game and start playing excessively.

Here's some relevant info about me. I smoke. Otherwise I don't have, nor have I ever experienced, any addictive habits. I've always been fine with drugs and alcohol, and can take them or leave them...and since college, I've really not bothered with them on a regular basis. I had one similar incident like this. In 10th grade I played Everquest excessively. Very excessively. I ended up deleting my character, which solved the problem.

I'm a 1L in law school, and I need to study more, and this issue is getting in my way. I definitely use this video game as a "break", or to relax. But I always say "Ok, a few rounds" and then end up losing my whole afternoon, or evening, or finding myself awake at 3AM. This type of behavior isn't relaxing: the resulting loss of time, the effect on my sleeping pattern, and the feeling of not being in control, just adds to the anxiety. To be fair, I moved away from my GF and my good friends to attend law school, and graduate school feels more isolating. I get enough of my work done. I'm not at the point where I don't do my work: I do a perfectly adequate job. But 1L year appears to be something like a nuclear arms-race, and I feel like I'm sitting around with some Hiroshima-era A-Bombs while other law students are busy building multiple re-entry ICBMS. These are probably relevant data points.

So: What should I do? Nothing? Evaluate and deal with the substantive issues in my life rather than worry about this? Worry about this? I would like Metafilter's opinion. I haven't often found myself in a position where I am (a) feeling out of control, or (b) retreating into a card game , something"relaxing", for so long it begins to negatively impact other areas of my life, or (c) unable to deal with the game in any form of moderation. It wouldn't be a problem if I felt like I could say "Hey, 45 minutes a day Max". I would like myself to set a reasonable goal and stick with it, though I am unable to. How do I deal with this generally, and how do I deal with this NOW, with finals approaching in a few weeks?
posted by HabeasCorpus to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Aren't your 1L grades the most important for where you get a summer job, which in turn sets the tone for your entire legal career? And so by merely doing an "adequate" job at school, aren't you in turn really affecting your earning/prestige potential for the rest of your life?

I think the answer is to just get mad at yourself. You're wasting untold thousands of dollars in future earnings BY PLAYING A FUCKING CARD GAME ON THE INTERNET. And it's not even a cool card game, it's one that the vast majority of people forgot about in the 90's.

Think of every minute spent on that game as 10 dollars down the toilet and I'll bet you'll start playing less.
posted by downing street memo at 12:24 AM on December 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I end up engaging in obsessive internet/gaming things, it usually means I'm trying to avoid something in my life (usually unconsciously). What are you trying to avoid? Schoolwork, isolation, perhaps both?

A friend of mine just implemented a new policy for himself when he finds himself procrastinating online, beyond the point of just a "break"; when he notices he's doing it, he immediately turns his computer off. Most likely, your computer will take a while to boot up, and that short time may be enough to break you out of the obsessive cycle and get you moving to something else. Also, try doing your studying on computers that are not your own, perhaps in a computer lab.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:40 AM on December 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

Something about the game is feeding you. To kick it, you'll need to find out what that is.

Are your upcoming finals challenging for you? a little scary? Is the game something that replaces that feeling for awhile?
By now you must feel very much in control of the game, and when you win it's a bit of a rush. That's a good feeling isn't it?

Maybe being in control of something (or, in other words, something you are very good at) is what you really desire.
posted by artdrectr at 12:47 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uninstall the game and put the CD/DVDs back in the box and on the shelf. The problem isn't the game itself. It could probably be any game on your computer. It's the fact that once you've started playing, you become completely immersed and lose track of time because these games have no limits on play time.

Next time you need a break, engage in an activity that has a finite length of time: re-read a comic book, read a magazine, watch a DVD, play 5 hands of cards with your GF, ride a preset course on a bike, etc. Browsing the Internet, reading blogs, and reading big books are out. The key is to have an activity you can lose yourself in but only for a limited amount of time.
posted by junesix at 12:59 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have had the same episode with Civ 3. My record was 16 hours of gameplay straight (dont ask!). The only way to stop the cycle is to uninstall the game and throw away/entrust someone with the CDs. Best of luck!
posted by epiphinite at 1:00 AM on December 2, 2009

You're worried about law school.

You're worried that even if you muster all your strength and dedicate of your time to your studies, you might still end up somewhere near the bottom of the pack. At least you keep playing this game, you'll be able to tell yourself: "Sure, I got bad marks, but I didn't really try that hard - if I hadn't been playing that damned game, I would definitely have aced that class."

If you waste all your time on this game, your exam results won't reflect your potential, and your true ability as a law student will remain unmeasured. That may be more comfortable in the short-term than trying your hardest and risking failure. I would suggest that if you want your life to work out in the long-term, you should delete this game. And maybe get counselling.
posted by embrangled at 1:04 AM on December 2, 2009 [23 favorites]

First, burn the installer to CD. Then, uninstall the game in entirety. Set the Wizards of the Coast website to in your hosts file. Alternatively, use the IP of a law school study site. Take the CD with the installer on it, and scratch the word "FAILURE" into it. Put it in a CD case, so every time you try to reinstall, you see what that game can do to you. If this isn't glaring enough, mount it over your computer screen as a constant reminder. These blocks will give you that moment's pause to realize what you're doing before you run away again.

Do not, under any circumstances, let yourself start playing another online game. You are prone to that form of addiction under stress. Counseling could help you, but your circumstances mean that you're taking drastic measures to avoid this addiction, not just "manage" it. You can worry about management once you have serious downtime, although I suspect you won't be prone to playing nearly as much when the stress of class is off your shoulders for a while.

Here's how serious I am about you completely quitting the game until you have things in order. If you play even one more round of that game before your finals are finished, drop out of law school. No, seriously. Drop out of law school, because if you cannot refrain from one leisure activity for a few weeks in order to succeed, you are wasting your time and money. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and swear to be this resolved, you may be in good shape. If you can't, then look for a career that either doesn't stress you out to the point of such escapism, or one that isn't so demanding that you can stand to lose this much time.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Saydur at 1:31 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have two ideas for possible things you can do, to deal with this "now".

1. MAKE yourself play for 5 hours.

The key to this is scheduling; I don't think it would work without that. Schedule each and every moment of your free time down to a tenth of an hour, just like you would if you were billing your time at a firm.

Put your study time on there, your dinner time on there, bathroom breaks on there, and the 5 hours of game play on there.

During the period, or periods, where you have scheduled playing the game, you HAVE to play the game.

Do this until 1) the schedule is habitual 2) playing the game is something you dread and are bored to tears by.

Oh, and I really think you should stop thinking of studying as something you're doing to catch up with all those ICBM builders. Anyone would become avoidant of a task if that kind of pressure were riding on it.

Just think of studying as something you do because you are following what's in the schedule like a robot, and your schedule says "study" at such and such an hour. Don't think about the end result.

2. This is a method which apparently also works for smoking.

The next time you play the game, set a timer when you start. Don't look at or pay attention to the timer, just play for as long as you want. Stop it when you're done.

That's your maximum. You can play for as long as that, but you can never play *longer* The idea is to slowly reduce your maximum in increments of 10 or 15 minutes. (I don't think it's good to make the increments much bigger than this).

Again, once you reduce the maximum, you cannot increase it again. Reduce it whenever you feel ready. If you're not sure if you can stick to the reduction, don't do it.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:51 AM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, another anti-smoking trick that might work here: allowing yourself to do the behavior you are addicted to but only under increasingly constricted/inconvenient/sucky conditions.

For smoking, that would be going from allowing yourself to smoke wherever/whenever, to only smoking in the kitchen, to only smoking in the kitchen while doing the dishes.

I think the equivalent here would be allowing yourself to play, but not allowing yourself to use a chair. And going from that to not only not using a chair, but having to do squats or something the whole time, and when you tire out, having to take a break until you can do them again. Or whatever other equivalent you can think of.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:08 AM on December 2, 2009

I am the master of classic avoidance behaviour, and I am also an obsessive gamer. (The 16 hour record epiphinite mentions is, seriously, lightweight.)

I actually don't think you are addicted to this game. You say you don't miss it or crave it when you don't have access and based on my experience when you are addicted, that's not what happens. At all.

In other words, I think embrangled has nailed it, exactly. MoTG is, for you, less about MoTG and more about a very shiny distraction from the thing you're afraid of - which is a typical thing to fear in 1L. I'm not sure typical addiction tactics will work here; I think you need to confront your fear of failure (or, more accurately, fear of really trying.)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:24 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's what works for me when I really need to quit something: Every time you spend more than, say, 30 minutes a day playing it, burn a 10 or 20 dollar bill. Don't give it away to a good cause, don't give it to a friend. Burn it. Or tear it up into a hundred pieces.

Not only will it be just too darn expensive to continue, but every time you start playing you'll have an image of that money going up in flames.

Darn powerful method. You just need an iron will do burn that money.

If you think about it, you won't end up burning more than you would have spent on other forms of therapy.

One more suggestion: Tape a 10 or 20 dollar bill to your monitor. Keep in mind that that's the money you'll be burning if you break the time limit.

Ultimately, you may decide not to play at all, but as long as you keep it below the time limit you set, that final step doesn't matter so much.
posted by zachawry at 3:09 AM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

A small counterpoint to what embrangled said, though I think that that was exactly what needed saying: I'd take that statement at face value and not try to tease out the nuances in that anymore (in the sense of eliminating MoTG as a way of relaxing more primarily). Perhaps irrelevant, and I think that embrangled had this implicit in her statement, but do set a bit of time to relax and such. Burning out by completely sacrificing yourself to work is not good at all, and may lead to an even more permanent kind of catatonia.

Still, do delete the game, though. And maybe counseling is indeed good to get a clear-headed opinion on where to draw the line between "just a few rounds" and full-blown retreative-addiction.
posted by zer0render at 4:16 AM on December 2, 2009

Seconding Saydur. Block access to the game.

There are some escape / avoidance issues here - I am very much like that myself, btw. I was obsessively playing Gothic 2 exactly when I was supposed to be studying. It's probably a form of self-torture and simultaneous escape, there are also locus of control issues, etc. etc. etc., BUT WHILE YOU GET THOSE FIGURED OUT, YOU REALLY WANT TO UNINSTALL, BLOCK AND DESTROY THE GAME.

Sorry about the caps. That's just how I have to talk to myself about computer games.
posted by krilli at 4:19 AM on December 2, 2009

Remember how you quit Everquest? And it worked?

Do that.

Any kind of "oh, I'll just keep it around and only play it for ten minutes at a time, honest" is just asking for trouble. There's no reason to keep playing this game. Uninstall it, throw away the disc, change your password, and when you're tempted to retrieve the password, just don't. do. it.

You're not using the game to relax. It's not relaxing. It's not a break.
posted by ook at 5:55 AM on December 2, 2009

It's not the game, per se, but what it provides. You don't mention that you are spending time in forums looking up new deck builds or spending a lot of money buying electronic cards or packs. Instead, you're spending your time, playing the game against other people, proving yourself to the ether during a time in your life where proving yourself is a 24/7 kind of thing.

Definitely uninstall the game. It's too ubiquitous to be lurking on your hard drive. Instead, when you need that release of competition, go play in a sealed deck tournie at a local store. This will get you the distraction/break you need from your studies and the ability to play/test yourself that the online game provides, but in a format that is limited to a Friday night or Saturday afternoon only.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:03 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

you're spending your time playing the game against other people, proving yourself to the ether during a time in your life where proving yourself is a 24/7 kind of thing.robocop is bleeding

Whoa, that's beautiful. Thank you.
posted by krilli at 7:19 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look into whether or not counseling is available to you at your school--often it is free to students. Also, if you have any doubts that this is a bona-fide addiction, read "Hearts in Atlantis", the Stephen King novella from the collection of the same name. Even if you don't like his horror stuff, this is a non-horror story about college students in the mid-sixties who get caught up in a more-or-less permanent card game tournament which puts them in danger of flunking out, even though they know that if they flunk out, they'll most likely get drafted and sent to Vietnam. A cautionary tale, if you will.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ok, no one here has really addressed the addictive qualities of Magic online itself. I was pretty addicted to Magic cards as a teenager, to the point where I blew almost all my Bar Mitzvah money on cards. It took my parents realizing that my bank account was nearly empty to bring the hammer down and forcibly end my addiction.

I briefly became addicted to MTG Online twice in recent years during rough periods in my life. It was an escape into something warm and familiar, but I quickly fell into the same patterns of spending way too much money on electronic cardboard crap, and the warm feeling quickly turned into a more sinister sense of wasting time and money on this avoidance.

People in this thread are treating this as a matter of simply deleting the program, and that may help. But you can download the program for free at any time and log into your account, all your cards will still be waiting for you. The cards are always there, and you've already spent money on them. If you delete the game, you may still be drawn back by the sense that you've spent tons of money so you might as well use them!

The solution I found was to get rid of all my cards. If you've only been playing for a month, this shouldn't take you long.

What I did was trade out all my cards that were worth anything for tickets, seriously, all of them, even to the point of trading 25 uncommons for 1 ticket or whatever the going rate is these days. Spend your tickets on new packs and enter drafts. Once those are done, repeat the process. It's a matter of diminishing returns, you will never get rare enough cards through drafts to keep it up. Do not spend any more cash on cards or tickets. Treat it as a final blaze of glory, let all the money you've spent enable you to get a couple more days of play out of it.

Once you've burned off your entire collection, what's left will be worthless, both in terms of financial and play value. Then, you won't be able to play unless you spend even more money, and hopefully your desire to quit will overcome that.

If you want to stop right now, no final blaze of glory, just go into one of the trading rooms and give your cards away. You can also look into selling your account and cards on eBay (don't know if that's still allowed though). The collection aspect is a huge part of why it's so difficult to quit, get rid of that and you'll find it much easier to get out entirely. Good luck.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:14 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks guys, a lot of good advice here. I've marked a few of the most helpful ones as "Best Answer", but all of you deserve my applaud. Embrangled, I think you in particular had some of the best insight. I appreciate that everyone here was able to take this seriously, because it is a serious issue for me, although on its face it may seem silly.

I have talked to a professional about this on a couple occasions. They didn't seem concerned because it wasn't ,say, 10 hours a day, and it seemed like I was getting my work done; they saw it as a reasonable outlet, though it bothered me. To be fair, it had been getting worse over the past couple weeks: it wasn't such a serious issue when I brought it up.

I've deleted the game from my computer. I changed my password to something random I don't remember. I've put as many "steps" between me and the game as possible. I couldn't find a way to delete all of the cards that I "own", (which would be like deleting my EQ character before getting rid of the game), which would be nice. I ended up spending maybe 200-250 bucks on deck-building over the past couple months, but I'd be very willing to take the hit and just delete the cards if it's possible. (I guess I justified the expenditure as reasonable, since it was a major form of entertainment for me, and I haven't spent that much money this semester on going out to bars, etc.) So there's that. Now I can study I guess. I'm still thinking about the game a lot, but prior experience has shown me that after a day or two, i'll stop caring about it.

I'm still dealing with the fallout though. Like I said, I've managed to do a very decent amount of studying, but not the ideal amount. I'm still having guilt issues, thinking about how the last two weekends were kind of a wash in terms of studying hard, and how I managed to screw up my sleeping schedule. Any tips for letting go of my past inequities and concentrating on the future (exams)?

Thank you all so much. This is why I love metafilter.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2009

Thanks Yellowbinder, I was wondering about how to "get rid" of my cards. Your comment also helped me realize a quicker way to get rid of my cards. I can trade all my cards to a cardbot, then use the tickets to buy a bunch of cards from them, then sell them back to the bot. Because there's a huge difference between the Buy and Sell Price, doing this a couple of times would wipe out my entire collection.

Is it worth it to download and re-install the game, in order to do this? Or should I just let it go and have the cards hanging out in the ether?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:34 AM on December 2, 2009

Ok, no one here has really addressed the addictive qualities of Magic online itself.

Not to speak for the thread, but that's because it almost doesn't matter what game it is. Lots and lots of games are persistent and will still be there if you log back in. I currently have dormant accounts on Second Life, ATITD, NO, WOW, and Jesus Christ I am mortified to admit this even fucking Farmville that I cannot possibly log into without clearing my schedule for a solid two weeks.

My point is that for people who truly struggle with addictive behaviour around gaming, it almost doesn't matter what the game is: you will find a way - having double accounts, becoming a GM, writing guides, running a guild, generating content, whatever - to have it fill every moment of your life if it does the right things for your brain chemistry. You will think about it every minute you're awake; you will dream about it when you go to sleep; you will cast your real life friends as characters within it; and you will see all of your real life interactions through the prism of your game world du jour.

In other words, there is nothing unique about MoTG in terms of what makes it gaming crack. And while HabeasCorpus is trying to drag himself out of MoTG, it really is less about the specific game and more about whether this is an avoidance or an addiction issue for him. And again, based on the original post, this doesn't sound like addiction to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2009

Darling, I do dream about it when going to sleep. Too many "Bloodbraid Elves" in my dreams. I keep picturing the damn cards in my head.

You know that study of how people who play lots of Tetris picture the shapes and fitting them together, whenever they close their eyes? Its kind of like that. I think its partially because the cards have strong visual appeal (they're pretty cool pictures). But like I said, after not playing for a day or two it will go away. It's already not as bad a day later.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:54 AM on December 2, 2009

Any tips for letting go of my past inequities and concentrating on the future (exams)?

Well, I can guarantee this: You're Not Screwed For Finals. I know because I was in your exact position. I can also tell you that most of your classmates have also been doing some slacking. They're just doing it in ways other than Magic. You spend 3 hours on that, they're spending it on socializing, drinking, shopping, fantasy football, cooking fancy meals, whatever. You probably feel like you've been digging yourself deep into a hole, but that's simply not the case.

But now is the time to get cracking. You need to start structuring and planning out your studying every day. When do finals start, mid-December? From now up until the end of finals, work out a schedule of what subject you're going to study, when. Make sure to include some reasonable time for dinner, exercise, breaks. It'll be over before you know it, these next few weeks will be a blur. Make the most of them.
posted by naju at 9:02 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, studying in a library may help with distractions. But beware of the law school library around this time - people will be freaking out left and right, and you don't need that noise.
posted by naju at 9:05 AM on December 2, 2009

Nah, don't reinstall the game just to get rid of your cards. Keep that as a nuclear option if you are drawn back. DarlingBri , didn't mean to denigrate other contributions in this thread, just thought that some MTG specific advice might help!
posted by yellowbinder at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2009

If you need the money that's stuck in the cards to buy insulin or otherwise cheat death, borrow a computer that isn't at your house and sell the cards there.
posted by krilli at 9:41 AM on December 2, 2009

I quit my World of Warcraft account (and addiction) when I read a quote similar to "All in all, it's just a slot machine with a nice GUI". Most of these games depend on time, not skill. This recent article "addicted to fake achievement" might shed some light on your situation.
posted by wolfr at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2009

Interesting article, wolfr. Here is another one along the same lines. It describes how games and porn essentially give us virtual "fitness cues" that are very addicting because they stimulate pathways in the brain that have evolved to reward actual survival fitness.

A quote: "I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good."
posted by zachawry at 4:22 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know anything about this card game, but I do know a lot about wasting time and being afraid to try hard. You're going to have to find some intrinsic value in studying and set some meaningful goals for yourself, or you're going to find another addiction just as you did after you quit Everquest.
posted by desjardins at 8:48 PM on December 2, 2009


I'm not sure if anyone will read this, since the question is so old: THANK YOU. There was lots of great advice in this thread. You people really helped me get my shit together and buckle down. I ended up doing really well on my exams. I truly appreciate the thought everyone put into my issue. You rock.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:29 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Congratulations, HabeusCorpus. May you keep on keepin' your shit together.
posted by embrangled at 12:33 AM on January 21, 2010

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