Is video game addiction real? Buying more games than I need. Playing games to the exclusion of real responsibilities. Trying to keep up with the Joneses. Circumnavigating a backlog with impossible circumference. Spending 6 years of your life building a content empire solely based on games… These and more are what it’s like to have a gaming addiction.
That bug doesn’t always bite, but when it does, it’s a doozy. Unable to maintain the self-control to prioritize and organize my life competently, certain games have taken over at various stages in my history. It’s my cross to bear. And really, I brought it on myself, especially once I knew what kind of games I wind up addicted to.
This blog post is mainly about understanding that obsession better, not merely in a negative light like “oh you actually called in sick just to play a friggin’ digital toy” but also in a positive light. It’s partly about understanding what it is in games that appeal to me most, getting that down in words. Know thyself.
I don’t have it down pat, but I’ve attempted to organize these across a chronology based on when I played them!
#13. The Legend of Zelda
The original first gaming addiction for me. I put bubblegum in my hair so I had to stay home and maintain access to my over-used NES. Looking back, this is the blueprint for a lot of what I love in gaming. There’s exploration without chasing down icons on a mini-map, pure discovery, secrets everywhere, and rewards for efforts. It occupied so much of my young mind that I dreamt in 8-bit Hyrule in my early years. This wasn’t my first video game but The Legend of Zelda was the first that absolutely captivated me.
#12. SimCity 2000
After school and on weekends if the weather was too hot, I headed over to the library and read up on anything I wanted to: myths and horror and comic books. They also had a computer lab built at some point and that was where I fell in love with SimCity 2000. The ability to build my own worlds was in retrospect a natural progression of my love for exploring worlds. I’ve since built countless cities in the game, far more than its titular numerical, and none of the subsequent releases have measured up, thanks no doubt to the sheer amount of free time I had as a kid and the newness of the experience.
#11. Final Fantasy VII
Not my first RPG or JRPG, but the one that for me, like many, hit at just the right point in my pubescent life. No other game encapsulated those years or dominated the schoolyard so much as FFVII and Pokemon Red/Blue. Although the pocket monsters were more portable, VII had the biggest world with a scope and characters and cynical view on life that refused to let me go. I replayed through it so many times that I eventually burnt out on it for a little while, a theme that we’ll see revisited down this list. I’ve also since realized that it’s a delightful product of its time and there’s no need to turn it into an unnecessary cash cow or mangle its imperfect story with extra metaphysical nonsense, but that’s a story for another time.
#10. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
The first game that made me consciously realize a game didn’t have to end. I first got introduced to the Harvest Moon series by a girl I had a crush on at the time who was playing Harvest Moon 64. Innately a critic, even back then, I was frustrated by its mechanical issues like inventory management and tedium, and the brevity of its days, but I did my darndest to enjoy it. Later, I discovered Friends of Mineral Town, which I think is really the perfect game in this series under that name. It cemented my affection for the farm sim, a guilty pleasure genre for me.
#9. Monster Hunter Tri
I remember getting a Wii late. I’d taken a break from modern gaming during the bleak, battle-hardened, monotone shooter years and slept on a lot of newer titles for about a decade. The Wii helped ease me into the modern era and I can still remember browsing a game shop and asking about RPGs on the system. The cashier recommended Tri to me and it kinda blew my mind, despite being on a clearly underpowered and gimmicky system. It was my introduction to the Monster Hunter series and the crafting of endless pieces of armor and weapons felt as familiar to me as building cities or farms.
Unable to be sated by dinosaurs and leisurely country life, I searched for more and ran into Terraria, the hardcore drug of my gaming experience. I played so much of it that the music began to make my wife physically nauseous (I wasn’t just hurting myself anymore, whoops!). Another game I spent so much time with in such a short amount of time that I burned out on it. It’s hard to even look at these days, but someday, I’ll return and wield the pickaxe again.
#7. Stardew Valley
At some point, I discovered Stardew Valley. It’s since become my most played game with multiple triple-digit playthroughs, multiple marriages, multiple kids, multiple farm layouts, and multiple purchases across different platforms. It’s the perfect evolution of just about everything I loved before it: it had exploration, crafting, building, farming, collecting… And burning out on it only kept me away temporarily. Heck, I’m prolly hankerin’ for another run through Stardew Valley very soon. Maybe time to try for that evil Joja run.
#6. Dungeon Fighter Online
My experience with MMOs came late and it’s been fairly limited experience, fortunately. I played a lot of Nexon for a bit and dabbled in some FF stuff, but Dungeon Fighter Online really impressed me with its fusion of beat ’em up and MMORPG genres. That said, it was a godsend when they closed the NA servers temporarily. It allowed me to move on and prevented me from dropping cash on meaningless cosmetics, though the massively multiplayer itch never quite went away.
#5. DC Universe Online
This is the MMO that killed the itch. I swore off this kind of game after DC Universe Online, an all-consuming massively janky game dominated by recruiting wars with other guilds, managing my own huge guild of iconic characters, dealing with gamer drama like harassment, obsessive roleplay, and even somebody faking their own death, plus an irresistible obsession to start over and make new characters, much to the frustration of my friends. What a ride. I’d been searching for an experience that was “too much” for my addiction and I found it. And it cured me. I know I will decisively never do it again. I told myself if I ever tried another MMO, it would be Final Fantasy related and that’s it, an oath I’ve upheld since.
#4. Pokemon Go
Maybe the most unique sort of addicting game on this list. Certainly the only mobile one. I don’t usually go for mobile games. The last thing I want to do is spend more time with my phone, but the augmented reality worldwide phenomenon collectathon that was Pokemon Go has been an active part of my gaming diet since its rocky launch. I’ve been able to make new friends out in the wild and involve my family in outdoor activities in completely new ways thanks to this game. It’s easier to think about gaming addiction when I’m getting a little exercise at the same time!
#3. Breath of the Wild
A lot of people tell me how un-Zelda-like Breath of the Wild is and frankly, how it’s the first open-world Zelda game, but I don’t see it. Maybe that’s because of how much BotW reminded me of that first Zelda from so many years ago. The same wanderlust for exploration, secrets everywhere, experiences in microcosm, and a loose premise tying them together across a vast landscape. Really, it could not have felt more familiar and when the Switch launched, I spent an incredible amount of time in the tug of war between exploration and discovery.
#2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
My pandemic game. It hit right alongside unemployment, right alongside the lockdown, and it absolutely destroyed any attention I had for any other games. It’s still my most-played game on Nintendo Switch but on the theme of burnout, I’ve never burned out on any game harder than this one. ACNH may be downright unplayable for me at this point, despite a stretch of interest with the recent DLC. I know that this is a game that’ll never be the same again, but that’s ok. I can’t live on that island forever.
#1. Dragon Quest Builders 2
That leads us neatly up to the Now of gaming addiction! After trying out the limited time trial and subsequently the Jumbo Demo, I decided to pick up the full game and I haven’t looked back. It’s my introduction to the 3D builder but in many ways, Builders 2 seems like the natural evolution of my affections for various traits across various games in my history. It’s got those RPG elements, it’s got the crafting and construction, the life sim, the exploration and discovery, but it really nails the scaling afforded by robust automation systems. That to me is 100% impressive and I expect (and fear) I’ll be spending a lot of time this year with this one and insomnia.
What about yourself? Which games have you been most addicted to in your life?
Red formerly ran The Well-Red Mage and now serves The Pixels as founder, writer, editor, and podcaster. He has undertaken a seemingly endless crusade to talk about the games themselves in the midst of a culture obsessed with the latest controversy, scandal, and news cycle about harassment, toxicity, and negativity. Pick out his feathered cap on Twitter @thewellredmage or Mage Cast.