Draft, May 2020. To give feedback, please add comments (not direct edits) to the Google Doc.
We were trying to get some basic needs met through gaming. If we do not meet those needs in normal healthy ways, we will suffer strong urges to game again. Some basic needs to cover are social needs, self expression, creativity, a sense of challenge and accomplishment, stress relief, a sense of purpose and meaning, and a sense of safety through control and predictability.
Here are some things to do instead of gaming that will help meet these needs, reduce cravings, help with recovery from addiction, and fill some of the hours freed from compulsive gaming.
Please don’t let the length of this list overwhelm you. The idea is not to start ten new things and try to change everything all at once. We seek small bits of progress, not perfection. A good place to start is to put first things first. What need is currently most important? What’s right in front of me? What opportunity has come my way recently? If we take steps of small improvement with one or two areas today, and take another few small steps tomorrow, we are moving in the right direction.
- Attend CGAA meetings, connect outside of meetings, reach out to newcomers, or call someone
- Join a hobby group like theater, a hiking group, art workshop, book club, public speaking, board games, or card games
- Host a fun event like board games night or karaoke
- Sports groups like team sports, martial arts, or one-on-one sports
- Fun events like concerts, dances, or events on meetup.com
- Call up or visit friends, family, neighbors, or other communities
Self expression and creativity
- Journaling, opening up to a CGAA sponsor, or sharing openly in a meeting
- Art work like drawing, photography, sculpting, or creative writing
- Performance art like theater, singing, playing music, or writing music
Sense of challenge and accomplishment
- Working the steps with a sponsor
- Crafts like woodworking, origami, knitting
- Outdoor stuff like gardening, geocaching, bird watching, star gazing, tracking, plant identification, survival skills, or boating
- Learn something like a foreign language, dancing, magic tricks, mechanical repair, cooking, a musical instrument, or computer programming
- Career stuff like get a new job, start a business, enroll in school, or take classes
- Talking with a sponsor or recovery buddy, CGAA meetings, or step work
- Getting outside for fresh air and sunlight by taking a walk or doing some outdoor work
- Meditation, coloring, craft work, journaling, or reading
Sense of purpose, meaning, and respect
- Supporting and growing the larger CGAA fellowship through service work like helping run a meeting, starting a local meeting, or doing outreach to professionals
- Spiritual group like meditation, yoga, spiritual retreat, or religious gathering
- Volunteer work like teaching, helping others, animal care, or building community places
- Care for a pet, house plants, or garden
Sense of safety through freedom, control, and predictability
- Goal setting
- Counseling or psychotherapy
- Home organization, renovation, or spring cleaning
Reconnection to one’s body and whole self
- Meditation on breath, sounds, or bodily sensations
- Exercise like walking, hiking, swimming, cycling, yoga, jogging, going to a gym, or playing a sport
If you are in your first week or two off of games, it’s likely that few of these ideas will appeal to you. That’s normal. Until our minds and bodies have some time to heal, we have low interest, energy, and motivation. This list will probably not give you something that you can plug in place of video games and immediately throw yourself into with the same energy and unending attention. This list is meant to help us explore new ways of spending our time, meeting our needs, and connecting with people. Find a few that hold some appeal and take some small steps in their direction. Whenever you can’t seem to think of anything fun to do except game, come back to this list, find the most appealing thing, and just take a couple of little steps in its direction.
Consider setting reminders for yourself or making a chart of your time and new activities. It is important to appreciate the small victories of exercising willpower, regaining motivation, and socializing. It helps to discuss our progress and the challenges we experience with a CGAA sponsor, recovery buddy, personal counselor, or therapist.
Rediscovering what is fun
It is normal to think that nothing else sounds fun. For most of us, our years of compulsive gaming warped and narrowed our idea of fun. As small children, fun meant almost anything new or interesting or social or even mildly rewarding. Years of pulling the dopamine lever in video games changed our concept of fun to require instant gratification, frequent rewards, clear and constant progress, excitement, danger, intense visuals, control, and/or predictability.
Part of recovery is letting our concept of fun expand back outward to a wide world of possible new challenges and experiences, many of which are calm and subtle compared to video games. It takes time to overcome withdrawals and heal from the damage, but the change does happen if we abstain from all gaming long term and busy ourselves with new pursuits. This list has many activities that do not meet the old narrow, warped idea of “fun,” but those of us who persist at exploring them do find many to be gratifying and enjoyable.
Take, for example, a hike up a mountain. To a group of hikers excited to venture into the wilderness with friends and see wildlife and panoramic views from on high, all while getting a great workout, it’s a ton of fun. To someone who is uninterested in hiking, out of shape, and focused on every little unpleasant aspect of it, it’s a torturous death march. It is exactly the same hike in either case. The difference is in the attitude and conditioning.
The same is true with every item of these lists. Whether or not an activity sounds fun or torturous depends entirely upon attitude and conditioning. Every one of them has the potential to be gratifying and enjoyable if we adopt a positive attitude, try to have fun, and persist at it, especially when we involve friends and like-minded people.