Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Zynga Detox

on March 2, 2012

When I was 23 I looked at my life, and realised that I was letting it pass me by. I was constantly doing stuff because that was what I had always done. By the end of the evening I had been so busy with this stuff that I was forgetting to truly live instead of just existing. The things that mattered were second place in my priorities behind things that did not matter to me in the slightest.

It angered my then partner, but I decided to cut out the things that did not matter to me. I stopped watching television, because I was tired of spending four hours a day watching shows that I did not actually enjoy. I reduced the computer games I would play down to those times when I was stressed and needed to unwind. I stopped spending my emotional energy pursuing friendships with people who did not seem to be investing in return.

Remarkable things began to happen. I lost 5kg, reaching a weight where I could look in the mirror and be happy. My muscles grew stronger, and I became capable of doing things I had never dreamed my body could do. I returned to writing for pleasure, and wrote four novels in a single year. I worked out how to purchase my own home, designed the layout and negotiated with the builders for a much better price. I started speaking up, demanding positive changes, and actively pursuing my goals. I spent much more time living in the moment, with fewer worries about the future and what it might bring, and less time spent ruminating about the past.

I became a better version of me.

When I was 24 I gave in and became curious about Facebook. I made an account while I was overseas, and was hooked. This is when I also discovered online gaming. At that point it was over. The better version of me was gone, restored to the version of me who was too busy drowning in stuff to go out and live her life to the fullest without prompting.

My cousin recently sent me an article about social gaming. It is quite long, but detailed about the psychology embedded in the games. While the focus is on ways in which the player can be induced to spend money, I was more keenly aware of how the games can be made to make the player spend time.

Time is not money, it is life. It is a finite resource, and once it is gone it can never be reclaimed. I had happily ignored the inducements of the games to spend my money, never once noticing that they were actually asking me to spend my life.

Spend I have. It was often open in the background, where I could quickly check my progress rather than go through the hassle of reopening the webpage. Where I had naively thought I was being clever in saving a few seconds here and there on my games, I have instead done exactly what the game designers want from me. Zynga does not want me to close my game; they want me to sit there with it open in the background, annoying me with the slow timers and teasing me with their ads for other games.

Even as I read the article, I had CastleVille open in the background. As I waited for the next page of the article to load, I had flicked to the other tab of my browser to check on the progress of my wooden boards. Had my workshop finished crafting them yet? Was the flax in my fields ready to be harvested? How were my quests progressing?

It took very little reflection to work out where I had given in to this atrocious new habit. My old television addiction was a significant case of monkey see, monkey do. Everyone around me was spending a lot of time watching it, so I did the same. But the television does not provide me with any significant benefit beyond filling my hours, which is not really a benefit for me. It would provide the occasional conversation point, but it turned out that I could still have those conversations without watching the shows; instead of discussing what had happened, the person who had watched the show could tell me the story. It was a change that had essentially been socially neutral.

Facebook and Zynga have been a different proposition. Where the television was passive, they have been slightly less so. The game I am watching changes depending on my actions and inactions. If I become bored with my own castle, I can go and look at someone else’s. I can interact with my friends in a way that I could not when we were watching television together, by directly altering their gaming experience.

Instead of being a passive discussion about television shows, my discussions about the games have been interactive through the request features. I can ask my friends for things, and they can help me out. Likewise, I get an irrational feeling of having been socially responsible by responding to their own requests. We can compare notes, discuss strategies, and generally pretend we have been doing something useful. Without realising it, I became invested and emotionally tangled in a perceived sense of social obligation.

Even while I pondered this, I was switching production of my wooden planks over to stone blocks. I was watching myself take leave of my senses, wondering what had come over me. There was the acknowledgement that the game is not even fun, and yet I was still playing. I began to intensely miss that younger, better version of myself who would not have looked twice at the game because she was too busy being happy.

I need to detox from the games, probably from Facebook as well. It took me the better part of the day, but I deleted them all. I left the Facebook groups discussing them. Then I blocked them. As each game vanished from my list I felt as if I was doing something wrong. That part of me that is hooked felt nothing but dismay and guilt at each removal. But I had started. Instead of focusing on how long I could keep up a playing streak, I can now focus on how long I have kept up a playing break.

Today: Day One.


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