Cold turkey on my iPhone game addiction

There I was, again, with two screens in front of me. On my laptop I was playing an episode of Shameless on Netflix, but I was listening to the show more than watching it. My eyes and my thumbs were focused on connecting little colored squares on my iPhone. Level 481 of Two Dots. I’ve been doing this for years, “watching” a show on television or on my laptop and playing a game on my phone at the same time. Or else, listening to an audiobook or podcast while playing a game on my phone.

Occasionally I internally reprimand myself for this time-wasting behavior. But then I’m back to doing it again in a few hours. I sometimes listen to the news and play games, then look up at the clock and realize I’m making myself late for work. It’s bad enough to spend hours of the day watching television, but I don’t even commit fully to that.

My latest game obsession is Pocket Camp, an iPhone version of Animal Crossing, which I used to play on the Nintendo Game Cube as a kid. In the game, my cute little customizable avatar walks around collecting shells, fish, bugs, etc. to give to animal friends in the virtual world. The animals give me useful items in return which I can use to build furniture and other things to put in my campsite. The animals’ item requests refresh every few hours, as do the fruits and bugs I collect, so there’s a time-based incentive to come back to the game over and over throughout the day. I can play at 8am and complete a long list of tasks, then come back at 11am to do more things and collect more rewards. I downloaded the game the day before Thanksgiving, two weeks later I’d already reached level 22.

The other games I love also have this time-incentive. In Candy Crush Soda, one of my favorite and longest-est running game addictions, I get only 5 lives with each life regenerating every 30 minutes. That means I can play 5 rounds in a row every 2.5 hours.  That is unless I score one of the unlimited play rewards that come from playing the game for multiple consecutive days, (which of course, I do.) then I can play as many rounds as I like for as long as the game lets me.

I play 5 rounds of Candy Crush Soda, then 5 rounds of Two Dots, then I wander around my virtual world in Pocket Camp, then I can wander around the real world while playing Pokemon Go. I also have non-timed games like Who Can Get 11? and Sonic Dash and Tetris. Endless play if I’m so inclined. I play when I’m on the bus or train, while I lay on the couch and listen to shows, while I’m waiting on someone, whenever I can. I’m completely and totally addicted.

This post is a shameful one to write. I’m not proud of this behavior. In fact, I feel embarrassed when other people or strangers see me playing my iPhone games. I try to hide the apps on my phone by relegating them to the last page of my apps on the home screen.

Last night my self-disgust came to a boil. Finally. In brash move I deleted all seven games that were currently living on that last page. A deep, emotional part of myself was very upset to hit that little grey X on each app as they jiggled on my phone. I felt a pang of loss as each one disappeared. Perhaps rightly so, I’ve poured hundreds of hours into those games. In some ways, my high level achievements on those games may be my biggest success of the past few years.

I’m so addicted to those games. This morning as I listened to Up First, my fingers itched to play Two Dots. I got excited remembering that Netflix’s The Crown was premiering season 2 today. I tried to focus on the television, on the story and the images, but I couldn’t get through all forty minutes. Without Two Dots I was bored.

It’s been about 14 hours since I deleted the games. I’ve been thinking a lot about Manoush Zomorodi of Note To Self from WNYC and the episodes she’s done about her own Two Dots addiction. I know that these games are designed to keep players coming back, and their tricks were definitely working on me. But no longer. I will conquer this! I will reclaim my lost time!

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