Do you have strange rituals when playing games that isn’t necessary for the game itself, but more to allow the mind to relax? Gaming OCD has always been a problem for me.
But it can’t just be me.
OCD is a term that is thrown around too much, it is easy to mistake OCD for simply being a perfectionist and trying to get that 100% completion.
Here I want to talk more about the weird rituals and compulsions we have during games.
- Needing to play games in a certain order
- Starting again if I make a mistake or miss something
- Intrusive thoughts making the game feel ‘dirty’
- Doing human-like checks with in-game characters
- Waiting until after midnight to play a game because of ‘time contamination’
I was 8 years old when I unwrapped my first console at Christmas, an N64/ Goldeneye 007 bundle. Genuinely one of my favorite memories was laying eyes on it for the first time, and the hours running around as Bond and roaming Hyrule in Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
However I would soon learn that OCD would be a mission harder than any other, and one that’s lasted the console generations.
How ‘Ordering OCD’ affects my gaming
For any new game I bought, I had to start in this exact order:
- Insert game perfectly without it hitting the edges during insertion
- Switch console on with a perfect press or ‘click’ sound
- Don’t have an intrusive thought as the game is starting up
- Watch every cut-scene in it’s entirety
- Don’t press the wrong button or make an obvious mistake before the first ‘checkpoint‘
Any mistakes here meant I had to switch off the console and start again.
The process wouldn’t feel ‘clean‘ unless I started right from the beginning. This mean pressing the ‘off’ switch and back on, making sure to hear a clean ‘click’.
I added ‘don’t have an intrusive thought‘ in this process as they were always more likely to occur when I am waiting for the game to load. Those few seconds or even minutes felt like forever, and I try to think of other things here to stop any negative thoughts manifesting.
I can’t make mistakes during this process
Something as simple as putting the game in the reader sloppily would make it imperfect. It could also be just stumbling as I walk from the console to the sofa.
Any such mistakes would ruin the experience of starting a new game, and would make me start over.
Making a mistake in-game wouldn’t be failing to land a punch on an enemy, it was more accidentally carrying out a punch at a time it was totally unnecessary.
An unforced error if you will.
This fear of mistakes remained throughout my teens and twenties.
I would get this a lot when playing football (soccer) games too. Losing wasn’t so much a problem, but I couldn’t be interrupted or press anything by mistake.
A mistake here would be to accidentally press ‘shoot’ instead of ‘pass’, or accidentally press pause when I didn’t want to.
Making the first ‘checkpoint’ would be to play my first season game without errors. In other games just getting to the first official checkpoint was a ‘checkpoint’.
An imperfect darkness
Playing a game knowing I had made an error or ruined the order of things was just uncomfortable. There wasn’t a wave of anxiety, more frustration. I just felt something was wrong.
Like a light flashing on a car dashboard I couldn’t ignore the warning forever.
I would later learn this ‘darkness’ is called mental contamination, and it affects me in other areas of life too.
Similar to my Reading OCD experience, this need to start again from the last checkpoint eased as I progressed further into the game. I guess my mind just got bored of it over time. But those initial stages were riddled with compulsions.
Checking compulsions in gaming OCD
I would need to watch full cut-scenes, just in case I might miss something. This isn’t so bad however if I accidentally skip a cut-scene, restart the game, or start from the last checkpoint.
I would need to check the whole scene again to avoid the ‘what if‘ feeling in my mind.
This would even be the case in sports games, despite knowing full well there is nothing to miss.
I assume lots of gamers choose to watch these scenes to get the most out of the game. But I remember being over friends houses on occasions and they were happy to skip to get straight to the gameplay.
This didn’t cause me anxiety, it wasn’t my game. However I learned that other people didn’t have the same strict rules that I would give myself.
This is when I knew Gaming OCD was a problem.
Even if I watched the cut-scene on a previous play through (before I ruined it somehow and had to start over), I had to watch again. I’d watch every cut-scene before reaching my first checkpoint.
I would also carry out checks in open world games
I would have a burning desire to check even the most empty areas of a map. My mind wouldn’t rest unless I went back to check.
Even if I was certain there wasn’t anything to find, this mental itch wouldn’t go away until I did.
There isn’t really an intrusive thought or unwanted outcome in my mind when I do these checks, other than a fear I may miss something important. The feeling is almost tic like, there is simply an urge or a mental itch to scratch.
Mental contamination makes the game feel ‘dirty’
I would contaminate the game with an ‘unclean’ feeling if this strict order was not respected.
My mind would feel dirty and I couldn’t rest unless I started over. It wasn’t really unpleasant thoughts, more just a feeling.
Again I have spoken of this behavior in book reading also, and even when I am on vacation. It isn’t just a phenomenon I experience in gaming.
All the time I would have so much pressure to do things ‘perfectly’, otherwise mental contamination would spoil it all. This didn’t make the beginning of a game enjoyable at all, in fact it was incredibly stressful.
There were days when I couldn’t play the game because I contaminated the whole day
This needs a separate post to detail it, but shows how different kinds of OCD can intertwine with each other. I touch on it in Mental Contamination but plan to create a dedicated post soon.
In short, if I had an intrusive thought as my very first thought after midnight, that new day was contaminated. So much so that if I was to win the lottery that day it would probably cause more depression that joy. Honestly.
I couldn’t play a game for the first time on that day. Nor would I go out and buy a game. I would have to wait for the next day, ensuring that I start the day with a good thought or risk repeating the cycle.
The wait was incredibly frustrating, but felt absolutely necessary.
I will say that when things finally went my way, playing a game was the best feeling. More so because of the obstacles I had to overcome just to enjoy it. The relief was incredible.
However this relief isn’t equal to working out and feeling the benefits after the pain. Gaming OCD isn’t healthy but can certainly be treated.
It put me off playing for a number of years, and in my late twenties my gaming time was swapped for a bit of backpacking and more travel.
However as of August 2021, I have started gaming again. And it is the first time in a long time I have been able to play through to the first checkpoint without OCD ruining it.
I’m leveling up!
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