Cut Off: A Redemptive Tale of Addiction and Clicking On Things

It’s been almost a week, now – that’s probably long enough for it to have sunk in – so I think I can manage to avoid jinxing it if I announce that I have finally conquered an addiction.

My name is Jervo, and I was a Zyngaholic. I was into Mafia Wars and FarmVille, I was a serious Treasure Isle junkie, and I even dabbled in FrontierVille, Cafe World, and I think there was a fish tank one also. I spent actual U.S. currency on intangible enhancements to virtual places, and I spent more than I care to admit. More than the money, though, I spent time. I kept a calendar in the back of my mind, making sure I’d be near a computer when it was time to harvest something, or if a reward was about to occur, or if I had enough energy to finish clearing an island. I had a routine – I’d get in to work, turn my computer on, grab a cup of coffee, check my work e-mail to make sure nothing was needing to get done, and then I’d take a deep breath, process the shame, and start clicking.

The magic had left a long time ago, of course. It had stopped being “fun.” (Had it ever been fun?) It was a commitment that no longer felt reciprocated. I had long since stopped being “social” in these games. I never announced anything in my Facebook feed (unless it was really early on a weekend morning and I knew that other junkies players were online, and that they could hook me up with whatever it was that I needed and then I could hide the announcement). I never visited other people’s farms/islands unless I needed XP. It became a solitary grind towards infinity; these games have no endgame, there is no final boss, there is nothing except the next thing, and if you act now, you can get this cute little decoration for only 10% off!

I think I knew I needed to stop a few months ago. The tipping point: I had built up a serious stockpile of fuel in FarmVille, and I’d also had a serious hoard of virtual cash. And I guess I had decided that when I was out of fuel, and out of money with which to buy more fuel, then that would be it; I wouldn’t spend any real money to buy any fake fuel, and if that meant that I’d have to manually click on every goddamned square 3 times, then so be it, and if that meant that I was no longer interested, then that would be that. (If you don’t understand, you’ll never understand.)

As it turned out, that day arrived last week. I was out of fuel, out of virtual cash, and I suddenly felt free – I didn’t have to click on anything today. And if I didn’t have to spend money on a fake farm, then I certainly didn’t have to spend money on energy packs for Treasure Isle, and I definitely didn’t need to spend money on stupid mandatory items that I’d need to finish missions in Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille was fucking stupid anyway.

And now it’s been almost a week. And I don’t miss it. Well, sorta. It helped smooth out the idle hours at work. It was fun seeing other people’s creativity when they designed their own personal spaces, and I certainly didn’t mind helping them out when they needed something. But I don’t miss the schedule. I don’t miss the abstract sense of obligation. And I definitely don’t miss the pressure to spend money on this shit.

You know what’s sad? It’s been so long since I’ve been playing these games that I kinda forgot why I got into them in the first place. I guess it was mostly just that I’m the kind of gamer who likes to grind without the pressure of failure; there was always some sort of reward for finishing a task, and when you first start out in these games there’s a ton of rewards. There wasn’t necessarily any sort of strategy or critical thinking, unless you wanted to power-level – and once I figured out how to do that, then that’s where these games started to get insidious. With Mafia Wars and Treasure Isle, it was figuring out the timing – if you timed it right, you could level up and get a free energy refill without having to use any items, which also meant you could be that much more productive; with FarmVille, it was mostly about seeding high XP crops (hello, peas) and being as efficient as possible when harvesting, so that there was no wasted time, and then saving up money to buy Mansions which basically granted you a new level once you placed it.

If that last paragraph sounds ridiculous, then you have no idea how it actually feels.

Anyway, it’s done. I’m done. I’m done with Zynga. I’m done with farms and treasure. I’m done with it all. I am free.

I am also available for Scrabble and I will kick your ass in Bejeweled.

Author: Jeremy Voss

Musician, wanna-be writer, suburban husband and father. I'll occasionally tweet from @couchshouts. You can find me on XBL, PSN and Steam as JervoNYC.

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