Quitting games is simpler than you think. You don’t have to find inner peace before quitting games. There’s no need to work on letting go of negative experiences from your childhood before quitting games.
You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a recovery program to quit gaming. Heck, you can still use your phone and computer while quitting games instead of eschewing all screen devices like some Luddite. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Throw away your assumptions and self help books because here are the minimal steps you need to take to quit games:
1. Sell Your Games and Delete your Accounts
Delete Steam, Origin, and any other gaming accounts.
Steam is notoriously tough to delete. I’m not sure if the other gaming accounts do this, but Steam lets you recover your account even if you switch to a throwaway email account.
Contact steam (and other gaming accounts’) support and ask them to permanently delete your account. I relapsed a handful of times before I finally asked them. Don’t be like me. Ask support to delete your accounts immediately.
Yes, you will be throwing away potentially thousands of dollars worth of games (like I did) when you delete your accounts. This is a sunk cost, and your hesitation is just the gaming junkie part of your brain not wanting to let go. It’s not like you can sell the Steam games anyway since it’s against Steam’s terms of service. The money is already gone, regaining your time–your life–is far more valuable.
If you have physical systems or games, offload them to goodwill or a game reseller. I was lucky to have a used game store nearby which wasn’t GameStop. The small used game store actually paid more than I would have gotten reselling on eBay. Either way, get rid of all games and systems at once. Don’t give yourself the chance to relapse by selling a little at a time.
2. Create a ‘Stop Gaming Contract’
These behavioral modification contracts go by a few names. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, calls it a Habit Contract. Here’s a template.
Nir Eyal has a similar system where he uses loss aversion to stick to habits. Just turn this around to lose money if you relapse on video games. But don’t burn the money as Nir suggests. Either give it to charity or your accountability partner. Giving it to your accountability partner to handle right away is the best option, since there’s the temptation to “forget” about the owed penalty.
The first step in creating the contract is to find an accountability partner. You want someone who will catch you lying to yourself if you decide to renege on the contract or sneak in an activity which is considered relapsing. They will be co-signing the contract and holding you accountable for paying up when you relapse. And it’s okay if you relapse. I did a several times.
Next, clearly define what relapsing means to you. This would be any activity that makes you want to game. For me, this included not only video games, but also gaming media such as videos, articles, or gaming subreddits.
Also define clear exceptions to the rule. For example, I don’t get the urge to play Jackbox Games alone for 72+ hours straight (I don’t think most are single player anyway), so I’m allowed to play these with friends.
Finally, define the penalty. This penalty should be enough to hurt, but not enough to impoverish you. The monetary penalty may change over time based on your life circumstances. If you make partner at a law firm or are a surgeon, then a $100 penalty won’t mean much.
I recommend setting two equally painful penalties: one time-based and another money-based. My time-based penalty involves cleaning the entire house, taking my partner to dinner, and making her lunch for a week. If I’m busy with work, I just choose the money penalty.
3. Find a Purpose
Games give us a clear purpose in a way of quests, ranking systems, and achievements. It’s satisfying to look at these paths of progress in games and to complete each milestone.
A similar system can be created for real-life goals with a bit of organization.
Start with your vision statement
First, find your overall purpose. Creating a personal vision statement is a solid start.
Person vision statement examples:
To provide value to others and to inspire them to live their best lives.
To achieve mastery in a skill and achieve financial independence.
If you find it hard to discover your vision, ask yourself these questions:
How do you want people to remember you?
What activities do you enjoy which provide value to others; to a market?
What are your core values?
What important truth do very few people agree with you on? (The famous Peter Thiel question).
You will dedicate your life to this vision; this purpose. It’s not set in stone, but it should change very infrequently, and should be solid after your first few years as you dial in your purpose.
Derive your mission statement from your vision
You have a clear vision. Now how will you get there? The vision statement describes the what and the mission describes the how.
Your mission takes your vision and outlines the practical steps to achieve it.
Let’s use the earlier examples:
Vision: To provide value to others and to inspire them to live their best lives.
Mission: Provide content on a daily basis to others while maintaining revenue streams to pay for personal expenses and to invest back into generating more valuable content.
Vision: To achieve mastery in a skill and achieve financial independence.
Mission: Take online courses and enroll in coding boot camps while building a portfolio through open source contributions and freelance work. Then land a career in one of the top 50 tech companies.
Your personal mission statement will change more often than your vision since the implementation of achieving your vision may change based on life circumstances.
For the second mission example, let’s say that after two years you still haven’t been hired into one of the top tech companies. Maybe it’s due to the lack of a relevant degree, experience, or maybe the GitHub projects you contributed to didn’t get enough exposure.
The mission could change to:
Further my software development portfolio while interviewing at startups. Seek a position with ownership options.
With this modified mission, you can still achieve financial independence through skill mastery. But now you have a higher chance of fulfilling your vision given your new life circumstances. It’s not moving the goalposts as much as it is creative thinking. Missions are plans, and plans change. The vision is ultimately what’s important.
The above three steps are enough to stop gaming. But there are tools to make the journey more bearable and to reduce the chance of relapse.
Filter Out Gaming Media
If you want to take it a step further, there’s also Pluckeye, although I noticed increased page load times after installing. There’s the simpler, perhaps better, manual method of blocking sites via your hosts file. Here are instructions for Windows and Mac.
If you do not track your time, other unhealthy activities may fill the void created by gaming abstinence. Track every activity to watch for this. It may seem like a pain to track your entire day, but here’s why it works when quitting a time sink habit like gaming.
By having to track each activity, it forces awareness of how you spend your time. If you decide to watch Netflix in the middle of the day, you have to record it. Even if you decide to watch, your weekly hours will show your hours sunk into television versus activities in pursuit of your vision.
Time reports allow you to set quotas for time investments. Say you want to spend a minimum of twenty hours weekly on building a new skill. Then, if you need the motivation, reward yourself for meeting the quota. If you pursue the right skill, meeting the quota should become its own reward after the first few months as the new positive habit strengthens.
Harvest works well for time tracking and is free for up to two projects. It’s easy to work around the project limitation by using tasks to track activities. Any time tracking software with reporting which allows you to track by activity should work.
To-do lists like asana can organize your goals into projects. Then you break your projects down into to-do items with due dates. This creates some healthy time pressure to help you stay on track.
Whether it’s lifting weights or cardio, exercise lifts your mood and trains your mind to associate uncomfortable tasks with rewards. This attenuates the effect that games have where you become used to comfortable, less challenging tasks. It also reduces the anxiety you will experience from not gaming.
It may feel agonizing at first if you’re not used to regular exercise, but after about fifteen to thirty minutes of your workout session, your brain releases dopamine and endorphins. Become aware of this feeling once it happens and recall it whenever you don’t feel like exercising.