Like so many gamers, I am addicted to gaming.

Unlike many gamers, I am coming to admit it. Tearing myself away from the recently released God Of War on PS4 to write this article was an extremely difficult and painful experience. It truly is a god among games. The fact that I put it down if only to write about it here is symptomatic of my gaming obsession.

I’m in my mid-30s now and, also like many other gamers, a great deal of my 20s was spent hammering away at the latest title with a full bowl of chop on the table and a 10-pack of Wild Turkey in the fridge. I know that by some miracle many people just love gaming straight, but for the rest of us it’s a hobby best enjoyed loaded. Don’t lie to me, I’ve heard your fun-snorkels bubbling away over comms!

I’m presently clean and sober, having spent the last 16 months in 12-step recovery – the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, and a lot of work. I’ve relapsed a few times throughout my recovery, and it struck me that on each of those occasions I combined the escapism of gaming with the numbing effect of substances.

If you’ve related to any of this so far I can tell you that going into recovery, attending meetings, and the accompanying path of spiritual healing and self-discovery is immensely worthwhile. In some ways, it’s like real life RPG with massive personal demons to slay, no level-cap, and account-wide perks. Character customisation options are a little light. I’m not here to preach but rather share my story since part of me wishes I’d heard it in my mid-20s, maybe even earlier.

I want to share that obsessing over our ‘hobby,’ our ‘innocent fun,’ may be indicative of some core family of origin issues you might want to work through for your own sense of freedom. As with drugs, it’s possible that gaming was or is an escape from a painful reality. You likely picked it up as a child in a turbulent or abusive family, one that didn’t readily express its emotions, or as an escape from a singular family member. All of the above were the case for me.

I started God Of War just after a family counseling session in which I discovered that the root of my pain was abandonment issues related to being abducted from my home country of Austria at the age of 4, leaving my birth father behind, and then arriving in a new home with a tough, authoritative, conservative step-father. Watching Kratos and Atreus interact in the early chapters of God Of War reminded me that my step-father was like a god to me in that time of transition.

In therapy parlance, and please excuse my vast oversimplification, many suffering addicts are moulded by what is known as ‘codependency’ in families. This is not as it might sound. It is not simply the way in which family members depend on one another. It is the way that the behaviour of others affects the way you feel, and in turn your own behaviour. It is an over-wrought way of saying that emotion, ways of thinking and behaving, and in particular addictions, are handed down through families. Depression is another byproduct of this, also.

As the Offspring put it: ‘Nothing changes cause it’s all the same, the world you get’s the one you give away, it all just happens again, way down the line!’ You might be aware of a ‘history of alcoholism’ in your family or someone else’s. Some practitioners in the field of addiction even see this operating on a societal level. In her book Set Yourself Free*, therapist Shirley Smith suggests Australia’s drinking culture stems from our shame-based convict past.

In God Of War, Atreus tries desperately to understand what drives his father Kratos and why he’s such a grumpy, shut-down, and often unkind guy. Of course, we know he’s not just a guy, but a god, and that he accidentally murdered his entire family once. Thus, Kratos is holding back out of fear of what Atreus might think, and how he might react. This kind of concealing, dishonest, and closed behaviour is of the kind that creates codependency in families. Especially when it stems from fear.

At the same time, Kratos has some wisdom about this stuff on board. Just prior to one of God of War’s boss fights, Mimir’s disembodied head tells Atreus about what tossers Thor’s sons Magni and Modi are. Atreus remarks that Thor must’ve been a shitty dad, to which Kratos replies that they were adults, and should have known better. Recovery has helped me understand this very thing. That as an adult, it’s no longer acceptable to behave in the kind of ways my codependent, family of origin ‘story,’ and avoidance habits might dictate.

It struck me that several PS4 exclusives have rested on this premise of a relationship between a child and an adult, where they both learn from one another over the course of the game. I couldn’t figure out why Kratos and Atreus’ relationship felt like de ja vu until I realised the tone was reminiscent of Ellie and Joel in The Last Of Us. The introductory sequence between Aloy and Rost in Horizon: Zero Dawn featured a complicated relationship, and you play as Cassie, Nathan Drake’s daughter at the end of Uncharted: A Thief’s End. Seems to be a PS4 thing.

It sounds like a cliche, but it’s necessary to put yourself in the shoes of your child self to understand why you’re addicted to something, and what feelings you’re seeking to numb, suppress, or escape from in adulthood. What I learned from God of War was that I was a terrified child, exhausted by upheaval, faced with a fearsome and god-like new presence in my life. I played games to escape for as many hours as I could because facing those feelings was tough as a kid. It’s likely my dad bought our first console to escape from me on a Sunday, too.

The irony of all this is that my escape requires me to face up to some big challenges and freak out a lot! I’m playing God Of War on hard, and the ferocity is ramping up. This game is as good as they say, and I’m thankful for it because it will be the first game I’ll have finished entirely straight since I began a life of drinking, drugging, and partying in my late teens. So I’m off to pour some Coca-Cola over ice, and pop the platinum on this beast.

With gear this good, who needs good gear anyway?

If this article has brought up any issues for you call Lifeline on 13 11 14 in Australia.

If gaming addiction is a problem for you help is available, however I will not endorse any specific programs here as I have no experience of them. If alcohol or drugs are an issue in your life consult your GP for a mental health plan, seek treatment with a therapist or at an accredited rehab, or consider joining the requisite 12-step fellowship. The firm will be glad to have you!

*Shirley Smith’s ‘Set Yourself Free’ is published by The Radiant Group, Sydney.