254: The OCD Gamer

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The OCD Gamer

All gamers have a desire to play videogames, but, for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, that desire becomes need. Michael Comeau relates how he discovered that his gaming was just another symptom of his OCD.

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As an OCD gamer (not to the degree you described, though), I appreciate articles like this. I do find myself playing sometimes, even when I don't want to, out of habit. Its just something we have to recognize, and deal with.

Congratulations on taking the step into getting your disorder managed. (I won't say cured, because the word "cured" can be as wildly divisive as the phrase Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder itself.)

As someone who struggled with OCD through most of my teens, I sympathise. I don't think it's ever seeped into my gaming, though, and I'm better now. It's always good to get help. If I had, my teenage years might have been a whole lot easier.

I can more than relate here.

I "suffer" from Asperger's Syndrome, for which I'll leave a brief excerpt of the relevant part here:

"People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.[19]"

The above passage describes pretty accurately my gaming habits - as a short outline my games have to be in alphabetical order (and other media, but anything without a label I don't care about), I have to complete games (which is why the invention of achievements, a laughable term in itself, was both the best and worst thing to ever happen for my gaming career) and would be capable of extended stints on games that bored the hell out of me.

Which is why my preferred genre is/was the RPG.

I'll use one game as an example: Final Fantasy VIII. It was unpopular in the series so I made it my main game, to be an outrunner and not conform (I realise now).

I've easily completed the game plus 20 times, each time to the best of its ability - maximum of every item, perfect stats (even to the extent of killing 666 enemies with Seifer just so the later obtained battle meter would state that number, as I felt it apt to mirror his personality) and could recite to you parts of the script if you gave me a trigger point.

Was this fun? Hell no, but the idea of it was enjoyable. I had an obsession with lists, writing and re-writing things to do, things I wanted and things that really didn't matter. These things weren't fun either, but the idea of them was.

Where I'm trying to get to, is where I used to be pretty extreme (I have since stabilised and barely play games thanks to seeking professional advice turning me into a much more rounded individual) I see echoes of my behaviours in the gaming populace.

People constantly complain how poor Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is, yet religiously play it. Condemn games before they've even arrived (Left 4 Dead 2) and are first in line to buy them.

Not enjoying the games, but merely enjoying the idea of them. Feelings misplaced by the security of habit. If people were to take an inside look maybe they'd see something completely different to what they expected.

Ever since I did I've conquered a lot of barriers, and whilst games have helped me through some very troubled patches, they also put a ceiling on my progression. The general impression of which I got from this article.

I don't have OCD like the article stated, but I do have obsessive tendencies. Over Analytical thinking and Disappear into gaming for hours on end. I talk to people not like a shy person, but I consider myself shy because I can't easily approach anyone and start a conversation, and while I am talking to them I'm going through a whirlwind of anxiety.

I definitely get the thing about video games have order and make sense compared to reality. I realized this myself only a few months ago.

WoW good for Obstructive-Convulsive Disorder people.

After my stroke, I started getting symptoms of OCD to a degree and the neurologist told me that some people do become obsessive compulsive after one because of the way the brain is trying to relearn on a different lobe in a way. I would freak out if their was the tiniest thing on my floor or a piece of dust on a piece of furniture. When I got to where I could play games again, it hit my gaming in that if a game wasn't in it's alphabetical position on the shelf I couldn't play it until I had rearranged them all. It seemed crazy but that was what I had to do. The doctor put me on an anti-depressant and something else and it seems to have worked.

It might not be exactly the same thing, but I can at least relate to what you went/are going through.

Oh wow...

Excuse me, I think I might have to get institutionalized...

Thank you all for the comments!

I appreciate the feedback.

Whoa, maybe I should change my avatar here...

Interesting. Many people consider rabid completionism (get every treasure box, 100% progress, etc) to be the most marked trait of an OCD gamer, but this is a bit of a different story.

Teddy KGB:
WoW good for Obstructive-Convulsive Disorder people.

You do realise OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder right?
O.T. I don't actually have OCD, but I have gaming OCD, which involves obsessive reloading and making everything I build in games and make them symmetrical.

Michael Comeau:
My five-year college career was a complete blur. And no, I don't have a Master's degree.

Don't worry. Had a six-year College Career and all I have to show for it is a Bachelor's degree.

As for the topic, refreshing to hear this sort of thing from someone that actually suffers the symptom. I sometimes wonder why people so easily want to claim themselves as OCD or ADD. I've noticed the former is usually more meant light-hearted than the latter, as in not really diagnosing yourself but just saying you have a neat personality. Still, speaking with people I've learned no one actually understands what these behaviors are really doing.

Your description of anxiety is a great way to put it. It isn't that it annoys you that something isn't a certain way, it's that you get an actual panic attack. With ADD, it isn't that you are bored easily. Plenty of that is just discipline and focus. It's a lack of control, feeling an inexplicable impulse and just spontaneously going with it. Just because you get bored watching TV doesn't mean you have ADD. If you are watching TV and suddenly have the impulse to get up, run over to the couch and try to vault over it without knowing where the idea came from, that's....well, it's a more bad ass variation of ADD, but that's pretty much it. Inexplicable impulses that, when asked "why" you can't really explain.

I'm surprised that your OCD didn't actually effect your gaming habits when you were younger, I was diagnosed with mild OCD at a young age and I've been a big gamer since around the age of 10, and the only games I can really "play" are action games without much depth to them like Counter-Strike, if I play something like an RPG I will freak out trying to get 100% of everything, which is sadly not possible in a lot of modern RPGs, and I'll end up playing it long past any enjoyment just for the sake of having nothing left to do (I guess that's why I became so obsessed with MMORPGs at one point), and I HATE making any sort of choices, which RPGs are encouraging more and more.

The same issue comes across even more with RTS games, I don't play them often for this very reason but when I do I tend to just sit in my initial position for hours on end just building the same units over and over without ever actually doing anything, and eventually the enemy AI attacks and overwhelms me.

I actually threw my copy of Dragon Age at the wall so hard the disc cracked in half when I discovered you couldn't have all your relationships at 100% at the same time (your romance options get jealous and disapprove, which made me feel like shit IRL).

Excellent article anyway, I feel your pain, and well done on seeking help and getting your problems back under control.

Hmm...what an odd story,I've never heard of such gaming habits before.It's also odd to see how many people in the comments state that they also have stories of mental illness.OT:good to see that you are recovering and the best of luck to you.

Very interesting article. Sheds some light on this condition that most parents miss or mistake.

I match the first page of that article and small sections of the last two pages. I feel like I should be worried.

You have my sympathies, sir. Though I fortunately haven't experienced the compulsions that you have, I do have certain things I just have to do when I play games. Like the other day, when I was playing Spore (putting aside the fact I had just started playing it only a day or so previous and COULD NOT STOP!), I was unable to ever put up just 1 turret at any colony. I have to set them up in nice 2 multiple patterns or just not use them. Similar stuff happens when I play regular RTS and stuff.

Bless you, mate. Here's wishing you great success on regaining your joy in gaming and all other areas of your life. Keep up the hard work you are doing, life improving work spills over into every other area and is always worth the doing.

I have OCD, and I'm a gamer, but I don't game as a compulsion. That's really interesting that you do. Still, I know what emotions you've gone through. Good luck resisting it in the future. It;s really stressful to do it at first, but after the anxiety goes away it feels much better.

Don't Poke My Bobcat:

"People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.

I have it too but I don't relate to that definition much.

Great article, it's good to see it from a sufferer's perspective. It's made me a bit paranoid about my own, much milder, OCD.

I don't have this so much with games although I think I am a little bit. I know that feeling when you think you've left something running like the stove or you keep doing repetitive things. I can relate there. I'm glad that seeing someone about is helping you too. That's good to hear really. ^^

Don't Poke My Bobcat:
I can more than relate here.


I completely understand what everyone here is talking about, and I've gone through some very big changes to my gaming routine due to the realization that I just wasn't ENJOYING my gaming anymore. The thrill of seeing the story unfold or having fun with friends had turned into the desire to see the next level come for my character, the next weapon unlocked, or a new achievement earned.

This really isn't what gaming should be about, and for many of us, it's what it has devolved into! I used to spend at least 20 hours a week on games - now, I spend perhaps two or three maximum, and at that point I've recognized that I'm not enjoying myself anymore, I'm just grinding and wishing I could be doing almost anything else.

Damn, one of the best articles i've read on the escapist in a while. Great job and good luck

I was diagnosed with "Mild OCD Traits" as they call it. Maybe if I told them about what I do in my gaming, they might think it was a bit more than that. I am an "Alt-O-Holic". I feel a need to have at least one character of each class (and crafting profession...and race if possible). Granted, if the game won't allow that, I can't afford another account just to satisfy that need, but if there is another way to get it (a one-time micro-transaction), I will do it. I then feel the need to get each crafting profession maxed out in skill - get all of the "patterns/recipes" that I can - spending hours upon hours grinding materials, auction houses, etc. I also volunteer to organize the Guild Bank - spending hours sorting items and putting them in order. Sure, I have fun playing, but often days will go by where I don't really have much, if any, fun at all. I am just satisfying this need.

I am disabled due to bipolar disorder and some other anxiety disorders, so I have all day to spend on the computer (as long as my wife doesn't need me or the computer). I have played MMOs for 7+ years now. In the 6 months I played LotRO, I logged 6 hours a day on average (I did the math one day). The flip side is that because of my anxiety disorders, MMOs and online is really my main form of social interaction. I have some trust issues due to something that happened about four years ago.

My pdoc is aware of my gaming, and how much I game, and overall she approves of the fact that at least it gets me interacting with other people. So...I guess I just acknowledge that my OCD is probably a bit worse than diagnosed and go from there. Thanks for this article - at least it got me thinking. I did associate what I did with my OCD...but not to this extent. Not sure where I'll take this from here, but it's a start.

It's good to see no matter how we feel we are never truly alone. I can relate to and congratulate you for trying/overcoming such feelings.

It's a fact life can be hard and evil at times, but if having fun playing helps to deal with then it's all game, the problem I've noticed reading the article is when your escapism turns into a escape from a escape. Much like chasing a rainbow and there's no cake at the end of it, but you can't help it to continue looking for one.

It turns out when we play for the sake of playing our gamer stigma turns out to be right, facing a problem is way better than pretending to be having fun.

Beautifully written article. As a 21 y/o I am transitioning into the world of finance and I also suffer similar social anxieties and compulsions. I also find I have an almost compulsive need to play video games after work to unwind otherwise I build up a lot of tension. I too have tried to talk to my family about my problems but am always quickly dismissed. I am considering therapy as well as I feel life would be more enjoyable if i were just able to "relax" so to speak. Congrats on your progress.


Sums up my experience with being a gamer. Reading this made me realize how obsessive I become about games.
Anyone here ever built a Symmetrical Sim City? Or Symmetrical base in any computer game? Something I realized I do. Without thinking.

And I used to play WoW for 7 hours a day. I wouldn't enjoy it. Christ, I would not even remember it.

Very interesting. I too have OCD tics and tendencies. Not to an extreme degree, but little things. Alphabetizing my dvd's and games, etc. I do enjoy games though. I try to keep changing things up to not let them become OCD habits. It seems to work pretty well for me.

I think it's really important for people to understand that OCD isn't just about hand-washing or hoarding or what have you. It can manifest differently for each person, and sometimes in ways you wouldn't expect. I would know; my OCD revolved around people and social situations. It's hard to explain, but the author makes a very true point here. OCD can show up anywhere, even in our leisure.

Thinking about it now, when I was younger all the games I really got hooked on were repetitive: Starfox 64, Harvest Moon, The Sims. They're all very different types of games, and while I did (and still do) truly enjoy them and have fun with them, I remember playing them obsessively in times when I was under social stress. Those times I wasn't having fun, I was just taking comfort in a repetitive activity I was familiar with and that I knew would be exactly the same (to some extent) every time I turned it on. When my social life felt out of control, I turned to games to feel like I had some semblance of control over my life. I didn't realize I used gaming as one of my coping mechanisms until I read this article.

I don't do that so much anymore though. I suppose I do still find comfort in the repetitive actions of gaming, but I think the fact that I have a hard time playing a Harvest Moon game past Year 2 attests to the fact that I've improved.

Thanks for being brave enough to write this article, Michael. I know getting a bad reaction from a family member or close friend can often be discouraging, but I think a lot of people will benefit from the experiences you've shared.

Don't Poke My Bobcat:
I can more than relate here.

I think I sorta play the same way.
I got full completion for fable II, despite it having like five ours of gameplay, and I can definitely see some similarities between the author's bubble bobble (or whatever)and my ngame, and I only over play MW2 on free for all, stressing out when my k/d is not positive, so I think I can sympathize.

Damn, one of the best articles i've read on the escapist in a while. Great job and good luck

Thank you so much for this comment. It really was stressful putting all this down on paper finally.


Don't Poke My Bobcat:

"People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.

I have it too but I don't relate to that definition much.

Great article, it's good to see it from a sufferer's perspective. It's made me a bit paranoid about my own, much milder, OCD.

No need to be paranoid - it's not the end of the world and everyone has their quirks.

That was an incredible article Michael Comeau! You really moved me. Keep it up!

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