Shaq Fu

Gotta Catch 'em all! The Peculiar Relationship of OCDs and Videogames

Did you spend the best part of your childhood in arcades playing Pac Man? If so chances are you have a chronic anxiety disorder... Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Research Center of Mental Illness Study found “an alarming rate of OCD” in kids who played 80s video games like Q-Bert or Pac Man.

As the author, Chris Ward, writes::

As someone who jumps out of his skin when friends blitz through levels of Super Mario Bros. and ignore the goddamned coins, I don’t disagree with this study one bit. My OCD impulses, like most people’s, are all about controlling my environment—and the virtual landscapes in games are a perfect outlet for this. On the downside, Pac-Man’s all-consuming urge to eat every last dot gets channeled right through the person controlling him.

The good news though is that games themselves are not the root of OCDs – “I don’t think games cause OCD—it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain you’re born with,” says Counselor Hillary Brady – but then again the current generation of games with their increasingly open worlds with all their disorder that somehow has to be brought under control offers the perfect playground these people.

Again Chris Ward:

Unfortunately, I was unable to complete a single level without trying to collect the hundreds of thousands of LEGO coins that appear when you break something. Note: everything is breakable. It’s the jingling noise the coins make. . .the way they zip through the air into Batman’s utility wallet. . .this simple, visceral thrill led to several uncontrollable hours of collecting shiny things. Current in-game progress as a result: 9.6%

I can relate to Ward. The last game I bought was Far Cry 2, a title with a massive environment where one of the goals is to collect more than 200 hidden diamond cases. When you're close to a case a little green light on your GPS starts flashing and it flashes quicker the closer you get. Countless times I stopped my car just to spend… well, uncontrollable hours collecting shiny things. No matter if I was in the middle of a mission or chased by an angry mob of gun yielding rebels I just couldn't resist the urge to waste a large chunk of my precious play time running around in the African Wild, climbing hills and tress and getting really agitated for not being able to complete my collection.

The same with GTA: when I got the chance to roam San Andreas I had to look up the location of all the places I was supposed to tag. I didn't immerse myself in the story and the only way I interacted with the environment was by spray painting it – also motivated by the fact that the more I vandalised my surroundings the more weapons would wait for me in the kitchen. Because you never know when you might need those babies! Which relates to another disorder of mine: The fear of running out of items.

At least I'm not the only one:

I’m convinced that there must have been some kind of traumatic experience that occurred when I was just starting playing videogames that I subconsciously blocked out, but whose moral still remains firmly imprinted in my psyche: “Save every item till the last possible moment.” It’s the only way to explain this near maniacal packratism I can’t help but display. I’ve reached the end of many a game with an over abundance of ammo and supplies, and yet I continue to hoard and refuse to use.

The next game I was going to get is Fallout 3, but truth be told: The thought of all the loot to collect, all the side missions to be done, all the endings to be seen – it makes me freak out a little.

By speaking of freaking out: The solution to these problems might actually be more terrifying than the symptoms.

"We often find that our OCD patients benefit from playing not-so-organized games like many of the '90s Super Nintendo games based on movies, athletes, and TV shows," the Philadelphia study concludes. "[Compulsion for organization] is less likely because a video game based on Shaq has never had a clear objective."

I think I prefer my disorders to Shaq Fu. What about you?