I have an addiction. It’s nothing as seedy or interesting as drugs, alcohol, or sex. It’s DragonVale, a game I loaded on my phone sometime in April. My boys suggested it because they know what I sucker I was for Zoo Tycoon and Farmville. They weren’t wrong — I love that goofy game. Perhaps a bit too much.
As soon as I loaded it, I began racing through the levels. I can spend hours arranging and rearranging my islands. I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my dragons and the right breeding combinations for dragons I want. Yes, a spreadsheet. Like I said, I have issues.
It’s understandable. There is so much about my world I can’t control. My health, my job, the global pandemic. I can’t seem to get traction on any of my goals — thanks to the big three mentioned above. But in DragonVale, I can actually achieve things. I reach goals. And the dragons are cute.
Seems harmless enough. But as I fall further behind on the million-and-one things I could or should be doing because I’m tapping my phone screen, a passage comes to mind. In it, one demon is teaching another how to keep man from living his purpose.
“As the uneasiness and reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures the vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo...you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say...'I now see that I spent most my life doing in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
We live in a world of dead fires: social media, streaming services, dating sites, video games… this list goes on. None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but they’re dangerous nonetheless. It’s all-too-easy to get sucked into them and lose days, weeks, months. We get hooked on these sites thanks to the dopamine hit they give, and the effect is that we are literally rewiring our brains. They impact our peace, relationships, and ability to find contentment. These are all reasons I generally stay off social media, I left dating sites, and (pre-covid) limit myself to one television show in the evening.
Stuck in my house and too sick to do much else, I kinda left the one show rule in the dust. But it wasn’t until Dragonvale got its hooks in me that I found myself staring into a dead fire when I should be writing.
Now that I've recognized the problem, I’m going to try limiting myself, seeing if I can have the restraint to only check in a couple times a day and for up to half an hour a time. Because the goofy game really does seem to help me deal with all the rest. But I suspect that, like most addictions, I’m eventually going to have to quit cold turkey because the benefits aren’t worth the cost.
For me, it’s DragonVale. For someone else I love, it’s checking news sites. For another, it’s SnapChat streaks. The world is littered with dead fires. And I can’t help but wonder what we could do if we stopped staring into nothingness.