The problem with the myth of the socially-inept gamer/internet user who allows their social skills to atrophy because they spend too much time in a fantasy world is that it is a PILE OF SHIT.
Look, with as many human beings as we've crammed onto the planet, I'm sure these people do exist. Though seldom articulated, there's an asshole corollary to Rule 34. If you can think of a way to be an asshole, there is someone who is already doing it just as hard as they can. I am also aware that games, especially player to player interactive games (WoW, etc.), can be addictive, which leads people to neglect other concerns. I mean, I can tell you right now that every time an Assassin's Creed game comes out, I get nothing done for a week. Social games can also be hotbeds of cliqueishness and bullying; the way woman gamers are treated is deplorable; and they serve as both time sucks and frustration sinks for people whose lives are not so great, often leading to further decay of quality of life. All of these things are truly less than ideal.
I'm also aware that there are a lot of losers and jerkfaces who are into gaming or fucking off online . . . just like there are lots of losers and jerkfaces who go to football games and to the gym and to church and to the zoo with their families and on vacations to Arizona and write their memoirs from cabins in British Columbia and attend political rallies and volunteer at the ASPCA . . . you get the idea, right? That there is nothing wrong with these things, unless it's that assholes sometimes do them? That any act or hobby can be a negative one if it is used to avoid obligations to other sentient beings?
Yes, marvel at it: ASSHOLES! A constant across every demographic, they inhabit the mainstream culture and every subculture in startling variety, not unlike the impassable can't-read-past-it Wall of Fish in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Geek assholes are no more common or loathsome than religious assholes or vegan assholes or political assholes or film school assholes or music snob assholes. Geek assholes don't have a monopoly on being disgusting motherfuckers.
Using the negatives to define and dismiss an entire class of person and their interests is flat-out stupid, not to mention insulting. The fact that there are problems with games and gamers and game culture, and with the internet and with internet culture in general, does not mean that the problem is that games or the internet exist.
The problem is people.
Dudes? Newsflash. People can really suck. And they would still suck even if they no longer had WoW or 4chan or YouTube comments or whatever. Yes, there's a particular kind of nastiness bred by anonymity, but again, that's not a problem with the internet, it's a problem with human beings, who are often cowardly and cruel, and can only draw their balls up for a fight either at a safe distance or in a group of like-minded assholes.
Anonymity on the net doesn't make people into bigger assholes than the pack of homo hatin' sign-waving hatemongering good ol' boys. It just gives the assholes different tools, and makes it easier for them to find you and shit on you. But believe me, internet bullies and stalkers aren't somehow magically meaner than the assholes who beat people to death for being black or trans or whatever other excuse they seize upon. They are just more visible to most people, and more vocal.
And it doesn't help that admonitions against internet socialization are often chased with a heavy shot of "how dare you."
The perceived wrongdoing of these people is not that they are assholes who go onto YouTube and call that nice lady who spends all her time and money rescuing abandoned kittens a fat slut who needs to be raped and how does Thursday sound to you and how dare they?!
The perceived wrongdoing of these people is that they waste time on the internet, period. They go onto YouTube and watch humorous accident videos and people lighting their farts and 80's music video literal versions and My Little Pony: Friendship is Fuckin' Magic episodes instead of doing whatever self-righteous little assholes think they should be doing. How dare you turn your back on real life? How dare you find things to do that don't involve interacting with other people face to face? What, are you some kind of loser freak? You're probably fat, and a chronic masturbator, and a goddamn furry, you probably drink gravy out of a Na'vi fleshlight with a crazy straw, and all of these are THINGS WE WOULDN'T HAVE IF NOT FOR THE INTARTUBEZ!
Yeah. I'm not exaggerating. I hear this shit all the time. (Ironically, I actually read it . . . on the internet.) "Get a life." "What kind of loser cares about the internet?" "God, why would you play video games when you could go outside and get stung by bees, step in dog shit, and die of heatstroke?"
Truefax: I didn't have the internet for a very long time. Before that time, did I have more friends? Did I have a more fulfilling family life? Did I spend more time doing interesting and important things in the real world? Did I accomplish more?
Guess. Go on. I'll wait. Just take a flying stab in the dark.
I'll even give you a little hint:
I was fucking miserable. I had very, very few friends. I didn't see my family any more often than I do now. I didn't go out and do more things. I was, I say again, fucking miserable. I was having panic attacks all the time, I had very little emotional support, I thought I was crazy and fat and disgusting and deserved to rot in misery (first two parts true, second two parts not so much), and I was, in general, so fucked up that I couldn't even see how fucked up I was, because fucked up was all I knew.
I had no access to any model of life that worked for me. The only other life I knew was the school/job/kids life which I have known since before I knew what nipples were for was not for me. I didn't see that there was any way to not be that, and still be healthy and functional. I mean, intellectually, I knew, but I had nothing on which to pattern my life. It was like taking some cloth and some random bits of metal and trying to come up with a garment to hold up your tits and squish in your waist when you have never been introduced to a corset. There was this tremendously complicated thing I had to not only do, but build from scratch, and I didn't even know what one looked like. I had no access to anything to help me define what is normal for me. I thought that if I was unhappy and miserable, that was my fault for not fitting, not just an unavoidable mismatch between what I was and what I knew, and which was nobody's fault at all.
Also, in the interests of self-disclosure, I think I jerked off more when I didn't have the internet. Because yes, sometimes watching YouTube videos of explosions truly is more fun than having an orgasm. And that doesn't mean I have my priorities fucked up. It just means that I suddenly had another option to choose sometimes, the same way that choosing a cheeseburger over a five-star steak is not fucked up if what you really want right then is a goddamn cheeseburger. Sometimes you don't want to have a deep, meaningful conversation with your beloved. Sometimes you want to tell dick jokes.
And then the internet – specifically, LiveJournal – hit me like a beautiful gay unicorn semen bukkake rainbow, and I saw the light (albeit refracted through a haze of spooge). It was like turning on the floodlights in a dark room and discovering that I was surrounded by fuckups of every shape, size, and color, many of them fat, masturbating perverts. Holy shit, I was not alone! I had found my people at last!
I am very shy, meeting and befriending new people is very, very hard for me, and because I am crazy, I have very few emotional resources to spend on going out to spend time with friends in meatspace, or do the sorts of "more important" things that fans of "real life" would have me do (I don't know what these things are, I've never gotten a straight answer that included anything that I was interested in doing that I didn't already do).
Sometimes I have panic attacks, and these are often triggered by stressful social situations, and "stressful" can, on really bad days, mean "there's, like, air."
I'm also poor, which means doing things like traveling to "see the world" or taking up expensive or boring hobbies to prove how fucking fulfilling my life is are right out. Taking up a "healthy" hobby has no appeal for me. I'm not interested in learning to play tennis or going to the gym or running a goddamn marathon; I danced for a while and may someday go back to it, but while I loved the people, toward the end it didn't make me that happy to do it (granted, that may have been the pressure to perform, and the eating/exercise disorder, but still).
Real life interaction is hard. Sometimes, for me, unbearably so. And when this happens, I just fuck off from real life for a while. I didn't have more strength to deal with it when I was without the internet. I didn't interact with people more. I had fewer ways to interact pleasurably and safely with other people, and consequently, I was unhappier. And because I was unhappier and had less contact with people, I was more awkward, and had even fewer emotional resources.
Amazingly enough, things have improved since I started connecting with people online and was finally able to see that I was not alone, and that I could get help and support without having to jump through all those hoops that, when you have a panic disorder and a mental illness, make doing things like nipping over to see someone or taking somebody broke out to a movie nearly fucking impossible, let alone something like "getting help."
If you took away my internet access now, I wouldn't suddenly find all this energy I didn't know I had and then go running right out to work for Habitat For Humanity, start taking tae kwon do classes, attend cooking school, or develop the perfect anal-retentively maintained front yard. I would sit in my corner and masturbate joylessly and read books. Not even, like, Paradise Lost and Moby Dick and Nabokov and fucking Ernest Hemingway -- books that, if you were a pretentious asshole, you might contend would improve my character -- but shitty pulp novels about, like, the Three Musketeers IN SPAAAAAACE . . . shit that is in no way more defensible than Wikipedia, or even TV Tropes. And then, when I got bored with that, I would write porn, which I could only share with, like, maybe four people, tops, before someone called the cops on me.
So, yeah, some people become dependent on the internet for their social interaction. Maybe that's because those people are more comfortable, and sometimes ONLY comfortable, interacting online. Not because they are sad and pathetic but because they are human, and flawed, and living in a world that absolutely does not respect people who are not extroverts.
Just to pull two examples from thin air, because I love these guys but they were kind of fuckups, Lovecraft and Howard might have done really well online, where they could correspond with people in a controlled setting. Because they lived before the internet, the fact that they were isolated, unhappy people is romanticized (and the fact that they had some questionable views about some things is often sort of ignored, because the evidence of this was not blogged). If they lived now, and had LiveJournals, and were still reclusive and difficult, people would think they were pathetic. But given that they were both letter-writers, if they'd had the internet, I think they might have been happier people. (And maybe Robert might not have killed himself.)
Are the people who use the internet as their primary filter for the world addicted to the internet? Maybe. You can become addicted to pretty much anything that rewards you with feelings of pleasure or power, or even, if you have a hard inner life, anything which just blocks feelings of fear, powerlessness, restlessness, or despair. (Although I think that people who regard all addiction as a major character flaw and think that beating it is just a matter of bucking up and choosing your attitude are assholes anyway, so it's probably best to just not speculate about why other people do what they do unless you are willing to actually listen to what those same people – not other people – say about their own lives.)
But I really think that a surprising number of folks could only be described as "addicted" if you describe the human urge to seek out and interact with other people as "addiction" only when it takes any form that doesn't look like the sun-drenched, healthy, physically vigorous, radiantly-smiling, happy family and lots of nearby friends, baking cookies but not getting fat from eating them because you can afford a gym membership and the mental tax of worrying about your weight, affluent enough to have hobbies, walking the dogs every day down a safe suburban street full of nice little houses and picket fences, living in a place where it's possible to spend time doing things outdoors without dying of heatstroke or freezing to death (i.e. not Oklahoma -- get a clue, rest of the country, the weather sucks here and nobody wants to spend time outside), DIY home improvement, let's build a snowman and make him our best friend, smiling sunbeams out your asshole ideal that mainstream-sucking dickheads try to force on everyone else.
Hey. You don't become a shut-in because you just can't resist another goddamn game of Bejeweled. You become a shut-in and play Bejeweled obsessively because you have fucking problems which, it is more likely than not, goddamn nobody in meatspace is helping you to solve, and which all of the goddamn Pollyanna "you can do anything if you really want to" "you make your own luck" "good people are rewarded with good things, so if you have shitty things, you must be a shitty person" bootstrapping cockshit we teach people as though it were the truth will do not a thing to alleviate.
And when your life is such a screamingly sensitive mess of nerves and failures and fear and things you can't do because you're damaged and meaningful things you can't afford because you're poor because you can't work because you're damaged and dreams you will never see come true and help you cannot get because you cannot afford to dream or need help, sometimes the only thing you have the strength to do is go click on some goddamn dragon eggs or play Tetris.
I suck at life. I do. Some of that's my fault, some of it's someone else's fault, and a great deal of it is nobody's fault at all, any more than it's a wolf's fault that it's not a carp.
Whatever the causes, I do my best to manage my life while trying to get better at living it and becoming a better person. My best may not be great, but here's what people don't seem to understand, the thing that I would like to etch onto the toe of my boot and kick into their asses: My best is my best. It is the best I can do. It is not what other people think I am capable of. It is not what other people think I should be capable of. It is not what other people would be capable of if they had my skill. It is not even what I wish I could do, or feel that I should be able to do.
It. Is. My. Best.
I am not slacking off or being lazy because I am 34 and have not yet figured out how to live the perfect life. I am making progress. But my best is still my best, and on some days, that is not so great.
Maybe to some people I am a loser. But it's not fucking affecting anyone else when I stay home and pop in Ass:Bro and kill everyone in Forlì with a fishing pole, so why the fucking judgment? Why the bad attitude about how my life is not only not good enough for them, but shouldn't even be good enough for me?
Motherfuckers, don't judge how I live my reality until you've shut your goddamn mouth and tried to live it with the same resources I have. And since that's not possible, since you can never actually live my life or experience my reality, I recommend you shut the flying fuck up altogether about how I live my life and go have a sandwich.
I recommend ducklings and pussy. GTFO.