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How Video Games Helped Me Quit Smoking
A few years ago, there was an anti-smoking ad campaign from BecomeAnEk.org, and I loved them. It was the first time I felt like someone had really discovered the secret to quitting smoking and offered it from a sympathetic perspective, with a sense of humor and a genuine desire to help smokers.
I’ve seen a lot of anti-smoking ads over the years. Some have tried to fight cigarettes by revealing statistics about smoking and its industry, with this self-righteous “look how smart we are” approach that is quite alienating. It’s like someone who is more invested in their marketing ad than the problem at hand telling you to quit smoking.
And then there was the flood of “scare tactic” ads showing you blackened lungs and people living with tracheostomies. While I think these ads hold some worth, are more likely to give a smoker a break, rather than actually help them quit. Our selective memory kicks in and weed out the bad ones.
The aforementioned campaign, however, revealed the essence of the smoking problem in a few short moments. He pointed out that smoking is strongly associated with habitual behavior; smoke with your morning cup of coffee, during your morning routine or during happy hour at the bar. These ads suggest that you can relearn all these activities without a cigarette. The one about happy hour even suggested “holding a beer in one hand and everything but a cigarette in the other.” That’s smart advice.
Physical addiction to nicotine is nothing compared to mental addiction to smoking. Therefore, wearing a band-aid does not immediately solve the problem; the smoker still wants to hold and smoke a cigarette. Mental addiction is king. I was very lucky; I gradually gave up smoking simply because I didn’t enjoy it anymore, and that made it a lot easier to quit. But some of that habitual social smoking still reared its ugly head. Getting rid of these last few lines of defense can be the hardest.
When you quit smoking (or are in the process), you may notice that some new habits take over temporarily. One of them is the famous one: dish. And others pop out, like chewing pencil caps (until they are completely unrecognizable). However, one activity that interfered with my smoking was completely random, yet so effective in distracting my mind and body from smoking, that it should be recommended to support groups: play video games.
It’s probably arguable that the overall sensory experience of playing a video game contributes to distracting the player from other activities like smoking (or hanging out… just kidding!), but I believe the controller is the key. If both hands are fully occupied and you are working in a hurry, forget to hold the cigarette.
And why not? People tend to smoke the most when they are unoccupied, bored and lazy. People smoke on breaks. People smoke on their laptops and during a football game on television. Time to rest, time to drink beer, smoke and watch a movie!
Video games don’t work either, but don’t be half-hearted about them. I remember when I used to play games like Halo 3 online, discussing strategies with friends and controlling my Spartan soldier. I was too engrossed in the game to smoke (or use the bathroom, for that matter!). In fact, if I lit a cigarette between matches, I’d take the first time and put it down, because we’d already be back in a firefight. By the time I reached for the cigarette again, nothing was left but the long ash that had burned in the ashtray. It is a powerful moment to note; I made my choice. It wouldn’t be the last cigarette I ever had. But it wouldn’t be the last time I ignored them in favor of playing video games.
Playing video games isn’t a magic bullet, and there are a lot of variables when you quit smoking, so your mileage may vary. I already wanted to quit smoking, but video games helped by starting the distraction and helped keep me occupied when I quit smoking completely.
Around this time, I spent a good portion of my time playing with portable systems, such as the DS Lite and the PSP (the best part is when you can easily justify buying a PSP, based on the amount of cigarettes you bought not purchase). When I got home from work and settled in for the night, I would lie on my back in bed and play games. It worked great for me, because I was in even less of a position to reach for a cigarette, and even more relaxed than usual. That said, I think a stronger case could be made to carry your portable on the go, for which it is intended. Now you’re waiting for the subway or sitting during your lunch break at work, and you’re working on your game, with no free hands or time to smoke. Try reading the newspaper instead, or worse, just stand or sit. Smoking will become much more tempting.
I can’t stress how important it is to keep your hands occupied by video games. While Freud would probably tell us that smoking is an oral fixation (see: eating, chewing on pencil caps), we hold a cigarette in our hands; that’s part of the appeal. So when our hands are occupied, we are less likely to hold a cigarette. Playing a game engages the upper half of your body probably more than driving a car. When you drive, you have one free hand to smoke. Also, most people drive the same roads effortlessly, and it largely becomes a mindless activity, even second nature. In contrast, video games often change things up, create new challenges, and grab your full attention just to master (or even survive) them.
And they’re fun! Video games cause your brain to release endorphins, similar to smoking, but as a result of genuine enjoyment rather than ingesting chemicals.
Like I said before, video games they are not magical, and will not suppress all the addictive urges your body and mind will produce as you try to quit. Nothing will. When you quit smoking, it’s all about help and what are the best crutches. Video games are a wonderful substitute, and for every cigarette you turn down, that’s a little more money in your pocket, money to buy the next great game. Personally, I want to live longer and play a lot more games, so it’s a win-win situation. If you’re giving up or thinking about it, or even if you’re not thinking about it at all, the next time you reach for that pack of smokes, try putting both hands on the video game controller.
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