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How Video Games Helped Me Quit Smoking

In somewhat recent years, there was a campaign of anti-smoking commercials from BecomeAnEx.org, and I loved them. It was the first time I felt like someone really discovered the secret to quitting smoking, and offered it from a sympathetic perspective, with a sense of humor and a sincere desire to help smokers.

I have seen many commercials against smoking over the years. Somehave tried fighting cigarettes by unveiling statistics about smoking and its industry, with this self-righteous "look how clever we are" approach that is rather alienating. It's like being told to quit smoking by someone who is more invested in their marketing pitch than the problem at hand.

And then there have been the deluge of "scare tactic" commercials that show you blackened lungs and people living with tracheotomies. While I think these commercials hold some worth, they are more likely to give a smoker pause, rather than actually helping them to quit. Our selective memory kicks in, and kicks out the bad ones.


The aforementioned campaign, however, nailed the essence of the smoking problem in a few brief moments. It pointed out that smoking is strongly connected to habitual behavior; you smoke with your morning cup of coffee, during your morning routine, or during happy hour at the bar. These commercials suggested that you can relearn all of these activities without a cigarette. The one about happy hour even suggested you "keep a beer in one hand and anything but a cigarette in the other". That is smart advice.

Physical addiction of nicotine is nothing when compared to the mental addiction of smoking. This is why wearing a patch doesn't instantly fix the problem; a smoker still wants to hold and smoke a cigarette. Mental addiction is king. I was quite lucky; I gradually gave up smoking simply because I was not enjoying it anymore, and that made it far easier to walk away. But some of that habitual smoking through association was still rearing its ugly head. Getting rid of those last few lines of defense can be the hardest.

When you quit cigarettes (or are in the process of doing so), you may notice certain new habits taking over temporarily. Once of them is the famous one: eating. And other ones pop up, like chewing the caps from pens (until they are completely unrecognizable). However, one activity that interfered with my smoking was entirely by chance, and yet so effective at keeping my mind and body off of smoking, it should be recommended in support groups: playing video games.

It is probably arguable that the total sensory experience of playing a video game contributes in distracting the player from other activities like smoking (or socializing... kidding!), but I believe that the controller is the key. Keeping both hands fully occupied and working hastily makes you forget about holding a cigarette.

And why not? People tend to smoke the most when they are unoccupied, bored and feeling lazy. People smoke on their breaks. People smoke at their laptops and during a football game on television. It's down time, time to drink a beer, have a smoke and watch a movie!

Video games are down time too, but don't allow for a half-hearted relationship with them. I remember when I would play games like Halo 3 online, discussing strategies with friends and controlling my Spartan Soldier. I was way too engaged with the game to smoke (or use the bathroom, for that matter!). In fact, when I would light up a cigarette between matches, I would take my first puff and put it down, as we would already be back in the firefight. By the time I reached for my cigarette again, nothing remained save a long log of ash, burning away in the ashtray. That's a powerful moment to note; I had made my choice. That 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, either.

Playing video games is not a magical solution, and there are a lot of variables when quitting smoking, so your mileage may vary. I already wanted to quit smoking, but video games helped by running interference, and it helped to keep me occupied once I quit smoking entirely.

Around this time, I was spending a good deal of my gaming time with portable systems, like the DS Lite and the PSP (the best part is when you easily justify your PSP purchase, based on the amount of cigarettes you're not buying). When I would return from work and settle down for the evening, I would lie on my back in bed playing games. That worked great for me, as I was in even less of a position to reach for a cigarette, and even more relaxed than normal. That said, I think a stronger case could be made for taking your portable on the go, as it's intended for. 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 standing or sitting there. Smoking will become a lot more tempting.

I can't stress the importance enough of video games occupying your hands. While Freud would likely tell us smoking is an oral fixation (see: eating, chewing pen caps), we hold a cigarette in our hands; it is part of the appeal. So, when our hands are busy, we are less likely to be holding a cigarette. Playing a game engages the upper half of your body arguably more than driving a car does. When driving, you have one free hand to smoke with. Also, most people drive the same roads ad nauseam, and it largely becomes a mindless activity, second nature even. In contrast, video games frequently change things up, producing new challenges and garnering your full attention just to master (and even survive) them.

And they're fun! Video games cause your brain to release endorphins, much like smoking, but as a result of genuinely enjoying yourself, rather than the intake of chemicals.

Like I said before, video games are not magical, and they are not going to suppress all the addictive urges your body and mind will produce, as you try and quit. Nothing will. When quitting smoking, it's all about help, and what the best crutches are. Video games are a wonderful substitution, and for every cigarette you refuse, that's a little more money in your pocket, money to buy that next awesome game. Personally, I want to live longer and play a lot more games, so it's a win-win situation. If you're quitting or thinking about quitting, or even if you aren't considering it at all, next time you reach for that pack of smokes, try putting both your hands on that video game controller instead.

Thanks for reading!

To read more of my reviews, news and day-to-day thoughts on video games, please visit my website:
http://www.sunshinehydra.com


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