x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

How video games can ruin marriages

I had to give up my PlayStation in order to save my relationship.

Aside from Kim Kardashian's one-woman mission to drive up divorce rates, recent statistics show that 15 per cent of marital break-ups in the US are caused by the addiction to video games of one partner. While some may question this figure, I find it completely plausible, because I'll readily admit that I was once a hopelessly hooked gamer, and my relationship was sorely strained by this habit.

It's now been 48 days, 21 hours and five minutes since I last switched on my PlayStation. But for me it was a stark choice – keep playing or risk losing my wife.

My cautionary tale began back in the early 1980s when my father arrived home from his office wielding a ZX Spectrum – one of the earliest home computers – under his arm. At first, playing computer games was a fleeting hobby, but by the age of adolescence, it had matured into a full-blown obsession, and every spare minute of my time was spent sat enslaved by the joystick. While this lifestyle is fine for a bachelor, when I first met my wife, I soon realised that she wasn't happy to waste our precious weekends watching me blast pixelated zombies or hordes of aliens. Meanwhile, attempts to introduce her to games always ended with her throwing the joypad to the floor with whines of "this is too hard".

It all came to a crunch on one occasion when we'd planned to meet up for an afternoon movie, but after pausing for a swift session on my PlayStation before heading out, I was sucked into the timeless vortex of addiction and probably would still be playing now if she hadn't phoned up in tears demanding to know why I'd stood her up.

Her subsequent fury moved me into mending my ways and I vowed to call it quits on my gamer lifestyle. Yet unfortunately, the UAE is home to many who've yet to be liberated from the shackles of gaming. And a sizeable chunk of these people satiate their habits at the country's many internet cafes. First up, these so-called internet cafes aren't chic coffee houses with a few desktop computers lining the walls for trendy folk to update their Facebook status while sipping on a skinny latte. In reality, they're strange, light-starved, smoky caves, in which vacant-eyed, video-game junkies hunch around the icy glow of monitors, while a succession of fast-food delivery men herd in and out to provide them with energy to keep their hands feverishly tapping away at the keyboards.

The old me would occasionally visit these dens, and what's glaringly obvious is that you almost never see a female within their walls. So maybe, the soaring number of marital ruptures caused by video games is not startling in itself, but what is amazing is how these social misfits (and I readily include my former self in this category) managed to drag themselves from their joypads to meet members of the opposite sex in the first place.