I Used To Smoke Pot Every Time I Played A Video Game. Here's Why I Stopped.

I started smoking pot during my first year of university, after a loud and messy breakup with my first girlfriend that sent me into an absolutely manic rage. It was shortly after she left, bawling, that one of my roommates asked if I wanted to get high. I guess that was his way of trying to make me feel better. That night I was introduced to a 1.8m bong, which I filled with smoke and cleared twice, and then we all sat down to watch the news.

I wasn't thinking about the breakup anymore or the misery I'd felt in the days prior to calling it quits. All that pain and rage were gone. I was thinking about how funny the news and the commercials were, and then about getting something to eat when I got really hungry out of nowhere. Someone had the idea to get my Super Nintendo Entertainment System, hook it up to the big television in the living room and play 2-on-2 NHL '94.

I had never been so engrossed in a video game before. So began my love affair with playing games while I was high. It would end about as well as my relationship with my first girlfriend.

A Chronicle Of My Descent While Getting High

It wasn't until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I understood I was self-medicating with marijuana. It‘s distressingly common for people with mood disorders to abuse drugs in order to manage the symptoms of their illness. It makes perfect sense if you think about mental illness as an altered state of consciousness. A normal, balanced person doesn't hear voices or fly into rages for no good reason or spontaneously sink into depressions, but a person with mental illness might suffer any or all of these. Mental illness changes the way someone thinks and perceives the world. The effects are random and unpredictable.

Imagine how easy it is to begin self-medicating with drugs when a person like me, who has a mood disorder, discovers they have the ability to choose when their consciousness gets altered and realised they can ensure the experience is pleasurable.

Had you asked me prior to my diagnosis why I smoked, I would have sounded like the pothead archetype played by Jon Stewart in Half Baked. I was an enhancement smoker, someone who thought pot made everything better, and pot enhanced no experience like it enhanced playing video games.

I was an enhancement smoker, someone who thought pot made everything better, and pot enhanced no experience like it enhanced playing video games.

It was shortly after the night I inhaled those first six-footers that I discovered Civilization. Ever since I'd received my first Nintendo Entertainment System I'd sometimes stay up moderately late playing video games, but rarely past midnight. Once I discovered pot, I'd rip a few of those six foot bong hits in the early evening and immediately sit down

to play Civ until dawn, when I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

When I played Civilization sober it could feel tedious and slow compared to my traditional diet of console action and head-to-head sports games, but when I played Civilization while high I lost myself in the endless minutiae of building roads and cultivating cropland and moving soldiers around. I embraced the fantasy of controlling things like a god. Of course I toked up before I played Civilization. It made the game so much better.

I remember the remainder of my undergraduate university experience through the haze of a thick cloud of pot smoke. In my senior year I lived with a friend who owned a Mac and a copy of Bungie's original first person shooter, Marathon. I had enough doses of sobriety

to compare playing Marathon sober to playing Marathon while I was baked. The difference was pronounced. Ripping a bong hit before I sat down to fight the Pfhor was a no-brainer, and the late-night smoking and NHL sessions with my former roommates continued as well. If I hadn't been a film major with no tests to take and nothing to study in my last year of the program I doubt I'd have graduated.

3D space combat flight sims like the original Wing Commander and X-Wing were responsible for my first, serious steps into PC gaming, but, when Wing Commander III was released, the rig at my parents' house wasn't even close to having the specs I needed to run the game. When I moved back home after university I discovered that my father had purchased a nice PC for his home office and I finally had a rig powerful enough to run WC III.

My heart leapt as I installed the game, overjoyed that I'd get to see my childhood hero Mark Hamill acting in the Wing Commander universe I adored, and then it occurred to me that I could also get really, really high at the same time! Temporarily stripped of responsibilities like schoolwork, classes or a job I'd sleep all day, wake up practically as the sun went down, smoke a few bowls from the one-foot glass bong I'd brought home from Boston and then strap into my virtual starfighter cockpit with breaks to kick the high back in when it started to ebb over the hours and hours of space combat. I was lucky my parents didn't throw me out of the house.

I lost the PC when I moved back to Boston for graduate school, but my new N64 and GoldenEye came with me. All my old roommates were still in the area and one of them had a big apartment close to our old campus. I'd pack up the console, head over to his place and we'd rip tubes and play GoldenEye multiplayer until dawn. Those nighttime pot and gaming binges had everything to do with why I didn't pass a key course in the curriculum and had to switch to a different program at a different school. I wasted tens of thousands of dollars on university loans to pay for a year of graduate school that I spent getting high and playing GoldenEye.

I wasted tens of thousands of dollars on university loans to pay for a year of graduate school that I spent getting high and playing GoldenEye.

My old roommates gradually left Boston one by one, but I was elated to discover that Lesley, the woman I'd met during my abortive year of graduate school was also a gamer. I traded in some old consoles to get us a PlayStation 1 which was kept at her apartment. We ran through

Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Nemesis and Metal Gear Solid and I made sure to toke up hard and get good and high before heading over to her place for our marathon gaming sessions. The more cinematic and immersive video games became, the more attractive they were to play while I was stoned out of my mind. The further I pushed the real world away, the further I could step into the virtual worlds that video games offered me.

I began a new graduate program at a different university the following year. Lesley and I also moved in together, which was one of the reasons I finally sought treatment for my mental illness. I couldn't stand watching her get hurt by my impatience, intolerance and verbal cruelty during the bouts of spontaneous anger I suffered. There was no sense denying that something was wrong and I was tired of living with it. Something had to change. But I didn't talk much in therapy about my drug habit, because it didn't seem relevant. At least, that's what I fooled myself into believing, because I had made friends with someone at my new university who lived off a trust fund and spent most of his time smoking pot and playing video games. And he loved ice hockey games.

There was no sense denying that something was wrong and I was tired of living with it. Something had to change.

I skipped classes or spent them practically bouncing in my chair as I waited for class to be over so I could head to my friend's house, get high and play NHL 2000. Lesley would call incessantly to ask when I was coming home, and I'd delay to take that one last bong hit

and play one last game of hockey. Lesley and I also began playing EverQuest and massively multiplayer online games turned out to be the most dangerous combination of video games and pot I ever experienced. MMOs are addictive enough without getting any drugs involved, but I would smoke up, get myself into that space where I was high and divorced from the real world and then step into EverQuest's fantasy world of Norrath.

I finished the coursework towards my Masters Degree in two years but not the final project required to graduate from the program which I blew off because I was too busy getting high and playing video games. Things got worse when Grand Theft Auto III came out. The open world insanity of GTA III was a perfect match for the manic ebullience I felt when I was stoned, and never was the chaos of the game funnier than after a bong hit or 12. The trips to my friend's house became longer and longer and the tension with Lesley elevated to new heights of awful.

Star Wars Galaxies was my rock bottom. I'm glad I don't remember all the days I went into work late due to smoking pot and playing Galaxies all night, but I was a role-player in that game and was therefore much deeper into it than I'd ever been into

EverQuest. That meant I was even more into smoking while I played. I even allowed the delusions of grandeur that came from my manic highs to inspire me to try founding and running a guild.

Do you know that book about the lessons in management that can be learned by playing World of Warcraft? Imagine a start-up business under the guidance of Rick James as depicted on Chappelle's Show and you understand how my attempt at running a guild went while I was stoned out of my mind.

Getting Help and Getting Better at Games

It was around this time that I began tackling my drug addiction. The volume of pot I was smoking had long since passed ridiculous. Lesley and I almost didn't get married because she was on her last nerve dealing with my addiction and being ignored in favour of video games. I still hadn't finished my Masters Degree. And, the more time I spent in therapy dealing with my bipolar disorder, the more I realised why I was smoking and admitted the futility of trying to cope with my illness that way.

The more time I spent in therapy dealing with my bipolar disorder the more I realised why I was smoking and admitted the futility of trying to cope with my illness that way.

I also came to realise that smoking pot while I played video games actually made the experience worse.

Knights of the Old Republic was my other big Star Wars game in 2003. I was cutting down on smoking by the time the game came out in November. I had plenty of juxtaposition between playing while I was high and playing while I wasn't. Many times I would load up my game, see how I'd built my characters' skills since the last time I'd played or looked at which items my characters had equipped (and I usually sold any items I wasn't actively using). I would wonder what the hell I'd been doing the last time I played. It looked like, while I was high, I'd been experimenting with gear and builds that I'd never use while I was sober. And of course I'd been too stupid to think about saving the game *before* making those kinds of changes, so I was stuck with them.

The original Call of Duty released a month before and immediately eclipsed any other shooters I'd been playing. I couldn't help but take notice of how much easier the game was when I was sober than when I was stoned. Part of that had to do with cranking the difficulty up all the way — I might have been able to play the game successfully while I was high had the difficulty been set to Normal — but it was impossible to get through levels when my reaction times were slowed and my ability to think tactically was fucked.

Playing video games was an excuse to get high, as though I wasn't getting high just for its own sake, like getting high to play video games was healthier or something. The logic was idiotic, and so I finally addressed this aspect of my drug abuse. realising that pot was getting in the way of enjoying video games allowed me to break the connection between them. It's no coincidence that shortly afterwards I finally got my act together, finished my final project, and received my Masters Degree.

Playing video games was an excuse to get high.

Even as I understand and admit how badly I abused marijuana and video games I'd be lying if I said that I didn't sometimes miss getting high and gaming when I play Fallout 3 or Skyrim or some other game that presents a world I could lose myself in. It's been 10 years since I conquered this problem, but nostalgia for the idea that smoking enhanced my gaming will probably dog me for the rest of my life if I keep playing video games.

Games and Pot: A Unique Combo For Me

I'd been smoking over that 10 year period, Even if I hadn't been playing video games, because I was self-medicating, I would have smoked. But nothing got me more fired up to get high than playing games. I would smoke up before I went to the movies but I didn't go out of my way to go the movies like I made time for video games. I loved listening to music when I was stoned, but getting high before I played a CD wasn't a necessity. The interactivity of video games made all the difference in how pot altered the experience.

My story should not be taken as a blanket warning about playing video games on drugs, nor as an insinuation that anyone who plays video games while they're high is demonstrating addictive behaviour. But spend one night playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II or Halo 4 on Xbox Live and note how many user names include the number 420 or some other pot reference likely spelled out in leetspeak. We take the abundance of pot smokers among core video game players as something normal and somewhere between a joke and an annoyance.

By asking the questions ourselves before outsiders begin doing so we arm ourselves to do a better job of steering those conversations when they begin.

I worry that it's only a matter of time, I think, before the wrong person notices the connection between smoking pot and playing video games and decides to launch studies of their own. And they're going to find xXPuffy420Xx and KinBudKiller waiting for them online. The anti-video game crowd will fashion a noose out of whatever evidence they can by which to hang our industry, at which point the ease with which we can find a plethora of pot smokers playing video games online might not be so funny anymore.

Video games were in no way responsible for my drug habit but the relationship between my getting high and gaming is something I can't ignore, and by the same token I don't think any of us should ignore the reality that video games can be abused. By asking the questions ourselves — before outsiders begin doing so — we arm ourselves to do a better job of steering those conversations when they begin. I think my experience speaks to what I believe is the ultimate truth in regards to how video games affect human beings. They reflect what was already in the player when they sat down and put the controller in their hands, for better or worse.

You can't blame video games for behaviour. You have to blame the people playing them or better yet, rather than blaming them, try to understand them. This was my story.

If mental illness is affecting you or someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, Massachusetts, who has been published in a number of video game journalism outlets including Ars Technica, Gamasutra and The Escapist. He blogs at punchingsnakes.com and would love to hear your tales of video game debauchery on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.


    Nice article. I too have been guilty of smoking way too much in my life. These days though I rarely smoke. But when I do it's usually to jam with band mates or to play games. I see no issue continuing with this as long as it is controlled.

    It's the getting high for the sake of it which I avoid as its a slippery slope.

    That said I have a much higher appreciation for cannabis as a true medicine than I had before. And if you think of it as a medicine you're probably going to respect it more. The less you smoke the higher you get.....

    Yeah, maybe the title should be "I used to smoke pot until I discovered I was bipolar".

    I'd launch into a "I've been smoking for 20 years, yet I have a high paying job yada yada yada" spiel, but frankly I'm already dissapointed in myself for taking the bait.

      Yup, this. I thought it was going to be something more than one arseholes account of yet another thing he fucked up in his life.

      Last edited 28/02/13 9:40 am

    The exotic, erotic and slightly narcotic herb. A natural secretion of oils and complex proteins designed to stimulate the mind with minimal residual presence.

    Works well with video games, driving cars and operating heavy machinery.

    I think the first step is essentially realizing it's a means to an end. I used to be in a bad way, and this story resonates fairly strongly. Guitar Hero was my Achilles heel. A hazy room with good mates and music. Since then I learned to play acoustic and chord bash with the best of them.

    I smoke weed a lot while playing games. I find im drawn so much more into the atmosphere. Half Life 2, DmC, Far cry 3 in more recent times absolutely blew my mind while high. Battlefield 3 is such an unbelievable experience while high. Its something i dont think ill stop doing anytime soon. I guess pot affects people differently. In those 3 years of smoking i've had 2 promotions at my job and have moved out of home, so it hasnt really affected me in a negative way. Friends and family havent noticed a difference in my behaviour. Each to their own i guess.

    There are already studies showing a correlation and drug taking. I think a lot of the drug use amongst gamers come from their fringe status - same culture.

      I would have thought it was just demographic....young adults like drugs

      Correlation != causation.

        I don't think anyone has suggested it's causal.

          "Casual"and "causation" mean entirely different things.

    An ex co-worker used to be a very heavy smoker; everyday, sometimes 2 or more times a day for the 10yrs I knew him (he was smoking well before and after I lost contact with him). He did it to relax, chill out and play games. The drug affects everyone differently, my ex co-worker ended up in an institution suffering extreme side effects of the drug. In small doses there is not an issue but if you abuse the substance of choice there is always consequences.

    I would get high and team up with three guys from work for some WAW/BLOPS Zombies or MW2/3..... good times

    I used to take drugs. I still do, but I used to as well. -Mitch Hedburg

      "The New Jersey medical examiner's office reported 'multiple drug toxicity' in the form of cocaine and heroin as the official cause of death." Loved that guy. I still do, but used too as well.

    I don’t know how anyone can play single player games which have proper narrative and a difficulty level scaled to “normal person” while high.

    Party games, sports games, racing games…. Anything like that which can be played against opponents who are like-wise impaired is fine and fun (within reason obviously). Personally though I’d find something that requires as much awareness as a Metal Gear Solid almost impossible to make progress in while I was in that state.

    That said, each to his own and all that.

    I really resonated with this article. I went through a really bad stage of self-loathing after a really bad breakup. I was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I started to feel really, REALLY guilty, because I know that people with similar mental illnesses go through much, much worse, and the fact I got so emotional after a breakup was something I just didn't understand. I turned to drugs -- marijuana, cocaine, speed and alcohol -- and felt as though I was "winding down" and getting away from the issues.

    It made it much, much worse. Three years later and I am struggling with drugs and alcohol still, and I still have major emotional trauma related to the breakup. I wish I didn't. I am making slow progress, and games really help me get away from the world in a way drugs never really did.

    I am a successful person, a small business owner with great friends. But substance abuse can really hurt you long term, even if the initial satisfaction is so good.

    I admittedly never want to stop smoking weed -- I love doing it to chill out with friends, have a laugh, and have fun -- but it's when I do it by myself to get my mind off things that I start to head down a pretty steep slope of pain.

    Great read.

    I smoked for 12 years flat out, but am off it now. I miss the good old days of gaming marathons, a lot of the time now, I just couldn't be bothered, gaming sort of seems like a chore.
    I find my reaction times improve considerably when I am high, also when I am a little drunk.
    I think that it has to do with less thoughts going through your head, you think and do, there is no umming and ahhing.

    I always thought I smoked too much until I read this article. Now i'm going to smoke more.

    I smoke a lot while playing games, and can definitely relate to the whole "enjoying the minutae" part of it. While smoking and playing RPGs, I will stop to read every piece of lore, then spent ages pouring over my stats and plotting the best way to build my character. If I'm playing straight I will often skim over these things, or make quick stat decisions, etc. It's not that I dont enjoy gaming straight, it's just a little bit more enjoyable while smoking.

    Playing Bungie's Marathon games while stoned? I would of chucked and lost all sense of balance given how chaotic they were.

    Is it bad that I saw the title to this story and thought, shit I got to get high and read this....

    I have a friend who also would smoke to much weed and play Civ all night as well for years and recently He was diagnosed with depression but I wouldn't be surprised if He was bi-polar or manic-depressive in the old shrink-speak.

    I used to smoke a lot when I was younger but have "grown" out of it to a large degree.

    Drugs are bad,Mkay.

    Well to much drugs anyway, that's what to much means, to much of anything is bad for you,drugs,food,water,anything.

    Clicked because of Goldeneye health meter

    A very interesting drug. Personally havent touched it in years, and was only ever a once or twice a year guy. I know daily users who are a lot better at life than i am, but have known a couple who for them cannabis was a curse just as damaging as alcoholism.
    (I dont miss the drug, but i do miss those really cool looking bongs people would bring over. And they would always name them.)

      Does seem to be a mixed bag. Personally I don't know any regular users who have been positively affected by it, but I guess it happens.

        Probably has a lot to do with why they started in the first place. For those with underlying illness or looking to escape a harsh reality i imagine they become consumed by it. Its funny, my medications feel like a refined version of what i used to feel like on weed, though much more powerful and with less smell and feelings of hunger.

        Everytime you turn on your console, load up a program on your pc or even comment on a forum you are interacting with a positive effect of weed. In my company alone 5 out of the 8 coders smoked. The mouse was invented while under the influence, to name another positive effect. Stupid, degenerate, lazy, etc people would be the same with or without (insert drug of choice).

    I like to smoke weed and play NES games on my PC with an emulator and a logitech joypad.

    I used to smoke quite heavily, sometimes up to an ounce a day, for close to 3 years, but it didn't really have any negative side effects.

    Sure, if you go through my old Facebook inboxes, there is a LOT of inboxes between people and myself where it is obvious I was in a completely different dimension to them, and if you look at my old group of friends (all of whom are now heavy using junkies and shardheads) you could understand the concern my parents had, but looking back on it, I don't regret it. If it weren't for me smoking, I wouldn't have met my girlfriend, we wouldn't have our own house, we wouldn't have our 7 month old son, I wouldn't have a lot of things.
    I've stopped now, haven't had a puff in almost 2 years, but sometimes I feel like going out and buying a few grams and just having a sesh, but I wouldn't even know where to go in my town.

    Marijuana is an awesome plant, and I honestly believe it should be legal. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone were just a little high all the time.

      An ounce a day and you don't think it had ANY negative effects?

      For starters, it was all going into your lungs man. Don't kid yourself, you did a lot of damage.

        He was most likely speaking from a mental perspective.

        Well not really, there is no link between lung cancer and cannabis use, smoke is still bad for your lungs though. But this guy was clearly talking mentally.

          Bullshit. Inhaling burnt plant products is proven to be carcinogenic. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

          And if he doesn't think an ounce (a m'[email protected] OUNCE!) a day had any mental impact, then that shows just how much mental impact there was.

          I had my first joint at 13. Between 17 and 24 I smoked every single day. I now feel like I lost those years because all I did was get stoned and play games (instead of y'know, living life). I lost a lot of friendships and let all my hobbies slide. And of course when I quit, I found I was addicted and had to push through a withdrawal period. Even though it's not physically addictive, the habit was deeply engrained in me.

          And even at my peak, an ounce would last me from 6 weeks to 2 months. That was smoking 3-5 times every day, with about 3 cones at a time, in a big conepiece.

          So after breaking it down like that, I call BS on his story. An ounce a day is just a ridiculous amount and would make it impossible to function as a human being, seeing how you'd be stoned every second of every day. You wouldn't get out of the house!

            agree mate - an ounce a days is pretty much impossible for one person to smoke

            Okay then, you call bullshit, I will produce facts.


            Now, to your mental problem, so you think because YOU had a problem that this guy does? you seem to have a closed mind, this guy said it didn't affect him mentally but you are TELLING him that it did, how do you know it did? sometimes gluten affects people adversely but most people can eat it and are fine, why would this be any different? the vast majority of cannabis users do not have mental problems and if they do, marijuana is most likely not the cause, correlation != causation, there is no link that marijuana CAUSES mental issues.

            You had a mental addiction to it, what makes you think this guy did? he never gave the impression that it was hard for him to quit, I sit on the computer all day every day, but I can stop whenever I want, other people can't. It's the same thing, some people are easily addicted mentally, other people aren't. Plenty of people can be really stoned and still leave the house, this guy might have been a teenager or uni student that really didn't have much to do during the day, he did kind of imply that when he said about his parents.

            Anyway, you are talking too factually about something that affects a lot of people differently. Hopefully next time you don't rely on anecdotal stuff and you do research.. :)

            Last edited 28/02/13 5:59 pm

              I comment because I know what I'm talking about. That's it. I don't need to rely on a study for everything I say. Experience trumps research everytime.

              But y'know. Do what you like. I can't stop you. Make your own mistakes. Learn from them. That's life.

                Hahaha "experience trumps research" i hope you are trolling because that is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. You have no idea what you are talking about.

                Last edited 12/03/13 6:30 pm

                  Yes I do. But it's impossible to make a blind man see. So enjoy doing your thing. Good luck.

                you still have no idea, but im not going to continue after this. i feel sorry for you, i provided evidence you provided anecdotal bullshit that no scientist would accept.

                  Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realise only scientists who refer to news websites could post on computer game websites!

                  You cherry picked articles (from news websites) that all reference the same article, that hasn't been correlated by any other piece of research in almost 7 years. You then use a straw man argument against me.

                  You're talking to some who has a degree in mental health and almost 10 years experience in the health profession.

                  You seem to think that smoking a plant product is less dangerous than another plant product because you read about it. Whereas I fucking know. I know mate. You smoke cones every day for five years and start coughing black stuff up, and then tell me there's no link to cancer.

                  But you seem to think I have no idea. Sure. Okay. Like I said, impossible to make a blind man see. Keep smoking all the shit you like. Obviously the scientists (that you read about on news websites) have never made a mistake before, or misrepresented findings. Enjoy!

                  And the saying "experience trumps research" is very true. Who would you prefer working on your car. The mechanic with 20 years experience and a year 9 education, or the university lecturer who wrote the book on combustion engines yet has never held a tool in his life?

                  Now apply that to the medical profession. Who would you rather working on your body? The researcher who has never worked on a patient, or the nurse who has 20 years EMT experience?

                  So hope that helps you a little bit. Glad you're not going to carry it on, because frankly, you sound pretty young, inexperienced and stupid.

            So you only had 9 cones a day? That's not much man, that's a light habit. I used to have 10-12 cones in one sitting, more if I was with friends and we were messing around.
            3 cones was barely enough to give me a buzz. Do the math. I'm smoking 10 cones in a sitting. Let's say I smoke up 4-5 times a day. That's 50-60 cones a day, which is EASILY an ounce.

            Don't sit there and relay your own personal experience against mine. I was merely stating that I love weed for what it's done for me.

    Very cool read. I used to play Quake 3 exclusively while stoned. Did this for at least 2 years. Always used to LAN up with mates for weekends. We'd always have a sesh between every round lol. Also played SWG stoned a few times, but preferred to play that straight for some reason. Used to love laxing back in my lazy boy & put it right up to the TV while playing cool boarders on playstation. Sneaking out back first for a pipe or two, late at night, was the best. Was going to go to sleep but f it I'm going to go have a toke now :D

    I played games all night, like u described, while sober. Q2 tf to be exact. Except I passed uni and am now a coder who earns $$$ that said a few years back I started to smoke on weekends mostly. I can't smoke and code, I can hardly type to be honest, but I can think lately to solve a problem my sober mind couldn't..., I could probably play games but I gave up that crutch when I started working. I grew out if it.like I did my refill phase. I nowlike to have various different interests that interact and intersect with my life at once-like listening to music while trimming my aquatic garden while smoking bowls. That way you don't begin to derive value from any one activity (sounds like you have an addictive personality). That said my way of dealing with a bad breakup was honest self reflection, and then confidence rebuilding by sleeping with all her closest friends.

    Ps. The bolding quotes take away from the fact that your unaddressed gaming addiction is the real cause of your spiral to homelessness. Your drug abuse was a result of wanting to recreate those highs you got while gamingas a child, which was a happier time in your life, before your breakup.

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