By Latonya Pennington
Hyperfixation aka “hyperfocus” to some psychologists is when you’re so intensely focused on something that you tune out everything else for hours at a time. Although this term is commonly applied to people with autism or ADHD, people with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can also hyperfixate. It is also important to note that hyperfixation is not the same thing as an extreme like of something.
The first time I can recall hyperfixating is when I was in elementary or middle school. My mom had gone out for the evening and I was completely engrossed in some sort of game on the computer. Although I was raised to eat at specific times, I was hyperfixating so much on the game that I didn’t want to eat when the time came. I may or may not have been hungry, but I could think of nothing but playing on the computer. As a result, I ended up throwing my dinner away in the trash and returning to the computer after only eating a few bites. Later, my mom found out and I got a really bad scolding.
Since Black people like myself are often overlooked when it comes to being neurodivergent, there are many people who either don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood or can’t get one at all.
Despite having at least one or two more similar incidents, I was never diagnosed with ADHD or autism because I didn’t know about either of these conditions until adulthood. Moreover, it is very hard to access a diagnosis as an adult. Since Black people like myself are often overlooked when it comes to being neurodivergent, there are many people who either don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood or can’t get one at all.
As of this writing, I still haven’t received a diagnosis. I only managed to learn about neurodivergence in 2019 because I happened to read a book with a white autistic protagonist, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. After an online friend of a family member suggested that I might be autistic, I took some self assessment tests and diagnosed myself as neurodivergent.
Although I have symptoms of neurodivergence, depression, and anxiety, internalized ableism left me unable to notice that I was hyperfixating and that it sometimes had a negative impact on me. Not only did I not think my self-diagnosis wasn’t valid, but I also didn’t think my neurodivergence could negatively impact me. It wasn’t until I had an incident similar to the one I had as a kid that I started to realize that I had a problem.
One day, I was playing a video game for hours and getting frustrated at what appeared to be a losing streak. Then, I happened to look up at the clock and saw that I’d forgotten to eat lunch. I realized that I was angry not only because I was losing, but also because I was really hungry. Due to hyperfixation, I didn’t pay attention to the time or the fact that my body craved food.
Not only did hyperfixation make me hangry during the day, but it also teamed up with my anxiety at night. If I played video games until bedtime when I was feeling stressed, then my body would wake me up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and sweat. At some point, the racing thoughts would lead to the game I had been playing and how to progress in it.
From that moment on, I decided to take control of my hyperfixation by using the following methods.
While staying over at my sister’s house, she had a rule that you couldn’t use the tv after 9pm. This rule was in place to save money on electricity and to prevent people from staying up late.
Her rule also reminded me of how some health professionals stressed the importance of limiting screen time before bed since devices that emit blue light are bad for your eyes and make you more alert than you shouldn’t be.
Partially inspired by that rule, I set an alarm on my cell phone called “No More Gaming” so that I would stop gaming an hour before bedtime. With the alarm on, it would go off and get my attention so that I could save my game and go do something else that didn’t require screen time.
Since save points are already there for saving your place in a game, I decided to use save points as signposts to let me know when to take a break. Playing until you reach a save point is best when you know you need to eat soon or when you have something more important to do.
Even if a game doesn’t have specific points where you can save, you can also use other things as a sign to save and put down the game. Since I mostly play Japanese role playing games, my characters often have to rest at inns to restore their HP. When this happens, I always save and consider putting down the game for a bit.
If I played video games until bedtime when I was feeling stressed, then my body would wake me up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and sweat.
Schedule Time For Hyperfixation
Even with the above implemented, there are still some games that you will lose yourself in. If that is the case, play those games on the weekend or on days when you don’t have many obligations.
To use a personal example, I can spend hours mapping dungeons in Etrian Odyssey II Untold, to the point where I will play in the morning and look up to find it is afternoon. As a result, I only play this game on my days off and play other games during the week.
If you can learn to manage it, hyperfixation doesn’t have to ruin your enjoyment of video games or have consequences that affect your physical or mental health. These tips can help you have a healthier relationship with video games.
Latonya Pennington (they/them) is a Black Asian neurodivergent freelance pop culture critic. Their gaming related writing can also be found on Fanbyte, Into The Spine, and Unwinnable. Find them on Twitter at @TonyaWithAPen.