You — the hero — are on a quest to reach the top floor of the peacock-shaped castle named Robarts. Your inventory is full. In your adventurer’s sack, you find your magical grimoire containing your life’s work — your MacBook with lecture notes — and your gift from the God of Song — your trusty headphones. You are ready to slay the demon king — the 3,000-word essay — that is terrorizing your world and preventing you from watching anime and going out with friends. 

The old, wise man with a grey beard drops you off on St. George Street from his iron chariot — your Uber. As you wander through the concrete streets filled with non-player characters (NPCs), you are stopped in your tracks. Chance encounter! A wild pack of U of T zombie students appears. 

You escape but only after being bitten and inflicted with a status ailment: League of Legends addiction. As you reach the cobblestone corners of Robarts, you can’t help but go online and waste hours playing video games. A warning message pops up: “You are slowly transforming into a video game zombie.”

This narrative isn’t some Dungeons & Dragons hook: it’s a common U of T student’s experience with online gaming. In routine life at U of T, students are consuming more and more video games and indulging in excessive online gaming. Particularly, I find this gaming culture that has infiltrated classrooms concerning. This phenomenon has had a zombie-like effect on students. In my view, excessive online gaming has plunged U of T students into a toxic cycle of procrastination and apathy where they ignore school work and other priorities. 

This zombification is clear in U of T’s physical and virtual spaces. 

Physically, if you head over to Sidney Smith Commons, Robarts Library, or any campus space, video games have taken over. It’s likely you’ll see students clicking away at League of Legends, Team Fight Tactics, Genshin Impact, and more. Online gaming, in my view, has also crept inside the classroom. From my experience, if you go to the back of a lecture hall and take a glance at students’ laptop screens, you’ll probably notice a nightmarish sight: half the class is playing online chess and trying to raise their rating points.

Virtually, U of T gaming Discord communities — online spaces to connect and organize gaming sessions — have been growing. For example, I’ve witnessed the University of Toronto Smash Ultimate Club Discord recently experience a revival and teem with activity.

At the baseline, video games are healthy in balanced doses. They have a mixed bag of benefits and uses: a destresser after a long day of lectures and work, a practical tool for creativity and brain stimulation, a way to connect with other like-minded people, and more. Chiefly, online gaming is bona fide fun — a form of entertainment that perfectly blends storytelling, strategy, competition, and social interaction. The online relationships and lifelong friendships formed through gaming communities are invaluable. 

Excessive online gaming, however, is dangerous and unhealthy. I contend that U of T’s student body — filled with young, malleable minds — is at risk of zombification. As students consume more video games, they develop a common list of symptoms: anxiety, brain fog, lethargy, lack of motivation, and procrastination. Put differently, they reach a state of constant procrastination and being tired all the time. The “just one more game” mentality turns into a five-hour gaming session and an energy and motivation drainer.

There’s science behind this video game zombification. I’m worried that I may be seeing some U of T students beginning to show signs of internet gaming disorder (IGD). Characterized as an addiction and mental disorder, IGD is recognized and inked in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the American Psychiatric Association’s medical bible for mental health professionals. Among other symptoms, an IGD diagnosis means a person possesses a gaming preoccupation, continuously increases their time spent video gaming, and harms their work and education because of video games. 

There are two likely causes behind excessive gaming: the extremely stimulating nature of online games and the release of dopamine associated with gaming. Neurological research shows similar changes in the brain when comparing the effects of online gaming to addictive substances. IGD leads to anxiety, insomnia, depression, irritability, and the endangerment of academic or work functions. In other words, excessive online gaming leads to zombification — a crisis I see currently taking over U of T students.

It may be easy to scoff at online gaming and label it negligible and inconsequential to students — as just a simple, childish pastime. But when you walk into your lecture hall and witness the dystopian scene of endless screens; when you walk around campus and see U of T’s video game zombies like it’s an episode of The Walking Dead; when you watch friends slowly fall into a cycle of procrastination and apathy; when you start seething with a quiet rage as you lose another League of Legends game, and you end up listening to the clicks and clacks of your mouse and keyboard until rays of sun flood through your window — at that point, you will realize the dangers and toxicity of excessive online gaming.

Every U of T student is the main character in their Pokémon RPG (role-playing game) or Baldur’s Gate campaign. In any student’s quest to reach the Robarts Castle or slay that 3,000-word demon king essay, they don’t deserve to be zombified. Life between lectures shouldn’t be defined by excessive online gaming, procrastination, and apathy — it should be a healthy, moderated space where students can safely and soundly be the main characters of their own U of T RPGs.

James Jiang is a fourth-year political science specialist student at Trinity College. He is the Life Between Lectures columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.