We’ve all heard the stories. A guy dies after spending 12 hours a day playing Call of Duty. Pulmonary Embolism.
Or how about the 13-year-old kid who jumped off a building after writing a suicide note from the POV of his WoW character?
The media loves these kinds of stories. You see, video games are currently going through something that most forms of popular media get to go through: Fear mongering by people who don’t understand it. Comic books had to go through it. Role Playing Games got to go through it. Video games, welcome to the fold. You get to go through all the growing pains that the other forms of entertainment had to go through.
Video games, however, aren’t EXACTLY the problem.
The American Psychiatric Association has thus far not included Video game addiction on its list of disorders. There’s simply not enough conclusive proof. You see, video games do not actually alter any brain chemistry. Your body doesn’t physically long for gaming.
However, video games are designed to be compulsive. They are made to reward you for doing well while playing. Ever been playing Skyrim, glanced at the clock, saw that it was 3 a.m. and thought that you would do just one more dungeon before bed? Before long, you notice that you’ve been playing for hours, and the sun is starting to rise. That “just one more” thinking is what video games are designed to do.
Since the beginning, video games have been built to offer rewards. In Pong, if you hit the ball with the paddle your score goes up by one. In Pac-Man, if you get the Power Pellet, you get to eat ghosts. In Super Mario Bros., the more coins you collect, the more lives you get in order to continue playing. In World of Warcraft, that next monster could be holding a sweet drop, or maybe you’re one bar away from leveling up. On Xbox Live, if you play the games in different ways, you get arbitrary achievement points.
Play. Get rewarded. Play more. Get rewarded. This is why games are compelling. And, for some people, they are much more rewarding than reality. See, in reality, if you work hard, sometimes you still fail. In video games, if you work hard, they are designed so that you won’t fail. A perfect balance of hard work + risk = reward.
Sometimes, people get tired of failing in life, so they stop taking risks. Reality stops mattering so much, and they find that they are getting all the reward they need in video games. Sometimes, it can get extreme. Hygiene falls by the wayside, they stop answering their phone, and they play until they pass out from exhaustion.
I’m still not willing to say that this is addiction. I think this is a manifestation of fear. It is a withdrawing into oneself to block out everything else. To do what is comfortable out of fear of failure to the detriment of everything else.
Let me end with this admonishment. Moderation.
Aristotle famously wrote, “Moderation in all things.”
Studies suggest that moderate video game playing will actually IMPROVE a child’s development and academic performance. But if your kids are playing video games (or doing any one thing) for massive chunks of time, it’s time to step in and do something about it. Be a good parent. Take interest in what your kids are doing. If video games are taking over your kids’ lives, do something about it.
Adults, know your limits. Don’t let other important things fall by the wayside. Be responsible. Have fun.
And game on.