This post was inspired by a post by the Culture Monk, which you can find here. I started typing a comment and it became long enough that I figured it was better as its own post. I know some people who have been addicted to games, and I’ve been there myself.
First off though, I’d like to say that I don’t think video games are inherently bad, or deserve the stigma they’ve been given, so I’ll be playing devil’s advocate with myself through much of the post.
Video games can be great at getting kids to learn problem solving, feeling immersed and involved in a story, help them become more creative and curious, and even helping with hand-eye coordination. Some of the best stories I know come from video games (and I say that as an avid reader). Some of the worst stories I know also came from video games. It’s a medium, and like anything else has its good writers and bad writers, pros and cons. As I said I’ve been there myself (*cough Fallout 3 cough*).
But I know where this is coming from, and I think video game addiction is a real thing. If you get sucked into a world you really like, it can be hard to leave. For some, almost physically painful. And it can get so bad that it impacts other areas of your life. This has also happened to me with books – I used to hide them behind textbooks during class and they’d get confiscated, or bring them with to family reunions and get yelled at for being unsocial, or hold them up to read by street lamps when my parents drove us somewhere at night (I blame books for my bad eyesight, by the way, not video games).
I think the cries of “one more level!” are not so different from “one more chapter!”
As with anything, the key is in moderation.
My belief is that what contributes to video game addiction more than anything is the sense of achievement gained from playing. I think the reason video game players have a worse reputation in regards to addiction is because that sense of accomplishment is something you can’t really get from a book or a movie. You can gain accolades and awards through a video game long after you “beat” the story. In many games, it feels like there is always something new to discover and a new trophy to win. And it feels like you’ve accomplished a feat of some kind, and in a way you have.
But, the thing is, no matter how difficult and time-staking the “achievement,”it’s generally easier than “achieving” something in real life. There are no game guides for life – at least none that are certain and specific to you and your goals, i.e. if I do ______ then ______ will happen (I’m aware of some of the effort to game-ify life, I’ll talk about it in the next post).
If you’re stuck in Skyrim you can easily search and find the answer you need, even if that answer is “harvest 10,000 pieces of corn and then drop them off a mountain one by one.” Easy? No. Quick? No. But do you have a defined course of action? Yes. Not so when you’re trying to find a career you enjoy or even just file a FAFSA application or do taxes on your own. Every website, adult, or resource tells you something different, and you may try different things and fail at all of them.
You end up feeling like you’re drowning in mud.
It’s really hard to achieve something in real life. It’s really hard to work at something and not know if anything will ever come of it. I’m personally struggling with that right now trying to write and sell my writing. I’m still at a big ol’
0. It feels awful. It would be so much easier to just pick up that controller…to just check Facebook one more time…
As an example, I don’t play Minecraft, but I’ve seen the things people make in that game and they’re glorious. I can’t help but think…it would have been even cooler if they had made it out of cardboard, and they would have learned some practical skills too. That said, I believe in Minecraft you have to cultivate the materials you would need in real life, so I wouldn’t say it’s worth nothing. You learn how long it takes to grow and ready materials for building something, and then how long it takes to actually make something. Those are valuable lessons.
It becomes a problem, though, when they are the only lessons you’re taking in. Moderation is the key, and self-discipline is a much-needed skill. It’s something I wish I was better at. I still struggle with it, and it’s part of the reason this blog comes in sprints. I’m trying to change that; I’m always trying to change that. There is no easy way to do it, and I wish it had been drilled into me more when I was young.
It’s the equivalent of “grinding” in a video game. You don’t see the fruits of your labor for a long time, and unlike video games, you don’t have a handy number of XP you can watch slowly build up. Without that sense of progress it can feel very demoralizing. But even if you can’t feel yourself growing and gaining skills, if you’re out there trying new things and finishing them, it’s happening. You’re leveling up.*
Briefly I wanted to address one anti-video game argument I see all the time that drives me crazy: that video games are too violent and corrupt kids’ minds. I think it’s a supremely silly argument so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. In short, there are ratings for games for a reason – but no one seems to pay attention to them. I don’t get it. If you think your kid is too young for a movie rated “R,” why on earth would you buy them a game rated “M?” If you think they’re too young for “PG-13,” why are you letting them play games rated “T?”
Anyway, if there’s one thing I would like both parents and kids affected by video game addiction to take away from this post, it would be that it’s not a 0% or 100% thing. It is not good versus evil. There is a balance to be found here. Parents, you don’t have to ban your kids from all use of video games ever. And kids (even 20-something kids), it can’t be the only thing you do. Even if your goal is to become a video game designer, how creative or varied are your games going to be if you don’t experience other aspects of life? Those things are what will make your video games unique to you, and something only you can make.
What can you do to fight video game addiction, or help encourage those you love to fight it? Well this post grew a little long on its own, so I’ll try and cover that in a separate post. In the meantime, if you have any ideas or responses feel free to comment!
* I write that just as much for myself to remember.
P.S. If you want to read a short poem I wrote about computer addiction, click here. If you want to see a list of my favorite games, look here, or if you want to read about horrible video game art, click here.