My Thoughts on Video Game Addiction

For a limited time, Hulu offered free viewings of the mmo documentary “Second Skin.”  In the film, the lives of several people who play mmo’s (massive multiplayer online games) are put on display and documented.  The range of folks include a guy who actually checks himself into a woman’s home for people with addictions, a couple about to have a baby, another couple about to be married and living with a couple of other guys, and a couple that met online and decided to move in together. 

While I’d like to say the film gave an accurate portrayal of the average “gamer,” I have to actually side with a poor choice of diversity in the selection of folks they decided to document.  In truth, the folks that are involved in day-to-day play of these games, as well as your average video game console player, are a much more eclectic group of people.  From celebrities to government officials that have “come out of the closet” about their gaming habits, it is a much larger group than the stereotypical middle-to-lower class individual that has social issues and weight problems.

The image of an average gamer aside, the film actually had me wondering just where the line between gaming and addiction lay.  If you play more than 2 days a week, or more than 1 hour a day.  If you play the same game consistently and nothing else.  What if you play for more than 10 hours total a week?  Are you addicted to video games in any or all of these cases?  And, just how far does the game have to pull you away from your family, friends and obligations before you have a serious problem?

If you are married, have kids, a stable full time job and visit with your friends regularly, you are considered normal, for the most part.  Someone that can divide their time up among their social obligations is a healthy person with many connections in the world that will both satisfy their emotional and physical needs for contact and acknowledgement.

In the gaming world, the same thing can occur.  But if you give this the same credit and importance as “real world” interactions, are you addicted to said game?  Many online video games support clans and groups or guilds.  These are a, usually, tight-knit group of friends – and in some cases even family – that rely on each other to reach a goal, gather input on an issue and just have a decent conversation about something you both enjoy.  But, since it is a digital divide between face to face contact, are you getting the same benefits as if you could reach out and shake their hand?  And, more importantly, are you relying on this type of communication to replace the need to go out and gather in public places?  If so, does that make you anti-social?  Are you putting your gaming life above a normal life?  Does that make you a video game addict?

The married person with children.  They support that family in one way or another.  Either as a wage earner or home maker (perhaps both.)  If they are so busy playing a game that they decide the laundry will have to wait, or dinner will have to be 30 minutes later, are they addicted to their game?  Will it hurt their family to eat 30 minutes later, or for the laundry to wait another day?  How long does one have to procrastinate on work before the game becomes a larger problem? 

I don’t take this lightly, as it is a serious issue folks have gone as far as to air their laundry on Ophra and Dr. Phil about.  I understand that if your child or spouse is being ignored or neglected, then there is a bigger problem than video games at work.  I don’t believe video games can take the sole responsibility for that.  In fact, the video game is an outlet, in my opinion, for the real issue facing the person.  It’s their escape from some larger issue that the person is afraid or unwilling to face head on.  But is it classifiable as an addiction simply because said person is not mature enough to face the real issue? 

Maybe I’m biased on the whole subject, as I play video games.  I enjoy my Xbox 360 and I play the popular mmo “World of War craft.”  But am I addicted?  I suppose I should subject myself to the same questions, since I wanted to write about the issue. 

I am married and have a five year-old son.  The majority of our families live in the same town and we see them regularly.  I’m a tad bit anti-social, have anxiety in large public gatherings and would really rather just stay home most of the time than get out.  This isn’t because of video games, it’s because that’s how I am.  While I am home, however, I do play video games.  Odd how that works, eh?  My wife is the complete opposite.  She’s keeping the roads hot, house hopping, shopping and being a social butterfly.  Despite the fact that she knows I do not like getting out very much, she will occasionally blame it on me wanting to “stay home and play that game.”  Truth is, I don’t even play the game that much when she isn’t here.  I do log in and do a quest or two, but usually I’m listening to music, podcasts, surfing the web or watching television/a movie.  The two main games I’ve focused the majority of my gaming time on are “Fallout 3,” and “World of War craft.”

But because I have invested so much time into the same video game over such an extended period of time … am I addicted to it?  Because I’ve been playing “WoW” for about 3 years now, am I a crack headed fool?  I suppose it depends on who you ask.  If you ask me, I’d say no.  Ask my wife, she’d probably tell you that I’m a lot better now than I use to be.  Was I close to being addicted?  I don’t know, but in the beginning I did play a lot!  And, as I pointed out to my wife, it was just a game.  It wasn’t like I was drinking or going out with friends to a bar or club or some other potential trouble spot.  Or maybe that was just my way of rationalizing my play time.

Now, I play mostly when I get home from work.  About 35-40 minutes a night before bedtime.  My wife is usually in bed or has fallen asleep watching television in the living room.  My son has been in bed for several hours.  It’s “me” time.  My way of relaxing and unwinding from the days events of work and life.  I still say it is my own personal way of staying out of trouble.  Without gaming as my “escape” for that little bit of time each day, I’d fine trouble somewhere, be it at the bottom of a bottle, in a puff of something illegal or maybe even hanging around the wrong people.  I will, say, though, that if I was unmarried and had no kids, I’d more than likely be addicted.  Having the social issues I do, I’d probably never leave the house except for work and would spend the rest of my days sleeping and gaming. 

So what about all the other people out there?  Many government related people and some companies and misinformed parents have come out crying foul on video games in general.  Many of them do not know half of what they are talking about – or maybe that’s just me being biased again.  The most well now opponent of the gaming industry is Jack Thompson.  Thompson focused his more recent hatred toward the violence in video games, trying to ban violent video games, proclaiming them as “murder simulators.”  You can read more about him by following the Wiki link on his name.

In larger steps, the People’s Republic of China introduced an online gaming restriction in 2005, limiting playing time to 3 hours, after which the player would be kicked off whatever game they were playing.  The rules have been relaxed a bit since ‘05, but they still maintain a level of concern. 

Not to be outdone, as early as 2008, FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate went as far as saying that online gaming addiction was “one of the top reasons for college drop-outs.”  Conveniently, she failed to mention her source or reveal the actual position of said statement in relation to other reasons for drop-outs.

While I’m not exactly sure about it leading to dropping out of school, video games can get the best of the weak-minded and cause the media to go all out on the industry.  Gaming related deaths from exhaustion have been reported numerous times, as well as suicide notes blaming video games or even written by the person as if they were “in character.” 

A 13 year-old boy in Vietnam was arrested in 2007 after murdering and robbing an 81 year-old woman.  The boy was quoted as saying, “…he needed money to play online games and decided to kill and rob …”  He netted a grand total of $6.20 from the lady.  In the U.S., the same year, in Ohio, Daniel Petrick shot his parents (killing his mother) after they took away his copy of Halo 3.  He was sentenced to 23 years to life.  Tyrone Spellman, a 27 year old in Philadelphia, was convicted of third-degree murder for killing his 17-month-old daughter in rage over a broken Xbox.  Five blows to the head, cracking her skull several times … 

I won’t even defend people like this …  But really, a video game is as likely to make someone kill as owning a gun is likely to make you go out and shoot someone.  It isn’t the gun, it’s the person pulling the trigger that has the issues.  It isn’t the video game making you strangle someone, beat your toddler over the head or shoot your classmates.  It’s the person doing the actions, playing the game.  They have serious issues that would manifest themselves in one way or another …  They just happen to play video games and it triggers something in them.  It would happen sooner or later, video game or not.

Video game addiction is real, I won’t deny that.  So is drug and alcohol addiction.  Is it as serious?  Sure, it can be.  Does it make you kill and rob and commit suicide?  In my opinion, it may trigger it in someone that already has those issues in mind, but a video game isn’t going to take an average gamer and make them go out and start shooting police and robbing hookers.  The persons mental state at the time has more to do with that then a video game. 

Will video games make you ignore reality?  Again, in my unprofessional opinion, sure.  But not by themselves.  If you have larger issues at work or refuse to cope with a problem that is larger than yourself, then video games are going to offer an escape, and to someone that doesn’t have the full picture of what is going on, it will look like the game is the cause of the problems you are facing.  It may be contributing to it, by helping you “escape,” but it isn’t the games fault.  Want to know why?  Because the game has a power button.  You can press it at any time and come back to it.  Nothing will have changed, no matter if you’re gone for an hour or a month, that world will be right there, unchanged, waiting.  It’s not an excuse, it’s entertainment. 

So, yeah, there you go.  I’ve rambled on and mixed up my thoughts and written a whole mess of nonsense, but I got it off my mind and I can relax now.  I don’t blame video games for my faults and failures, but I’m also mature enough to realize I shouldn’t go out and shoot, kill, maim, etc other individuals.  I also hate hearing other people blame games for their problems.  Same with rap music, violent movies, etc.  It’s way passed time for us, as adults, to grow up and face our problems, not shove them off on the nearest, easiest scapegoat. 

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