Video Games: The Perfect EscapePosted on November 10th, 2005 2 comments
(This is part of a roundtable discussion on video games and addiction hosted by Corvus’ Man Bytes Blog. Other entries in the discussion are found at the end of this article.)
DamnedMachines.com, one of my favorite video game blogs, linked to a video on Google’s Video archive where some kid (we’ll call him “Assass3n” to protect his identity) began berating his (far-too-lenient) mother after she insisted that he stop playing and go to bed. Almost immediately, the thought that went through my head was, “If this were my kid, I’d slap him right in the mouth.” Corporal punishment seems like the answer to everything, especially if, like me, you don’t have kids yet.
I encourage you to go watch the video. (Be warned, there is some foul language.) It will simultaneously anger and entertain you. It also illustrates a classic behavior. Well, when that behavior is enabled and coddled by a parent. I also suspect that this is a single mother, as if I was the kid in this situation, my dad would’ve walked in, yanged all the cables from their respective sockets, and that would be that. Bedtime for all.
It is behavior like this that is often cited to show that video games are as addictive as hard drugs. “See, that kid is totally out of control. Only someone who is seriously addicted loses control like that!”
I’ve wanted to write an article about Video Games and addiction since I first started this blog. It is a topic that has always been at the forefront of my mind, and I’ll get into that in just a moment.
First, let’s establish exactly what addiction is. A quick search of Dictionary.com brings up several entries, and there seems to be some variation as to whether addiction is physiological, psychological, or both. The word addiction comes from Roman law, where addiction was a formal court-mandated process of surrendering property (be it land, or people, or what have you) to another master. Addiction, in Rome, was the legal justification for slavery.
So, according to Dictionary.com we could say that addiction is “Habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control.” It is literally being surrendered to the control of something besides one’s self, in a very real, slave-type manner.
There is no question that harmful drugs, such as heroin, create a state of addiction in the user. There are specific physiological and psychological signs of this addiction. It is interesting to note, that the signs of addiction vary according to what kind of drug is creating the dependence. And when we say dependence, here, we’re talking about actual, real dependence, where one’s body does not function normally without the substance to which one is addicted. When the substance (or activity, in the case of our discussion of video games, here) is removed, the addicted person is willing to do ANYTHING to obtain more of that substance.
One doesn’t need to look far for examples of out-of-hand video game playing. Everquest Widows is a group of people who have witnessed the destruction of their families because of their spouses’ uncontrollable need to play Everquest (or other MMORPG’s) for 80+ hours a week, losing jobs, ignoring loved ones, even ignoring their own basic needs for food and water.
There have also been a handful of cases overseas where people died playing video games because they didn’t eat or go to the bathroom.
It’s no wonder, then, that the media is starting to notice.
It should be noted, that this kind of behavior is not enough to prove that video games are inherently addictive. Is there a physiological dependence? After a LOT of searching, the best can come up with is that a study was done that showed video game playing produces endorphins. For those who don’t know, endorphins are the chemical transmitters for what we feel as “pleasure”. When opiates are taken, they bind to the same receptors that endorphins bind to. So, you can think of endorphins as a naturally occurring opiate in the brain. It should also be noted that activities such as running long distances have exactly the same effect. Ever heard someone say they got their “second wind”? That second wind is the brain producing endorphins, which has a side-effect of reducing pain and creating feelings of well-being.
Obviously, anything that produces pleasurable feelings can have a psychologically addictive quality, but certainly not in the same way as heroin or nicotine.
But a psychological addiction can be just as devastating as a physiological addiction. Just ask the Everquest Widows. Is there anything inherently dangerous or subversive about video games that make them somehow more addictive? I hypothesize that this is not the case.
I’m going to get a little personal, now. I’ve been to therapy a number of times in my life. Sometimes as a single person, sometimes as a married couple. On one occaision in particular, my mother (whom I love and is always looking out for my best interests) contacted the therapist and informed him that he should talk to me about video games. My mother saw video games as a key ingredient in making my first marriage a nightmarish ordeal.
The therapist was very experienced and very thoughtful. He asked me about video games and about any tendancies I have to fantasize or daydream. The advice he gave me was that video games are a powerful means of ESCAPE. They allow you to put aside the real world and any feelings of sadness that may come with it. I learned that video games were an outlet for me to get away from my problems and from that time onward, I realized that I need to live my life in such a way that I don’t have any reason to find an escape.
I am now married, again. Very happily, I might add, to someone who accepts me as I am, does not try to change me, and gives me an appropriate amount time for myself ,as I am somewhat introverted and need “alone time” every now and then. I am also an active contributor in my church, and seek for ways in which I can contribute to others around me. And I still play video games. Are they an escape? Perhaps. After working all day, it’s nice to sit down and vegetate for a little bit. However, I do not see it interfering with my personal life, because of the priorities that I have.
Many people also see fiction books as an escape, and they are. There are many ways that people choose to escape. Especially children, when they play “make-believe”. These kinds of “escapist” activities are fundamental to being a human. It allows one to explore other possibilities, use one’s imagination, and arrive at new ideas about life because of it. Video games are another medium to do that. Yes, some video games are better than others for this purpose. Every medium since the invention of paper has had its Half-Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto. Movies have Serenity and Flightplan.
My point is that an appropriate amount of escape is normal, and beneficial . . . in moderation, of course. To anyone who is responsible for creating another Everquest widow, I say the following: If you feel like you are addicted to video games, take a step back and ask yourself, “What am I trying to escape from?” Is your family life a shambles? Take a break, fix the things in your life that are broken. Find a therapist, if you need to. Look for ways you can make changes, and then commit to them. Once your life is in order, the time you spend on video games will be much more fulfilling, because you won’t be playing video games to escape from your trials, you will be playing them because they are fun.
And to those who say that any escape is bad… there is a special name for those who are always worried about escape.
Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for links to all entries
Thanks for sharing this – I really appreciate people willing to write about their personal experiences in this way. Congratulations for sorting your life out – it is my opinion that our cultures do not sufficiently praise this achievement (which is not inconsiderable!)
Sorting out one’s life is the greatest challenge there is. I mean ‘greatest’ in all senses of the word, so well done you!