Video games: addictive, or just fun?

Jake Hughes
June 22, 2018 - 1:12 pm

(Image Courtesy of Dreamstime)

Anyone remember Jack Thompson? Some of you younger bucks probably won’t, but my fellow OG’s, that is Original Gamers, will. He was the one who, along with Hilary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, led the charge in the late 90’s-early 00’s campaign against video games. They claimed games made you violent, caused psychological damage, increased heart rate, irregular bowel movements, and a partridge in a pear tree. They also claimed they were addictive. Thankfully, we’ve grown past that…or at least I thought we had.

The BBC recently posted in a story that the WHO doctors (not Doctor Who’s) are placing “Gaming Disorder” in their 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) publication. And it’s not just them. Several countries have listed gaming addiction as a public health risk. Hell, there are private clinics in the UK specifically to treat gaming addiction! The WHO describes it as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior so severe that it takes "precedence over other life interests." Symptoms include impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration), increased priority given to gaming, continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.

Excuse me while I give my highly scientific, well-thought out response:

Bullsh*t.

Okay, okay. Let’s take a step back here. According to the website Psychology Today, "addiction" is “a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”

Basically, you are addicted if you do something bad for you so much that it interferes with daily life. The most common addictions are substance based, i.e. nicotine, alcohol, and hard drugs. But certain activities can also be addictive, mostly ones that stimulate the reward centers of your brain, like gambling.

So, let’s look at the first question: are video games bad for you? This has been the commonly accepted knowledge for years. Playing games causes a predilection to anti-social behavior, obesity, and violence. Thankfully, old wives tales don’t stand up to hard science.

According to Doctor Peter Gray in an article again from Psychology Today, gaming can help improve basic visual processes, attention and vigilance, and even “executive function,” that is a person’s ability to allot his or her mental resources in ways that allow for rapid, efficient problem solving or decision-making.

It makes sense when you think about it. To use an example from one of my favorite games, Dark Souls 3, there’s a boss fight where you have to track movements of three separate enemies, all while managing your health, stamina, and timing of attacks. Sports games require you to manage an entire team, and first-person shooters like Call of Duty make you dance between enemies, manage ammo, communicate with teammates, and coordinate flanking and attacks.

So, video games can have positive outcomes. What other “addictive” things can say that? Smoking a cigarette ain’t gonna improve your lung capacity.

However, the definition of addiction also claims you are an addict if you do something to the detriment of your social or professional life. I would reply to that by saying any activity could meet that definition. How many people do you know work like there’s no tomorrow and have no social life? Or what about people that go out all night clubbing and are crap the next day at work? Literally anything can be done to the point of personal/professional detriment. Tell me this, how many of you carry your phone everywhere, to the point of freaking out if you forget it? Are you “addicted” to your phone? What about so-called “couch potatoes?” Are they “addicted” to TV?

And it’s not just the UK. In America, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) lists internet gaming disorder is listed as a "condition for further study" in 2013 list. In Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games. Hell, in South Korea, there’s a law being put through that bans gamers under the age of 16 from playing games from midnight to 0600! That’s something that I would expect out of communist China. Matter of fact, China does limit the hours children can play games!

The arguments being put forth are laughable, too. One mother in the UK is worried for her kids because they play 20 hours of games a week. Seriously?! I’ve played games for 20 hours a day, and I would hardly call myself an “addict.” Oh, but you say, “Jake, you do it almost all day!” Yeah, on days off work, and extremely rarely. I think the last true gaming marathon I binged on was about three years ago. And you know what else I do all the time? Listen to music. As I write this, I’m listening to some Iron Maiden. Am I also “addicted” to metal?

Point blank, by the definitions they are throwing out there, anything could be classified as “addictive.“ In my humble opinion, singling out games like this reeks of the old biases. It’s old fuddy-duddy parents who worry their kids are going to be fat losers because they don’t play sports in high school like they did. They still see video games as a threat to the household, or something to be scared of.

Times change, man. In an increasingly digital world, more and more of our time is spent in front of a screen. It doesn’t mean your kids are addicts or introverts. Gaming is a healthy hobby that can have benefits beyond just the game. Now, yeah, you can do it too much, but the same goes for pretty much anything. Moderation is key in most places in life. So, load up on Mountain Dew and Doritos, and have yourself that 15 hour gaming marathon. You’re not an addict. You’re just awesome.

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