Monday, October 8, 2007

Gaming: It's Mental Candy That Rots Lives

When I was in fifth grade, I remember being envious of the little girl down the street who had a Nintendo. I would fervently try to be her friend in hopes of being invited over so that I could try-out her games. I didn't get to play often, and my brother and sisters and I spent most of the afternoons playing four-square or hide-and-seek.

About a year later, my father bought us an 8-bit Sega. I have many memories of playing Hang On and Astro Warrior. We played from the moment we woke-up until it was bedtime. Deep-down I knew that it wasn't healthy to spend so much time playing and I always felt a little remorse when the sun set and I realized I hadn't been outside all day.

During adolescence I played less and less, but if ever I had a homework assignment I was avoiding or a paper I didn't want to write, there was always some sort of video game to distract me. I was able to submerge the guilt of many failing grades by simply immersing myself in some sort of game.

In college I discovered online gaming and my husband and I admittedly played side-by-side in virtual worlds. I knew it had to stop after our first child was born, and although I was able to quit without too many relapses, it was years later before our house was completely game free.

This history explains why we now maintain our home as a game-free zone.

Although we do have a computer, we do not have a gaming console in our house, and even though the children have asked for gameboys, they have been told that we don't ever want them in our house.

Recent news reveals the various dangers of gaming when taken to an extreme. Just last week a 10-year-old boy killed himself by jumping out of his 19th floor apartment window because his parents grounded him from playing computer games, another 10-year-old killed a 3-year-old after mimicking a violent game he played excessively. Not to exclude adults who play too much, this summer two babies in Nevada almost starved to death due to lack of care while their parents both obsessively played a computer game.

I am sure that these stories are not as rare as one might think. It makes you wonder why the American Medical Association recently rejected a proposal to recognize video game addiction as a psychiatric condition.

When our children ask "Why can't we play video games?" I explain to them that they are a waste of time and there are better things to spend time on. But my husband usually adds that video games are "too fun" which is really the most dangerous thing about them.

The pure fun of playing these games creates a pleasurable disconnect with reality that makes any pain or discomfort felt in the real world irrelevant, just like alcohol or narcotics. Thankfully people are figuring this out for themselves despite an official addition designation. There are countless websites that offer support for gamers and family members. Hopefully, our society is not far from a general awareness that might someday save a life in more ways than one.

Helpful Links:, Amsterdam clinic with a gaming addiction program., for partners of gaming addicts., On-line Gamers Anonymous forum., includes online tests for Internet and gaming addiction., Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery.