Video Game Culture: A Harmless Addiction?BARBARA NICOLOSI
"I keep thinking she's going to come to a point where she's had enough." A friend and I were staring fixedly at her eleven year old daughter, Rachel who was in her eighth consecutive hour of playing Pokemon©.
the onset of summer vacation, Rachel had won the right to play Pokemon© as long
as she wanted, all day, every day. My friend was sure that, given unlimited playing
privileges, her daughter would eventually grow tired of the game and walk away
from it as a waste of time. But three weeks into the summer, my friend was starting
to doubt both her theory and her daughter. By the end of the first month, she
finally intervened and unplugged her daughter from Pokemon©.
no business judging little Rachel. I have my own addiction to a treacherous little
video diversion called Ceasar©. Someone sent me the game a year or so ago, and
if I did not have to tear myself away regularly to earn money for food and rent,
I could see myself building animated aqua ducts and conquering virtual barbarians
round the clock for ever.
The video game industry is to today's young
people what television was to kids twenty-five years ago. Electronic games account
for 30% of the US toy market, earning $8.8 billion in sales. This figure is $3
billion more than the annual Hollywood box-office gross and ten times the amount
spent on the production of children's television. A recent study found that video
games are part of the daily routine for 65% of American children, and 85% of American
boys. Teens in the survey estimated that their families had spent approximately
$2800 on computer and video game hardware, and about $450 on video game software.
It's time to seriously look at the impact of virtual challenges on the human person
and perhaps make the hard choice to unplug ourselves and our kids.
the tragic school shootings hit the fan, we've heard a lot about the dangers of
violent video games. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) has summed up the feelings of
many adults in noting that games like Mortal Kombat© and Doom© are "digital poison"
and play a significant part in America's "culture of violence." Another study
found that 85% of teenagers themselves acknowledged that violent video games have
negative effects on some kids.
While no one has proven a causal connection
between the habit of virtually smashing skulls with the habit of actually hurting
real people, a recent book should give parents pause. Retired Lt. Col. David Grossman
spent over twenty-five years in the military studying how to transform new recruits
into men who could kill. In his book, On Killing, Grossman relates that
killing is not a natural behavior for human beings. Grossman explains that the
psychological conditioning techniques used to train soldiers out of their natural
resistance to killing, are the very same techniques used in today's violent video
games. Soldiers are taught to "war game" to desensitize them into thinking about
killing more in terms of strategy and challenges and less in terms of the actual
loss of an irreplaceable human life.
Grossman notes, "Children don't naturally
kill; they learn it from violence in the home, and most pervasively from violence
as entertainment in television, movies, and interactive video games."
But what about the non-violent video games, or the ones where the "violence" is
in cudgeling plump purple dinosaurs as in Pokemon©? What are the social ramifications
of virtual play as opposed to video play?
Psychologists actually have
coined the term "Stimulus Addiction" for people with the habit of action-oriented
video games. A recent study by a team of British scientists found that video game
playing dramatically increased dopamine levels in the brain at rates roughly equivalent
to the increase caused by the illegal amphetamine "speed" or by a prescription
dose of the children's anti-hyperactivity drug, Ritalin.
My own experience
of playing Caesar© certainly feels like an addiction. I find myself planning game
strategy while driving or during boring meetings. I sit down for a few minutes
of playing and then feel buckets of self-loathing when I realize three or four
hours have slipped by. I make the decision at least once a day to throw the stupid
CD-Rom into the trash, but I can never actually bring myself to do it. I find
myself heatedly defending the merits of my game to anyone who dares imply that
it is a waste of time.
I've heard other people refer to their video
game habits as a "harmless addiction." Is there really any such thing? My own
experience is that while I'm playing my game, I am thoroughly caught up in it.
But afterward, I always wish I hadn't wasted my time. Recreation should leave
us more connected to others, or more in touch with ourselves, or more informed,
or more fit, or more profound, or more well-rounded, or closer to God. Leisure
time is the basis of culture. It is the time for creativity, in which we can break
out of the rote of the workaday world, and explore the vast possibilities of our
Video games produce nothing, except frustration, as a player
enters the same cycle of building up achievements only to be dashed by a dastardly
digital opponent programmed to come out on top every time. Video games teach nothing.
Or at least nothing that applies to the broader world as in "real" experience.
So my hours of playing Caesar© have provided me with all the information necessary
to subdue roving bands of barbarians, as well as hints for allocating enough plebian
laborers to keep my vineyards and amphitheaters up and running. Real practical
stuff. Video games are challenges without rewards, adventures without experience.
We have no way of guessing what the long term effect on children will be
of hours spent manipulating Mario as opposed to negotiating with a team of friends
on the soccer field. We do know that success in a virtual world learn is dependant
upon players immersing themselves in the video game's rule-driven reality without
ever questioning the rules. This may be the most problematic quality of video
game culture. As we head more and more into a world of electronic automation and
information overload, we want citizens who are more inclined to question, and
Nicolosi. "Video Game Culture: A Harmless Addiction?" Liguorian (August
This article reprinted with permission from Liguorian, One Liguori
Drive, Liguori, MO 63057.
Liguorian is a general interest Catholic magazine
written and edited for Catholics of all ages. Its purpose is to help readers better
understand the gospel and Church teaching and to show how these teachings apply
to life and the problems confronting them as members of families, the Church,
teaches screenwriting to aspiring Catholic writers at the acclaimed Act
One: Writing for Hollywood. You may email her at Actone2000@aol.com.
Copyright © 2002 Liguorian