The Dangers Of Video Games

The Dangers Of Simulating Life Instead Of Living It.

 

I believe that an obsession with video games can often be extremely detrimental to young men.  I also believe that these negative effects, as well as the number of young men affected by them, is only going to continue to increase as computer and gaming technology advances.  Although this topic has been covered extensively by many, and from many angles, it was one I still felt interested in exploring.

Video Games Growing Up

Let me first begin with the disclosure of stating that I am not a gamer, nor have I ever been a gamer.  I have never been that into video games, and I am not at all into the culture of “gaming”.  Despite having grown up during the end of the “golden age of arcade games”, and the dawn of the “console and PC game revolution”, video games were never really a huge part of my life, and were most certainly never an obsession of mine.  I therefore write these thoughts as an outsider looking in at the modern “gamer culture” and obsession.

Now I am not going to sit here and pretend that as a kid I did not enjoy video games.  Hell, I can still vividly remember the excitement I felt as a 1st grader in 1987, anxiously waiting to play the NES system for the first time after getting home from school.  My brother and I having successfully annoyed our parents to the point of insanity to which they finally relented and bought one for us.  We were not spoiled kids growing up by any means, so it made the victory that much more hard fought for us, and all the more sweeter.

So yes, as a kid I played video games.  I played NES games, Sega Genesis games, and even enjoyed the old fashioned arcade games in the old fashioned arcades, but video games never became an obsession to me as a child.  My father never allowed them to become an obsession growing up, because he severely limited the amount of time my brother and I were actually allowed to play video games.  He might have let us play for an hour or so before he would then force us to go outside to play.  And for that, I am thankful.

The Sega Genesis was the last game console that I ever owned as a kid or a teen. Even as I got older, and PC games were becoming more popular, I never really got into them all that much.  Sure, I played Wolfenstein3D and Doom occasionally during middle school, but I never became obsessed with gaming.  Throughout high school, I never even owned an N64 or Playstation, and I never got into the whole “Goldeneye” craze at the time.

At most, the only video games I ever got even remotely “into” back then were some PC strategy games like Civilization or Sim City, or the occasional flight simulator.  Video games to me are, and have always been, a temporary diversion and time killer, nothing more.  Today, I may still play the occasional video game from time-to-time, but it is honestly only something that I do if I am extremely bored, or have some time to kill when there is nothing else productive to do.  It is also something that I get extremely bored with very quickly.

Living In The Virtual World

The problem and dangers that I see with modern gaming, when it becomes more than just a temporary diversion, is that it is an extremely unhealthy form of escapism.  I am also viewing this specifically through the lens of the affect which this has on young men.  As modern video games become more detailed, realistic, customizable, immersive, and interactive—a trend which will only continue as the technology continues to advance—the temptation for some to live completely vicariously through video games only increases.

Back in the day, it was not really a concern that some gamers would completely internalize the game, and “become” Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog.  Yet now, as games allow for much more customization, personalization, immersion, and detail over the characters, obsessed gamers are literally “becoming” their avatars, and living vicariously through them.  This is especially true in the sense of “role playing” type games, or games with RPG elements, as well as online gaming in general.

Players become obsessed with building up their characters, gaining XP, ranking or leveling up, gaining new customizations and features, and competing as their avatars against others online.  Some games, like GTA V and Warcraft, essentially allow a player to live in a complete online world, going through day-to-day routines, interacting with people, buying property, and completing missions to gain achievements.  Although RPG type games have existed for decades in board and card form, the level of interaction, customization, immersion, and detail in modern video gaming takes this fantasy and escapism to a whole new level.  And it shows no sign of stopping.

The Dangers Of Gaming

The obvious danger in this trend for those who are obsessed, is that the more time spent living in their avatar driven fantasy world, the less time spent living in reality.  The average age of a gamer today is about 30, which is way too old to be living in a fantasy world of one’s own imagination.  A child will normally outgrow playing in imaginary worlds with their toys and legos by the end of elementary school, but when these imaginary worlds are replaced with highly realistic virtual ones, they become harder to escape for those kids who have grow up in them.

Children are still developing their neural pathways, and studies have shown that over exposure to realistic virtual worlds and violence can have a desensitizing effect on them, and can skew their perceptions of reality.  This danger alone could be the subject of a long and detailed paper, but it is not even my main point.  (I am also not blaming video games for what you may think I am, so don’t misunderstand me, I am merely stating that there is a correlation…but that is a topic to be expanded on at a later date)

Playing video games—to include advancing or beating a game, leveling up a character, or competing online—can also become a compulsive or addictive behavior.  Several medical studies have found similarities between the physiological and psychological affects of compulsive or addicted video game playing and those of compulsive or addicted gambling.  There have also been countless examples and stories in the news about addicted gamers who have skipped class, work, meals, bathing, and various other social interactions, to stay awake for hours on end playing a video game in a caffeine fueled binge.

There are many common theories about the underlying causes of these video game addictions, to include:  pre-existing mental health conditions, a triggering of the brains pleasure and reward neurotransmitters and pathways (similar to gambling or drug addiction), and also that the games are fulfilling some unmet psychological need.  These theories can also apply all of the common goals of gaming—advancing or beating a game, leveling up or developing a character, or competing online—and therefore can explain various different types of gaming compulsion or addiction.

Yet of the two dangers I have already listed—desensitization and addiction—neither one of them is my main concern when it comes to the harmful affects of video game obsession.  My point again is simple, the more time spent in an avatar driven fantasy world, the less time spent in reality.

The time a boy spends living in a video game, could be better spent outside playing and socializing.  Aside from the obvious point of helping to curb childhood obesity, the time a boy spends playing outside is time spent doing something real.  It creates real adventures, mischief, memories, and social interactions, and helps to create well-adjusted young men.

As they grow older, these young men could better spend their time building and improving themselves, instead of their virtual avatars.  They can build their bodies with weight lifting, sports, and exercise, and can build their minds by reading, writing, conversing, and acquiring knowledge.  They can focus on learning new skills, pursuing new hobbies, pursuing art and music, building and creating things, and socializing in the real world.  Anything which contributes to real self-improvement and confidence is far better than building, customizing, and improving a virtual character, or increasing ones proficiency in a game.

So Why The Escapism

So then the question becomes, why the escapism.  Why is there a growing number of young men retreating into the comfort of the virtual world, rather than improving themselves in the real one.  Of the three medical theories I listed above, the one that fits the closest with my own personal theory is that these young men are filling an unmet psychological need.  Yet the question of “why” still remains.  Why is there the need for virtual escapism to fill this need.

I think perhaps the first major reason is that in today’s overly feminized and wimpified modern world, young men are rapidly losing outlets for the healthy expression of masculinity.  Men have been marginalized, and healthy masculinity as a whole has been demonized and branded by the left and feminists as “toxic”.  Normal childhood behaviors in young boys—fighting, aggression, hyperactivity—has become criminalized and pathologized, and treated with discipline, expulsion, and drugs.  Healthy male female relationships have also been destroyed by leftism and feminism, and male female gender roles have all but been practically obliterated, thereby further marginalizing men in today’s society.  What few outlets do remain today for the healthy expression of masculinity—sports, boy scouts, the military, etc—are rapidly becoming feminized or demonized as well.

This then leaves young men today with fewer and fewer outlets for the healthy expression of masculinity, or without guidance in how to actually become real men.  The current culturally accepted idea of masculinity is a far cry from what true masculinity really is and what it should be, and I think even the most culturally indoctrinated young man knows this deep down.  Therefore, because outward expressions and outlets for healthy masculinity are few and far between today, young men are increasingly looking towards “simulated masculinity”—i.e. porn and video games.  These simulated and virtual outlets for masculinity then allow young men to fulfill the innate masculine needs—to fight, to defend, to build, to create, to explore, to conquer, to have sex—that are embedded deep within their DNA, when few accepted real world outlets exist.

I think the second bare bones answer is equally quite simple.  It is just easier.  Yes, good old fashioned laziness is the simplest answer.  Since there are fewer and fewer healthy outlets left for masculinity today, many modern men have just begun to accept the fact that it is far easier and less stressful to fulfill these psychological needs in the confines of a virtual world than it is in reality.

To achieve these needs in an ever diminishing reality requires real work, time, blood, sweat, and tears, with the potential for real failures and setbacks along the way.  While to achieve them virtually—even if they are not actually real—requires none of that, and there is even the option to reset along the way if things don’t go as planned.  It comes down to simple instant gratification—achieving the psychological and physiological response reward for accomplishment—without having to actually put in any real work or effort.

Real self-improvement, both body and mind, is a life-long tedious process, fraught with actual effort on one’s own part.  Virtual achievement is easy.  Mastering a real hobby, skill, art, craft, or musical instrument, takes hours of practice and years of dedication.  Mastering a video game takes far far less.  Mastering a sport or martial art takes hours of training and years of practice.  Playing the video game version takes none.  Achieving real self-confidence and pride based on real accomplishments and personal development is difficult.  Living vicariously through a fictional or created virtual “badass” character is easy.  Standing bloodied in the arena of real competition is difficult, and requires real skill, effort, and character, all with the possibility of the burden of losing.  Competing online in a game requires none of that.  Becoming an actual warrior, soldier, or special forces operator requires immeasurable hardships, discipline, and effort, with a very real potential for failure, injury, or death.  Playing “Call of Duty” requires none of that.

Conclusion

So then the real reason for the escapism becomes quite clear.  It is far easier to virtually “achieve” these masculine psychological needs, while sitting on the couch eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew, than it is to actually go forth and try to achieve them for real.  Instead of bragging about how powerful their virtual avatar is, and how many “newbs” they have “pwnt”, these gamers could become powerful men in real life—men of strength, confidence, accomplishment, and knowledge—but of course that requires real time, effort, and pain along the way.  In reality, they are just too lazy to put forth the effort.

What good is it having a strong superhero badass Navy SEAL virtual avatar, when you are a weak pathetic socially awkward 30-something man-child living in your mother’s basement.  Masculinity dies when young men would rather pursue simulated masculine skills, traits, and accomplishments—like those of heroes, warriors, soldiers, hunters, or athletes—as opposed to pursuing them in the real world.

Revised 7-18-15

© 2014 by AB Frank, All Rights Reserved

Read More:  The Lost Art Of Conversation

 

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