An Analytical Discussion of the Industry, Culture, Progress and Nature of Video Games.

June 9, 2006

"Jonesin' for a Plasma Beam"

I woke up this morning and looked toward my television cabinet.
It was calling me.
It was saying, “You know you want to play Metroid. You know you need to find that next missile expansion. And you only need 5% more items for the special ending. You could knock that out in an hour. C’mon, fire it up.”
“You sinful temptress! No!”
“But you just got the Annihilator Beam. Don’t you wanna know what that puppy can do?”
So I sat and played for an hour. I didn’t eat breakfast. I don’t even think I put in my contacts. I just sat down and played. Why? Could it be that I’m addicted?

Addiction is not a new malevolence attributed to playing video games. It’s as old as concerns as to the level of violence in games and their affect on mental and emotional development. But it has been in the news recently with the opening of the first European clinic for video game players. The addiction consultants say that children brought into the center display many of the characteristics of addicted gamblers: They play to “escape reality.” Planned activities at the center include swimming, basketball, and socializing with the outside world. I even saw a quote someplace where a counselor was encouraging addicted gamers to throw a party (but not this kind of party).
How did the kids get like this? Well, this article shows how it might start. In it, a concerned mother laments the day an Xbox was brought into her perfect, suburban home. Where there were once obedient (read: subservient), well-behaved (read: Ritalined-to-hell) children, there are now backtalking sass-masters. The mom describes how the children mope around the house and long for the weekend, when Xbox is permitted. Sick of her children complaining, she chucks the Xbox and peace and order is restored to the household. Were these children addicted? Perhaps, but it wasn’t to the Xbox.

Looking at other stories of addiction from around the globe (well, mainly Korea), we see that escaping reality and looking for the next video game fix is cross-cultural. Men waste away in internet cafes, eating a Cup-o-Ramen a day for a week, sometimes relieving themselves in their chair.
This addiction is real.
But I suggest that the addiction isn’t to video games, but to freedom, reward, and improved self-esteem. Sadly, some people, and many children, find it easier to gain these feelings through leisure than through participating in life.

In researching Native perceptions of hockey in Canada, I found an article by Peter Collings, a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. In it, Collings suggests that hockey – and leisure in general – can provide underserved youth in Native communities with self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. For many, this accomplishment through hockey participation will not be seen in their adult lives. If they move to the city for employment, they will generally be faced with marginalization. Some slip into addictive behaviors, such alcoholism and drug addiction. Why? “To escape.” Or “To forget my troubles.”
So why are men in Korea and China becoming addicted to video games? Could it have something to do with the alienation that can take place during rapid economic development? Marginalized and unable to find a footing, is it any wonder that some escape to a world where moving their index finger can bring fortune and glory?
And what of our towheaded children in suburbia? They wouldn’t be the first children to escape overbearing, unable-to-be-pleased parents in a world where every level ends with, “Great job” or every kickspin is met with, “Awesome combo!” Mom, you’re just lucky those kids haven’t found your stash of vodka.

Need more proof? My game-playing spikes when I’m stressed out. Thesis-writing = morning Metroid doses.
Afraid of someone you know and love becoming addicted to video games? Don’t blame the video games – blame their crappy life; they’re getting affirmation the only place they can. Addictive video game playing is a symptom of a much larger problem. Improve that, and the addictive behavior will fall into moderation.
Collings, Peter
1996 Blood on the Ice: Status, Self-esteem, and Ritual Injury Among Inuit Hockey Players. Human Organization 55(3): 253-262.

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