Video games have been much loved and admired over the last few decades, from Nintendo Entertainment Systems and Super Mario, to SONY PlayStation 3 and God of War. The gaming industry is as big as ever following the advancements in technology on offer today, and with MLG (Major League Gaming) Sports Company growing massively since it was formed in 2002, it could make the hobby of gaming even bigger. Over the last few years, tournaments have been broadcast on live television with running commentary over what is essentially two gamers tapping a few buttons into a computer.
Finally, the geeks who hated physical education and sports day finally have something that suits them, but what I want to discuss in this article is addiction to video games, why and how: is it a bad vice and should you throw out your consoles, or is it just down to the individual and your own self-discipline?
It is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time now due to my own personal experiences. It was also inspired by a news story here in the U.K. earlier this month, concerning 20-year-old Chris Staniforth, who died from DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) after excessive 12 hour game binges.
The worrying thing I found about that news story, other than the tragedy of it all, is that I’ve been there before getting an unhealthy amount of gaming hours in without considering the consequences. If it wasn’t for some drastic changes I made in my life, I’d be deeply concerned for my health by now.
It’s also not a new concern. Check-out this rather antiquated BBC video from 1990:
As a young kid I owned a NES, SNES, Game Gears and Boys, a PlayStation, but I was never really addicted to playing any of them. Maybe it’s because this was still a time when kids played football or played outside for most of the time; they enjoyed being active. It wasn’t until I had the PlayStation 2 and eventually a laptop that my video game addiction became a problem, with two main vice’s being FIFA and Championship Manager.
12 hour gaming binges were common, social life was depleted and over the last several years it has been a personal battle between video gaming fantasy or facing the challenges of a productive reality.
This intrigued me to know what the psychology behind playing video games is all about. Without getting too scientific and technical, a video game provides you with artificial rewards and achievements which results in changes to the dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for rewards and pleasure.
In real life, if you create something, build something, get a job or a promotion, lose weight, win at a sport or even get laid, it gives you that great level of achievement and satisfaction. Clocking the latest version of Call of Duty may seem like a worthy cause but in reality you’re just tapping learned commands into a computer whilst real life passes you by.
I took drastic action in 2010, when I bought a PlayStation 3 in March and had sold it by August, because of the negative effects it was having in my life. Of course I enjoyed gaming throughout that time but it is a short-term gain. Playing FIFA 10 and COD: World at War online or offline with friends was thrilling, and conquering games like GTA4, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Uncharted was immensely enjoyable.
Even more worrying, was the fact that I went from a complete Call of Duty novice to a sniper head-shot veteran in such a short space of time, and I am not a very good gamer, so it shows you how much effort I must’ve put into these games.
Since selling my consoles and “Retiring” as a gamer, I’ve created a few blogs on Football, physically play the sport every week and even coach it on occasion. All of these productive things wouldn’t have been possible if I still owned a PlayStation 3 (or an XBOX 360, Wii, take your pick).
Writing is a profession and career I want to be successful in and video games provided a platform for procrastination away from any goals and ambitions I had. Maybe this is just down to the individual and it all comes down to your own personal discipline and boundaries. Me personally, I tried on many occasions just playing it for an hour or two a day focusing on better priorities, but I was compelled and overwhelmed to play longer.
Why is it so addictive? Well, I can’t imagine Sonic or Mario being as addictive as what modern games on the PS3 and XBOX provide. Games are so much more advanced, adding a realistic simulation experience, plus there’s no more tedious starting again once you lose all your lives. Save game functions leave you not having to hit the reset button, whilst added functions like online gaming provide you with a community, it’s not just you and your mates.
I don’t blame gamers. In these times of recession, unemployment and financial austerity, why not find enjoyment through an XBOX or a PS3? It’s escapism from this bleak world and society that the majority of us can see but choose to ignore.
The outside world is a cruel mistress, since people realise that they’re not “going to make it” or win the lottery any time soon. Whether you’re fed up of unemployment or fed up of being employed in a job you don’t want to do, and hate with a passion, escaping in a video game world is just all too welcoming.
Fans of the sci-fi show Caprica will recall the advanced technology that was available in this otherworldly society. The “Holoband” (left) allowed people to enter a virtual reality where they could be or do anything they wanted. Whilst it is fascinating to think of such technology existing in our future, I think it could create a population of zombies more focused on their virtual life than their real one.
Video games are becoming the pinnacle of escapism and entertainment. Use them in moderation but don’t let it define your life. If you’re unhappy and think you’re playing too much, then take a long break, focus on what you really want to do in this world and at least have a go at it. Achieving in the real world is so much more rewarding than anything a video game can offer.