Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.
–Lotos Eaters, Tennyson
Note to my readers: I am putting on my opinionated sassy pants for this article. It’s definitely too well researched and lengthy to be considered a post. I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone, but several people have asked me lately about gaming and how I’ve kept my family voluntarily from it, and I wanted to give them a really good, long, opinionated sassy pants answer!
We don’t do video games. We don’t even do Starfall.
We have a 16 year old son and he is okay without them. In fact, he doesn’t want them in our home, and he doesn’t want to play them on the internet.
I know a lot of people might think this is an extreme way to live, and that is okay. I think I would have to agree. We are extreme weirdos.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, though. I have always thought technology is amazing, and I used to be the first to say, “Wow! That looks so REAL. That’s so neat that they can do that.”
But as I have studied and watched people around me, I have decided that the application of technology in the gaming industry is not “neat.” And, I know it’s hard to believe, but we have a full and happy life not knowing what “Angry Birds” is. It’s not that we don’t like having fun–we do. (Why is it that I feel like I need to convince people that we have fun every time I drop the bomb that we are a non-gaming family?)
We aren’t on a crusade to make everyone stop having fun in life, either. We also understand that some families have a blast together doing game nights with video games. We have friends who do that. We love them and don’t feel any sense of animosity or hostility toward them.
Finally, we are not judging anyone who plays video games. We just don’t want to and we have our reasons.
I actually think that there are many moms of gaming families who secretly wish they could get rid of them (the video games, not their families). But, it’s just too hard, and the argument that if they only play a little each day/week/month is too hard to fight against, so they endure it. I think it’s especially hard for them on beautiful sunny days when their mother heart says that the kids should spend more time outside, but they are in front of the screen. Or they go outside only on the assurance that after a certain amount of time, they can come in and play the game.
I think they endure it, too, because deep down the mothers know if they take the game away, they will have crying, whining, irritable children constantly asking when they can play again. I think some mothers, deep down, are scared to admit that they are afraid of what will happen if they take the game away from their children and husbands.
No amount of fun could induce me to put myself in that position.
If you are someone who would like to remove video gaming from their family’s lifestyle, here is a short overview of why and how we did it. I say “why” because that is actually part of the first step in “how.” The first thing you must do to get gaming out of your family lifestyle is this:
1. Arm yourself with good reasons why you are purging it out of your life. (See the next nine points)
You will need these reasons when your family is complaining and crying and arguing when they go through gaming withdrawal. Not only to remind them, but to remind yourself and keep your resolve.
2. Understand that video gaming is addictive.
One problem we face is that video gaming addiction is not recognized by the DSM-IV as a true addiction. But, pornography addiction isn’t, either. Numerous studies have proven that pornography addiction is real.
Since the decision made by the AMA and the APA denying the existence of video game addiction, numerous studies are now showing the opposite. From one:
Parents and teachers often comment that “kids become absolutely wired” when absorbed in video games. Now, there’s a scientific study which confirms that observation. In a study conducted at the Cyclotron Unit of Hammersmith Hospital in London, Dr. Paul Grasby and his fellow researchers determined that playing video games triggers the release of dopamine in the brain.
The researchers discovered that dopamine production in the brain doubles during video game play.
The increase of the psychoactive chemical was roughly the same as when a person is injected with amphetamines or the attention-deficit disorder drug, Ritalin. This is the first hard evidence that video game playing is addictive, “the equivalent of a dose of speed.”
An August 2010 article reports that showing video game addicts pictures of video games results in the same brain activity as someone who has an addiction to drugs.
Most people snicker and laugh at me when I start talking about video gaming addiction. They want to believe that I am the mom who is overreacting. Maybe I am. But, The New York Post reports that Adam Lanza saw his victims as characters in a shooting video game and he wanted to better his score. In South Korea, the worldwide capital for video gaming, there have been 12 deaths attributed to extended video game playing–sometimes for as long as 50 straight hours. Those aren’t the worst of it, however. The following are some reports of deaths related directly to gaming:
There are many more, but I won’t link to them here–they are often heartbreaking, and often children are the perpetrators of these crimes. Even more sad, there are parents who are killing their children over video games, as well. When a problem starts appearing all over the world, regardless of environment, culture or economic status, we should take note.
The tenor that most concerned parents and professionals take is that, for a small minority of people with “addictive personalities” video gaming could be addictive. That gives everyone enough loopholes to think it doesn’t apply to them, and keeps the gaming companies out of hot water. In my experience, video gamers all play compulsively, it’s just a matter of how much.
The other argument people use is that anything can be addictive to some people. Really? Is scripture reading addictive? Serving others? Anything that is a commandment of God?
3. Educate yourself about the Skinner model and shaping.
The vast majority of video games use the same pattern or template, whether it’s a Kinectimals, Wii Fit, Mario, Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. It’s a pattern known as “shaping,” and it is based on a psychological experiment by B.F. Skinner.
B.F. Skinner did an experiment with rats showing that a rat will push a lever for food pellets at a much higher rate if the pellets are distributed randomly. From a gaming article:
If you want to make him press the lever as fast as possible, how would you do it? Not by giving him a pellet with every press–he’ll soon relax, knowing the pellets are there when he needs them. No, the best way is to set up the machine so that it drops the pellets at random intervals of lever pressing. He’ll soon start pumping that thing as fast as he can. Experiments prove it.
They call these “Variable Ratio Rewards” in Skinner land and this is the reason many enemies “drop” valuable items totally at random in WoW. This is addictive in exactly the same way a slot machine is addictive. You can’t quit now because the very next one could be a winner. Or the next. Or the next.
Using the “Skinner Box” for game design is talked about in depth in an article written by a game developer at Microsoft, who also happens to have a doctorate in behavioral and brain science. Do you wonder why, if games are just supposed to be fun, why Microsoft hires PhDs in behavioral and brain science to develop games?
4. Understand the game developers and their motivation to make games. It’s not just so you can have fun or be fit.
If you think that the corporate millionaires at Wii developed the Wii Fit games because they care about you getting in shape, think again. That was just a hook.
What parent would say that exercising is bad? What parent doesn’t want their children (and themselves) to find a fun way to stay fit?
No, the gaming companies want that game console in your home. And, lest you think that the only “shaping” going on is toning your body, you would be sadly mistaken. Yes, even the Wii Fit has hidden rewards and challenges built into the game play, based on the Skinner model. Dance Dance Revolution and other games also have hidden ways to unlock songs.
Why do Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo want to target mom and dad? The answer is simple. They, like McDonald’s before them, want a lifetime consumer. They understand the addictive nature of these games, and they want children playing as young as three years old. (There are actually games developed and marketed toward the three year old age bracket.)
They are tricking you.
In my research, I discovered that Kinectimals, a “fun” game geared toward the 2 and up age bracket, has a way to unlock vehicles and a character from the intense, violent, and sometimes pornographic Halo. What a great way to introduce three year olds to the world of Halo without parents even knowing it.
The experts tell us that massive multiplayer online role playing games are the most addictive, but that nice little games like Wii Sports and Playstation’s Sorcery aren’t nearly as bad. As long as you set up rules, time limits, and other boundaries, the games should be “safe” to play, say all the experts. Unfortunately, that is simply untrue.
With the recent introduction of high level motion sensor technology, gaming has taken on a whole new face. The Playstation Move and X-Box Kinect are far more advanced than the Wii sensor technology. The graphics on some of these games are staggering. The object of motion sensor technology in gaming? Total immersion. From an interview with Playstation’s Sorcery game developers:
What are the benefits of using PS Move in Sorcery?
In short: immersion. After a very brief amount of time, it becomes very easy to lose yourself in the Sorcery experience and forget you’re playing a game. You feel like you’re casting spells and exploring a magical world….the motion controller involves the player on a new level that other motion controllers can’t accomplish. You quickly forget about making sure that you’re using the controller in the right way and you just play. The combination of freedom and accuracy of movement provided by PlayStation Move is unmatched right now, and it translates into on-screen fidelity that makes the world seem that much more alive.
This complete immersion is frightening. Ryan Van Cleave, a university professor and former video game addict, shares a frightening story about video game immersion. While the professor was checking out at the grocery store one day, he heard a noise behind him that sounded just like a video game battle scenario. Without thinking, he turned around and reacted as he would have in the game. He reached behind him to throw “magic dust “to the enemy, not realizing that it was a child who had knocked over a tomato sauce display. What if he had been carrying a real weapon?
That was from a PC keyboard game. What will happen when people are actually performing the moves with their bodies? Take a look at Playstation Move’s preview for the game (caution: violent) The Fight: Lights Out (which I saw in a Toys ‘R Us not too long ago, fully in view of toddlers and five year olds). Note particularly the look on the woman’s face as she beats her opponent into unconsciousness:
Another hot video title released a commercial in November that shows just how “complete immersion” is the goal. This video game has now surpassed the $1 billion mark in worldwide sales in just about 42 days from its launch on Nov.9.
NBA star Kobe Bryant and late night host Jimmy Kimmel get in on multiplayer mayhem in a brilliant ad that depicts (mostly) everyday people becoming hardened online warriors.
Yes, a hotel concierge, a secretary, a retail worker all shooting the enemy with assault rifles and such. The commercial is not virtual–these are real people acting out the scenario. The line between virtual and reality is truly blurred–and that was partly the intent of the ad.
5. Try looking at gaming from a different perspective.
Push play and watch the following video until 7:43 (This is an interesting clip from a BBC documentary on video gaming only about a minute long that filmed children’s faces while playing video games).
Notice anything familiar about the faces of those children? Do your children ever look like that?
6. Educate yourself on trends in the gaming industry: what are their goals?
Where are the purveyors of the X-Box, Playstation, and Wii headed? World of Warcraft, an online PC game, and, surprisingly, Facebook and iPad/iTouch/iPhone apps are the future. Yes, would it interest you to know that World of Warcraft has 12 million subscribers worldwide who pay a base price of $15 per month to play this game? That is $180 million per month for Blizzard Entertainment–just off the base subscription. This does not include upgrades, and payment for “expansions” and the like online.
It would be naïve and dangerously foolish for us to think that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would not be interested in those kinds of profits. No, they are very interested. But, they can’t start out with a game like “World of Warcraft” because fortunately, it does have a stigma about it–with such nicknames as “World of Warcrack” it does ring a bell with parents these days.
No, they have to be subtle. So, right now, they just build in internet into all their gaming systems, not outright marketing that capability, mostly just talking about “parental controls” and “safety features.” But, they are headed in the direction of subscription based game play. It’s where the money is. Right now, they offer things like bonuses for rock band type games–once you buy the game, you can access the internet to buy more songs for gameplay. They also have given many games the ability to play online with other gamers.
And what do iPhones and Facebook have to do with video gaming? Farmville, a game application on Facebook, has 63 million registered users. One user spends $100 a month on upkeep of her “virtual farm.” Yes, you can buy “farm coins” using real money! Simply tie your Facebook account to your Paypal account and voila–pretend food, gasoline, buildings and more!
Cityville, the newest game from the makers of Farmville, now has 61 million users. One user has spent $12,000 on the game so far. These social networking games are not only proving to be addictive, but people are buying virtual farm equipment, virtual city zoning permits, and other nonsensical items with real money. In fact, South Korea has recently ruled that virtual goods, such as a fancy suit of armor for an online game, will be treated the same as real goods. Virtual goods are a $5 billion worldwide industry. From a NY Times article:
“The people playing these games on social networks don’t define themselves as gamers — they are just killing time, having fun,” Mr. Liew said.
In Restaurant City, a game by Playfish on Facebook, 18 million active users manage their own cafe and stock it with virtual casseroles and cakes. In Zynga’s game FarmVille, 62 million agrarian dreamers cultivate a farm, plant squash seeds and harvest their crops with tractors.
These games and many others have casual gamers reaching for their wallets, along with a few rationalizations, as they make the peculiar purchase of pixels on a computer screen.
“It’s an experience, like going to the movies. That’s how I describe it,” said Sara Merrill of Parsonfield, Me., who plays Pet Society on Facebook with her two young sons five times a week.
Recently, the family used a credit card to buy $20 worth of the game’s currency, then bought items like a haunted mirror and a potion that helped their pet, Demon Baby, grow bat wings. “It’s still cheaper than taking the kids to Target where they will ask for a toy,” she said.
The article continues disturbingly:
Game creators talk openly about their strategies to make people pay for virtual goods: get them addicted, then steer them to purchases that speed up the pace of the game and help them succeed. In FarmVille, for example, the tractors’ gasoline tanks replenish themselves slowly over the course of a day. Instead of waiting, players can pay to buy gas — something that might be considered cheating in more traditional games.
While Zynga attempts to maintain that they are perfectly happy with people playing for free, research into the company’s founder shows that the absolute opposite is true:
From the beginning, the profitability and viability of popular Facebook social networking games like Mafia Wars and Farmville were predicated on the backs of scams, boasts Zynga CEO Mark Pincus in video.
In games like Mafia Wars, Farmville, YoVille and Vampires Live…you can wait for your various energies to regenerate naturally over time, or you can purchase with real money in-game boosts….
Couple…reckless profiteering with in-game incentives for recruiting more players into your network and a constant blast (if you let it) of promotional messages to your friends, and it’s like Amway discovered Facebook and threw a gangster-themed house party.
A quote from the now very wealthy Mr. Pincus:
I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. [He is referring here to malware and spyware] *laughs* We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business.
The fact that social gaming is one of the hottest trends in video games is frightening, considering one of the biggest names in social gaming is Mark Pincus.
7. Do not underestimate the intense devotion that is attached to gaming.
If that weren’t bad enough, there are now leagues of professional video gamers. Yes, Korea has 12 professional teams, who go to competitions with a stage, lights, and fans, to be the winner of such games as Starcraft. Famous video gamers make over $100,000 a year and are idolized like movie stars. The “sport” is so popular that it has attracted gamblers, and in April, it was reported that players, and even gaming officials collaborating with online gambling companies, had taken bribes to throw games.
It’s not just in Korea, though. North America is home to Major League Gaming, headed by a former AOL VP. This gaming league has garnered sponsors like Doritos, ESPN, Microsoft, Matador beef jerky, Old Spice, Hot Pockets, Dr. Pepper, and Bic. In addition to that, MLG has gotten huge sums of money from Legion Enterprises and Oak Investments, garnering to date $52.5 million in funding. For video game contests.
MLG offers $25,000 for the winners of a Call of Duty contest, and in 2010, MLG handed out over $700,000 in prizes to gamers. From a news article:
Sundance DiGiovanni, co-founder of Major League Gaming, said the online video game community has exploded in the last decade as Internet connectivity has evolved and companies like Sony and Microsoft have designed their gaming consoles around creating an online playing community. “Gaming is no longer everyone’s dirty little secret, everyone is involved. I think it kind of snuck up on a lot of people but we were ready for it,” he said.
MLG has a pro league, minor leagues where up-and-coming gamers cut their teeth, supporting media companies like ESPN and its own broadcast team.
“At its core, all of this is really modeled around sports for the new connected world,” DiGiovanni said.
Unfortunately, studies have shown that sitting on your rear end for 12 hours a day in front of a computer screen does not have the same benefits as training for real life sports. In the future, how many children will play hour after hour, not just because of the random rewards, but because they want to someday go “pro”?
8. Consider that video games can be compared to a virtual opiate. Look at your children’s behaviors: when they are limited in play, do they think of ways to get to play? Does it seem as if they can’t wait until they can play again, and resort to good behavior or even doing chores to try and barter for more play time? Are they unable to stop the first time they have been asked?
Have you ever heard, “Let me just finish this level?”
The Boy Scouts of America have recently unveiled a new award for video gaming. The attitude in their requirements for this award reflects the general attitude of most good people:
- Explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games. Check your video games to be sure they are right for your age.
- With an adult, create a schedule for you to do things that include your chores, homework and video gaming. Do your best to follow this schedule.
Yes, the Boy Scouts are focusing on safe game play–limiting time, scheduling, and ratings. This would be nice, if it were not for the Skinner effect, and the fact that all of these commercial gaming systems are built with addictive behavior as the end goal. I posit that there is really no such thing as “safe” gaming.
In the 19th century, many women used Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for infants and children to quiet them. Godfrey’s Cordial was also very popular. These syrups were used on a widespread basis for crying fits, teething, and just to keep kids from being too rambunctious. Unfortunately, these syrups and calmers were a mixture of opium, alcohol, and sweetener. These opioids were praised by doctors and mothers alike, although some raised a voice of warning:
As early as 1840, Dr Anthony Todd Thomson, at a meeting of the Westminster Medical Society, told his colleagues that he:
“had no doubt that consuming opium, either in the crude or liquid state, or inhaling it from a pipe, tended materially to shorten life.”
Not that such warnings were heeded. Opium and tinctures of the drug were readily available and inexpensive and, as one writer to The Daily News of 23 June 1879, commented, he was astonished at the widespread use of opium to keep children from getting cross. He went on to point to the “infinite detriment” to children of the extensive use of “opium, soothing syrups, and other baneful cordials … by large masses of mothers…”
Video games, from the innocent seeming educational to the extremely violent are a type of virtual opiate. These games, regardless of content, trigger dopamine receptors in the brain. Because this virtual opium is often marketed as a tonic (educational, helps children to exercise, keeps children quiet), we are buying into it at an alarming rate.
Starting at as young as 2 or 3, companies are heavily marketing to persuade us to drug our children, and we are allowing them access to this drug. As they get older, they will need more and more of this drug, in more complex, violent and sexual forms to get the “high.” And we are continually made to feel by the culture and society that somehow this is okay as long as we “set limits” or “game responsibly.”
Methamphetamines are an extremely dangerous and highly addictive drug. We are not so foolish as to think if it disguised as “rock candy” that it will be okay. We do not tell our children to try meth–but only when we schedule it in to our day, and only if it is targeted toward their age group. It would be ludicrous to say that meth use is okay as long as we set up “rules” and “responsible using.” Video games as virtual drugs are dangerous, regardless of whether or not they are disguised as fun, educational, fitness, or entertainment.
8. Do not be afraid of virtual reality. Fear is never a good motivator. While it can be dangerous, it can also be a tool for good.
I would like to end on a positive note. Some uses of “virtual reality” are very beneficial. The military uses video gaming technology to “virtually” train soldiers–saving on resources and saving lives. Surgeons use this technology to do “virtual surgery,” also saving lives, and gaining expertise without harming real people.
Gamers have devoted countless years of collective brainpower to rescuing princesses or protecting the planet against alien invasions. This week researchers at the University of Washington will try to harness those finely honed skills to make medical discoveries, perhaps even finding a cure for HIV.
A new game, named Foldit, turns protein folding into a competitive sport. Introductory levels teach the rules, which are the same laws of physics by which protein strands curl and twist into three-dimensional shapes – key for biological mysteries ranging from Alzheimer’s to vaccines.
The article goes on to explain:
“There are too many possibilities for the computer to go through every possible one. People, using their intuition, might be able to home in on the right answer much more quickly.”
Foldit also differs from recent human-computer interactive games that use humans’ ability to recognize images or interpret text. Instead, Foldit capitalizes on people’s natural 3-D problem-solving skills.
These types of projects are what I believe God intended for this kind of technology. If your family members want to play a video game, have them download Fold It instead.
9. Read Playstation Nation. If you feel comfortable, have your older children read it, or just share with them what you learn from it.
Yes, this book does mention God and is from a Christian perspective, but it is a quick read and very compelling. It is available at Amazon in paperback and on the Kindle. I am sure it is also available from the library.
10. Read Part 2 of this article, which focuses on the “how” part of saying good bye to video gaming.
- Video Gaming Facts and Figures Poster (click on the image to make it larger so you can read it)
- Ethics of Game Design, Dean Takahashi
- Everquest: A Virtual Skinner Box
- The Ethics of MMO Addiction
- ISU Study Proves That Violent Games Make for More Aggressive Children
- I also highly recommend visiting VGChartz periodically to see what the top 10 video games are. This is to help your children understand what other people may be talking about, and to educate them so they aren’t taken off guard when other children ask about it, talk about it, or ask if they can play with them.
Other Posts In This Series
- why and how we don't do video games: part 1, the research behind our decision (This post)
- why and how we don't do video games: part 2, how we got them out of the house
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