Both frustrating and disappointing, it helped me lose interest in video games, which I'd never been good at anyway. Later, Tetris came along and I could get lost in that (and actually showed some skill with it), but after the initial burst of enthusiasm, it became yet another take-it-or-leave-it activity.
So when I first heard about "gaming" as a culture and video game addiction, I was still picturing Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. I imagined teenage guys addicted to video games that looked like this:
I think I first realized that video games had developed much more complexity when I was looking for story plot ideas, and a blogger recommended a book of game plots.
As I read through the plots, I marveled at the complex and intriguing storylines.
How could little pixelated characters jumping from level to level actually star in their own full-fledged plot? (Remember, I was still thinking Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.)
Little did I know that the world of gaming provides lifelike interaction on a level never experienced before.
Who Plays Video Games?
First of all, the numbers from Pew:
- 49% of Americans over age 18 play video games at some point.
- 10% identify themselves as "gamers."
But the hard-core gamers are predominantly male:
- 15% vs the 6% of females who consider themselves "gamers."
And my assumption of gamers as teenage males also needed some correction:
- 77% of males age 18-29 play video games, with 33% of them self-identifying as "gamers."
- 57% of females age 18-29 play video games, with 9% of them self-identifying as "gamers."
- 58% of all those age 30 to 49 play video games
- 40% of all those age 50 to 64 play video games
- 25% of all those 65 or older play video games
Interestingly, women over 50 are more likely to play video games than men over 50:
- 38% vs 29%
Why are Games So Addictive?
Rather than playing against a computer, the most popular and addictive games are role-playing games whose characters are played by real people around the world. During the game, you get to know other people and their personalities. Characters flirt with each other, help (or abandon) each other, and interact in myriad other ways.
In fact, gamers develop real friendships with other players, and some have even married! (Not surprisingly, there is even an app to facilitate this for those interested in finding true love with their fellow players.)
To paraphrase the attitude of this app designer: "Instead of struggling with a conversation over coffee, it's less awkward to investigate a new dungeon together."
And while the character images are often otherworldly, you might feel that your choice of green monster with machete ears expresses something about you that only your fellow gamer can understand and appreciate.
The addictive side of this is that the player resists letting his group down.
Not playing can effect the same feeling that a necessary football player might have about backing out of a key game in real life.
Compelling Storylines & Plots
Today's games resemble complex and compelling novelized movies, complete with plot twists and heart-stirring music.
This is based on a description from a popular game:
Jay and his surrogate daughter Eileen, must traverse a post-apocalyptic America to deliver a possible cure for a fungal virus that has ruined the nation. Jay is prepared to do anything to protect Eileen.
This is a neo-noire detective action-adventure involving a US army veteran who joins the homicide department after finishing his mission in WWII. Later, he discovers that his partner is a crooked cop and he also traces drug smuggling by Marines in his former unit, most of whom are assassinated by mobsters. Finally, he chases a kidnapper through underground river tunnels while overcoming underground flooding and thugs in order to save the day.
But will he survive?
And you get to be part of this heart-stopping action and high drama.
Very Real & Compelling Graphics
You really are starring in your own story.
Today's games are lifelike movies.
Look at these screenshots of games:
The combination of compelling graphics and storylines provide the same effect that a compelling movie or novel does: emotional involvement.
In one of the most popular games, gamers around the world protested when the creators killed off a beloved character.
Gamers describe tears welling up in their eyes when two game characters express their love to each other or when another game character sacrifices her life for the other characters. Or describing "heartbreak" during a silent moment broken by the ringing of a phone which, when answered, emits the sound of your missing "daughter" crying out to you.
In other scenarios, gamers confess that they couldn't stop smiling or suppress elation during touching moments between characters.
In horror games, gamers note that they fear to be alone while playing.
Gamers emphasize the heightened pulse or strong emotions because they feel like they're actually serving on the front lines for something they believe in.
The Bowen Research study found that the most common emotions aroused in video games were:
All fake, of course.
Yet these emotions ranked above love or spirituality, which are also experienced during gaming, but not as much as those mentioned above.
When Rabbi Wallerstein advised one gaming addict to make aliyah to Israel and serve in the IDF, rather than playing war games all day, the young man demurred.
"Why not?" asked Rabbi Wallerstein.
The young man replied that he didn't want to actually risk his life or suffer hardship, he just wanted to feelings without any actual risk.
Those of us uninvolved in the gaming world can turn up our nose at the idea of emotional attachment to video game characters and scenes, but it's really no different than crying when a character dies or finds true love in a novel or movie. Likewise, people (okay, maybe just Americans?) get all pumped up with patriotism and false feelings of valor during particularly rousing scenes in patriot movies.
Video games offer all kinds of rewards, both actual and emotional.
Players enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when working up from level to level.
Top players earn bonus points, in-game rewards, or even actual financial rewards from the game's creators via tournaments played for actual cash prizes.
Players often play according to a schedule. (The different time zones worldwide complicate this, forcing players to play when they should be sleeping or doing other things.) But while they need to meet to start the game at a certain time, the ending depends on unknowns, like how successful the group will be at meeting all the criteria (both known and unknown) in order to make it to the next level.
In other words, short spurts of playing don't reap benefits and even lead to disappointment and other negative feelings.
Are Video Games Bad for You?
Some video games seem to improve certain functions IF they're specially designed to do so. For example, there are video games that seem to improve dyslexia.
But some gamers themselves admit that the games increase aggression. The initial war games were created by the military to give combat soldiers virtual training and to accustom them to killing so they'd be less traumatized in actual battle.
That's chilling, isn't it?
Obviously, role-playing realistic war or horror games are going to affect a person's psyche, whether they mean for it to or not.
When the mass shootings first popped up in American schools, restaurants, and movie theaters, a link between them and video games appeared, then disappeared.
Researching this led me to the more common and definite link between psychotropic medication and homicidal idealization.
At the same time, it's easy to understand how a young man suffering from schizophrenia or depression could become worse by role-playing these super-realistic horror or war games, or even hate-filled racist games, whether on medication or not. Many of the shooters were also gamers, which is why so many people jumped to blaming video games for the massacres.
One study concluded that violent gaming didn't affect people negatively -- unless they were already suffering from negative behaviors like depression, rule-breaking, impulsivity, neurosis, inconsideration of others, disagreeableness, and getting upset easily.
(Again, in all or nearly all mass shootings in America, the murderer suffered from some kind of mental illness and played video games -- in addition to taking medication -- prior to the shooting.)
In another study, participants demonstrated increased apathy and decreased attention and concentration when tested.
The apathy and absorption isn't a joke. When a Taiwanese man died after playing a video game at an Internet cafe for 3 days, no one noticed for the first few hours. Because he sometimes fell asleep face down during his gaming binge, no one realized that his last face-down position was in fact death. (CCTV cameras showed that he struggled before he died, an act also unnoticed by fellow gamers and workers.) It was only when his body sprawled on the table and entered the stiffening phase that workers noticed and thought to call the paramedics. When paramedics arrived to cart the body out, the other gamers never even paused.
In another Taiwanese Internet cafe, a gamer lay dead for 10 hours before anyone noticed. Fellow gamers continued to play even as that body was carted out and the gamers didn't even realize that anything had happened until forensic police came to cordon off the area. Yet even then, many gamers refused to stop playing and stayed where they were.
Other studies indicate that it's not the violence of the video game that inspires aggressive behavior, but the feelings of frustration and failure that occur upon losing a game.
Finally, there have been a few deaths brought on by playing video games in one position for a shocking number of hours without eating or moving much.
I want to start off by saying that brain studies are iffy. There's a lot that researchers still don't know or understand about the brain. Having said that, studies of the brain and gaming yield thought-provoking results...
The following studies were conducted upon people who didn't usually play video games and who, for the study, played for 1-2 hours a day.
Many studies show a link between violent video games and increased aggression, but these brain studies aimed to discover the physiological reason why violent video games increase aggression.
One study indicated negative changes in the frontal lobe in people who played a violent game for 10 hours over a week's duration. Disturbingly, this change in the brain persisted into the second week, despite the participants not playing video games at all.
Another study indicated negative changes in the parts of the brain that control attention, inhibition of impulses, and emotions.
Behaviorally, these participants demonstrated increased apathy and decreased attention and concentration when tested.
One researcher noted that the brains changed to resemble the brains of teens who suffered from destructive sociopathic disorders.
As noted above, strategy games or games specifically created to improve cognitive function do seem to do just that. There are studies that show decreased dementia, improved visual attention, improved cognitive function, improved treatment of dyslexia, increase in gray matter of the brain (which allegedly improves cognitive function in specific areas of the brain), and so on.
And some studies show that gamers demonstrate improved visual attention overall, regardless of the game played.
Yet the official scientific jury is still out as to whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Video Games & Fatal Violence
Like with the teenager who shot to death his grandfather along with 6 other people (and wounded 7 more) on the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota, he committed this slaughter after having his dosage of Prozac increased. He was also on Ritalin. He spent a lot of time creating and uploading graphically violent animation on the Internet, animation based on violent video games he enjoyed, one of which enjoys global popularity.
Other shooters killed people according to the same methods used by gamers to kill characters in a video game. Since intricate role-playing violent video games came out, at least 14 mass murderers in America showed a history of addiction to the most popular role-playing violent video games prior to their rampage. One even described a violent video game as a place where he felt "comfortable and secure."
It seems like people who already have a negative grasp of reality (a combination of their life circumstances, their diagnosis of mental illness, and their intake of psychotropic medication) respond badly when such realistic role-playing violent games are added to the mix.
And there's no realistic way of preventing angry, depressed, deluded, medicated people from accessing video games.
What's the Ultimate Issue with Gaming?
- Video games definitely affect the brain, though it's not certain exactly how and how much.
- Video games, particularly violent ones, increase negative behaviors and emotional states.
- Video games are set up to be addictive, both emotionally and cerebrally.
- Video games reward players -- (emotionally, in the brain, and sometimes even financially)
- Video games can easily be more compelling, interesting, comfortable, enjoyable, and feel more meaningful than real life.
The spiritual problem with any kind of video game is the same problem with any distraction (no matter how innocent):
It wastes your time and emotions indulging in meaninglessness when you could be advancing yourself in some other way.
(And I really think that any activity is a serious problem if it prevents you from noticing or caring that someone has died in your immediate vicinity, God forbid.)
May we all gain our all our pleasures from spiritually pure sources -- and really enjoy them!
Playing Video Games May Make Specific Changes to the Brain
Pew Research: Gaming & Gamers
Video Game Addiction
For the US Military, Video Games Get Serious
Standing for Nothing: USA
The Real Reason Why People Sin