Friday, March 30, 2012

Video gaming

Almost 60% of Americans (183 million) play video games; an incredible 97% of Americans aged 12 to 17 play video games. For some, video games become an addiction: 5 million Americans play 40 or more hours of video games per week.

Five popular myths about video games are:

1.    They’re only for kids. The most popular video game is solitaire. People of all ages play a wide variety of video games using everything from a smartphone to especially designed equipment.

2.    They’re only for boys. In the 12 to 17 age bracket, almost as many girls (94%) play as boys (99%); 40% of all gamers are female.

3.    They’re a boutique business. Not true – video games represent a $25 billion industry.

4.    They cause violent behavior in young people. The research is inconclusive.

5.    They stunt the social skills of young people. This depends on the type of game played, amount of time spent gaming, and other activities in which the person engages. (Robert A. Lehrman, “Five myths about video games,” Christian Science Monitor)

The average American gamer is about 37 years old and has played for 12 years. Video gaming is not an activity for kids or that people outgrow. Why?

Yale professor Paul Bloom, author of "How Pleasure Works," points out that Americans find many products of the imagination – games, movies, TV – more interesting than real life.

"Why would individuals ... watch the television show 'Friends,' "he quotes one psychologist as saying, "rather than spending time with actual friends?"

Among other things, Dr. Bloom says, the adventures of fictional characters are usually "much more interesting" than ours. (Robert A. Lehrman, “Video game nation: Why so many play,” Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2012)

Video gaming engages the player, stimulates the imagination, requires decisions, sometimes involves human interaction, and perhaps hones motor skills. These are all good things.

There is even an Anglican video game, The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. I’ve not played, but have read some positive reviews.

Simplistic condemnations of video gaming ignore the pervasive reality of video gaming and its multidimensional nature. As with most things, video gaming may be positive or negative in a person’s life. An addiction to video gaming, for example, that causes a person to lose her/his job, interferes with important personal relationships, and is otherwise destructive is obviously unhealthy. Similarly, some future research will probably show that for some gamers, extended (the research will need to quantify this) playing of excessively violent games (also needs specificity) causes, with a measurable frequency, in whole or part antisocial, criminal behaviors. I know from my work with moral injury and the morality of war, that warriors must learn to kill. Research has consistently shown that without highly focused training, only about 10% of soldiers in combat actually shoot at the enemy. The others do not fire their weapons or intentionally aim to avoid hitting the enemy. These statistics hold even for troops receiving enemy fire.

God intends life to be good and for humans to enjoy pleasurable activities. Video gaming can contribute to that pleasure while also developing life skills. Rather than maintaining its distance from video games, the Church could profitably engage with gaming and encouraging responsible gaming. When I picture Jesus living in the twenty-first century, I can easily see Jesus and his friends playing video games.


George Clifford said...

A reader emailed me this comment:

I have thought for a period of years that playing video games has improved hand-eye coordination, improved the analytical thinking and was good for kids. The anti-social part of one playing video games is of concern to me, addictive behavior provides escape from reality in an unhealthy way and I think so in any behavior. BUT don't we need to "escape" from reality periodically? Movies, TV, Golf, March Madness even vacations. It is when one becomes obsessed with the any activity that the activity becomes negative. But how did the basketball player become a great basketball player, a Doctor become a great Doctor or a video player score the highest score. Skill and intelligence influence end product, but can't we say that at some point in their life they were obsessive. We all need to have social reaction with others and kids should be encouraged to develop their social activities, same for us adults. I would say that "God's plan" is for us human's to be social. To enjoy the presents of a love one is one of life's great pleasures. Video games are a part of our culture and they do provide escape from reality. We only need to be careful in how we allow ourselves to escape from reality.

The part about warriors without "highly focused training" would shoot at the enemy to miss, I find very interesting and intriguing. I would have thought the "will to survive" would be an instinct that would control action. The Navy Seals have been in the news lately and there is something about the mentally of this group of warriors that is different. Highly trained, survival skills tuned to a heighten awareness and from what I have surmised in my reading, methodical in the "kill". Is their reality different from mine when they are not on a mission? How about the regular sailor or soldier, what is their reality in combat? How do they stop and start the mental process in combat or civilian life? What is it about the men in Nevada controlling Drones in far away remote mountains? Real Life Death from a "video" controlled warhead. Game?

Interesting blog. Thanks!

George Clifford said...

You raise a couple of interesting points. First, humans’ social nature is basic to being human. Some video games recognize this reality by permitting multiple people playing concurrently online.

Second, humans, I believe, are predisposed against killing other humans (an implication of our reciprocal altruism). Consequently, the military must train its warriors to kill. This can result in moral injury (damage to one’s conscience) or psychological injury (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder). Nobody really understands why or when psychological or moral injury occur, nor are do we have reliable treatment protocols. Sadly, religious institutions, including most Christian churches, have done little with the issue of warrior reintegration, e.g., how to help a trigger puller move from the reality of dirty hands (guilt for taking necessary actions in combat that are otherwise immoral) through confession, absolution, and reconciliation or other healing/cleansing/reintegration rites.