Let’s Talk About Gaming Addiction

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to include gaming disorder as part of the 11th revision of their International Classification of Diseases.  According to their website, gaming disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”  It goes on to say that, to be classified as a disorder, the amount of gaming must be severe enough to impair a person’s functioning in daily life for a time period of at least twelve months.

My initial reaction to this, of course, was an instinctual dislike.  Video games are one of my primary hobbies, and have been since I was a kid.  So when I heard that gaming disorder was going to be an officially recognized thing, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be good.  And the interesting thing is that the pushback against the classification didn’t just come from people who play video games.  It also came from medical experts who believe that the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder is too vague and too broad.

However, at the same time, the classification does make sense.  There are people out there who definitely spend far too much time on video games, so much so that it starts to take precedence over everything else.  And we are long overdue for a conversation about mental health in this country.  Because while conservative politicians love to blame mental health issues for mass shooting events, they never seem to actually DO anything about it.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Gaming addiction is not a new issue, especially in places like South Korea where it has become such a problem that they even have gaming addiction rehabilitation clinics.  So it’s definitely something worth talking about.  But on the other hand, there’s the media, who have a long and storied history of being slanted against video games.  For instance, here’s this story from the BBC, which was originally titled “Computer game addiction: ‘I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”.

Pffft…that’s weak.  Get real kids.  Twenty hours is nothing.  You hear me?  Nothing!

In all seriousness, if you actually watch the video, it at least explains that the kid who plays “20 plus hours” a week is part of a healthy crowd of friends.  But if all you see is the headline, your perception of that “20 plus hours” is going to be much different.

And if we’re really going to criticize video games in this way, I think it’s worth noting how we consume another medium: television.  According to this New York Times article from back in 2016, a Nielsen study found that, on average, American adults watch five hours of television a day.  So per week, that adds up to roughly thirty-five hours of television.  Yet we don’t see the WHO coming out with a classification on television watching disorder, or the BBC making a video about people addicted to television.  And the only major reason I can think of for this is that watching television is a normalized thing, whereas video games are still seen as a kind of weird new thing that people don’t understand.

This is to say nothing about the fact that binge-watching is not only a term, but a socially acceptable one.  When “Stranger Things” season 2 came out, over three hundred thousand people watched the entire season in one day.  But of course we’re not raising a stink about this.  We might scoff and say “get a life”, but our condemnation never goes much beyond that.

I should mention here that even the WHO recognizes that the number of those afflicted with this gaming disorder are a very small percentage of the people who play video games regularly.  And I’m willing to bet that, more often than not, the root cause of the addiction lies not with the games themselves, but with something in that person’s life that has forced them to retreat into their hobby.  Because video games are typically used as a way to cope with the stresses of life, something I can attest to personally.  While there are some games that are designed to entice players to keep playing regularly over months and even years, we need to understand that the extreme form of addiction the WHO is talking about is not the norm, especially in a country where the statistic of watching over thirty hours of television a week is accepted without so much as a second thought.

In the end, it’s possible to have an unhealthy addiction to pretty much anything.  And it’s time we accepted that instead of adhering to this stodgy old idea of “everything was better when I was growing up and anything new in these kid’s lives is clearly bad for them”.

Because the world is going to change, whether we like it or not.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful day.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Children These Days

Stop me if you’ve heard this rant before:

“Ugh…children these days are so spoiled!  They have no respect for their elders and spend too much time on their smartphones and iPads.  They’re getting pregnant and doing drugs.  They lack discipline, and it’s all those participation trophies and weak parenting that’s to blame.  These kids need a good spanking!  Back in my day, if I stepped out of line, my dad would give me an ass whuppin’!  And I turned out better for it!”

Sound familiar?  I’ve heard this quite a few times, or at least some version of it.  The basic gist of it is that everything was so much better “back in the day”.  You’ve probably heard this mentality before.  Maybe you’re even one of those people who have this mentality.  If that’s the case, then I have some unfortunate news for you.

The facts don’t support it…

One of the biggest components of this mindset is, of course, a perceived epidemic of rebellious behavior.  And while yes, the purpose of the teen years is to push the envelope in a sense, most of the time what people are talking about are drugs, alcohol, and sex.  But the thing is, kids these days are far less likely to do any of these things than they were back in the “good ol’ days”.  According to an article by the New York Times these types of behaviors have been declining for decades.

Some interesting numbers for you:

  • In 1980, about 60 percent of high-school seniors had tried marijuana and roughly 9 percent smoked it daily.  Today, only about 45.5 have tried it and only 6.6 percent smoke it daily.
  • 72 percent of high-school seniors in 1980 said they had recently consumed alcohol, whereas in 2011 that number had dropped to a historic low of only 40 percent.
  • In 1988, half of boys aged 15 to 17 had experienced sex.  By 2010, that number fell to 28 percent.  Same goes for teenage girls, dropping from 37.2 percent to 27 percent.

In the end, what this all means is that the story of an out-of-control generation of kids just isn’t accurate.  In fact, according to the research, today’s kids are better behaved then their parents were at the same age.  But the real question is why?  Why are kids these days so different?  What shaped the changes in their behavior?

Well…there’s no easy answer.  Like everything in life, the reality is that it’s a complicated issue.  The New York Times article points to some helpful possibilities:

“The last three decades have included a rise in the drinking age to 21; a widespread fear of H.I.V.; and legal challenges that stymied tobacco marketing. And while cellphones and Facebook have created new ways for teenagers to stir up trouble, they may also help parents monitor their children.”

The article also points out that today’s teens still found ways to rebel with things like sexting, but still reasons that every generation is subject to harsh scrutiny by the previous one.  And I think that’s the important lesson here, that every generation thinks they know what’s best and that the generations after theirs obviously don’t know what they’re doing.  In all this fear about smartphones and iPads, we forget the fact that the science simply isn’t there yet.  We dismiss the fact that some of the science even says that these things have beneficial effects on kids.  Because, clearly, we know what we’re doing.  Our way is the best, and damn every other way.

But, if I may, I would like to point to a possibility not raised in the New York Times article.  I would like to suggest that maybe part of the reason children are better behaved and generally more responsible may have to do with moving away from one simple thing: the idea of corporal punishment.

I can hear the protesting now.  “But I was spanked and I turned out just fine!”  Maybe you did.  Maybe you’re a perfectly fine, functional human being.  Or maybe it affected you in ways you can’t really see or understand.  I talked a long time ago about corporal punishment, and I’m going to link you to the same article I used back then.  As it turns out, spanking your kid may have detrimental effects on their brain development.  As the article says, “the sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.”  Most people assumed that spanking led to compliance in children.  But that’s not necessarily true.

“What is spanking associated with? Aggression. Delinquency. Mental health problems. And something called “hostile attribution bias,” which causes children, essentially, to expect people to be mean to them.  This bias makes the world feel especially hostile. In turn, children are on edge and ready to be hostile back, ” the article says.

I’ve felt for a long time that spanking was more for the parent than it was for the child.  Think about it for a second.  What’s easier?  Getting to the root of why your child is misbehaving?  Or simply trying to beat it out of them?  Parents are human beings too, and sometimes they don’t have the time or the patience to deal with a child that’s acting out.  In such situations, it’s very easy to turn to the physical approach because it seems like it has immediate beneficial effects.  But, as the science says, there may be a lot more going on underneath the surface that we can’t see or understand until it’s too late.

Let me be clear, I’m not doing this to crap all over the previous generations.  My generation is old enough that I’ve noticed people my age donning the same mindset.  I’ve even caught myself doing it every once in a while.  Like I said before, every generation thinks they know what’s best and are afraid when things start to change.  I think it’s worth understanding that every generation sees the world a little differently.  And I think it’s worth remembering that it’s not necessarily a bad thing…just a different thing.

No one is perfect.  Children are going to act out in some way or another.  But that’s just part of growing up.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.