Don’t Hate the Game, Hate the Player

Breaking news! Video games are the bane of our existence!!

Yes, there is such a thing as video game addiction. Some people take their gaming way too far and forget that a life exists outside of the game. I’m not denying that. Unfortunately, whenever there’s a story on the news about “another death ’caused’ by video games,” all of the Internet’s denizens, pundits and extremists flock to the standard of claiming, “Video games will be the death of our children, is the cause of America’s downfall, and will lead to nothing but bad things.” Then it leads to my other favorite claim that “anyone who plays video games is a loser with no life or social value.”

I could pull up all of the age-old arguments about moderation and that anything taken to an extreme can be a bad thing; but I won’t. The bottom line is this: Just as guns and knives aren’t the ones killing people, it’s not the video game that’s killing people, either. It’s people killing themselves. As a mom, gamer, and amateur scholar on the benefits of video gaming, I feel like it’s my responsibility to set the record straight on so-called “ill effects” of video gaming on our citizens and society.

**Warning: There will be ranting. These views are solely my own. I’m not a certified psychologist or psychiatrist (but I have talked to some of them about the topic before).**

The Exceptions are the Norm
If you were to meet me on the street, in passing, you probably wouldn’t find me terribly remarkable: a youthful mother out running errands while toting her little one around. That’s nothing new. Strike up a conversation with me and you might find out that I’m a stickler for grammar thanks to my major in college, have a penchant for mythologies and astronomy and am originally a Californian. Okay, a little more interesting but, still, nothing drastically world-shattering. Then I could tell you precisely how myself, my husband and eight other people brought a gargantuan creature comprised of animated rock and fire to its knees using nothing but our brains and computers. Or I could regale you about the time I defeated the Three Prime Evils for once and for all with an archangel at my side. And while I’m at it, I have this awesome recipe for banana bread.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Oh no! I’ve outed myself as a “gamer!” Yet, I seem to be a fully functional adult! The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.  The fact of the matter is, the idea that the “average gamer” is male, single, lives in his mom’s basement, is morbidly obese, and runs solely on cheesy poofs and Mountain Dew is nothing but a myth. My guildmates, my husband, and I are not exceptions to the norm. We actually are the norm. To take my World of Warcraft guild as a population sample, the “average gamer” is a parent of at least one or more children, holds a job, is married, pays the bills, owns a house, and, to be perfectly honest, nothing short of incredulously normal.

So the next time you meet someone who is socially maladjusted, pugnacious, rude, unkempt, and just downright unpleasant– but happens to be sporting a Halo t-shirt– remember that for every one of these “gamers” you find, there are probably ten or twenty gamers who are socially responsible, polite, and well-spoken.

Blurred Boundaries
The unfortunate reality of addicted gamers, however, exists. I won’t deny that stereotypes usually aren’t conjured up out of nothing. They have a basis somewhere. But to be perfectly honest, many of these people would have become addicted to one thing or another, eventually. If not video games, then alcohol; if not alcohol, then sweets. It comes from the inability to separate out one thing from the other, and the inability to prioritize. In the case of video game addicts, like the one in the story linked in the beginning, they lose focus of what’s really important (e.g. their own livelihoods) and let themselves become lost in virtual reality.

Gaming becomes their lives. They live and breathe for every head shot, every kill, every pixel. And while the controller in their hands is a real, physical object, the food or fuel their characters consume in the game aren’t nourishing their actual bodies. The running and jumping, hacking and aiming, somersaults and back flips don’t translate into actual exercise for the person’s body. This blurred line– or, in some cases, the lack of the line altogether– is where problems arise.

One More Level…
People have come up with all sorts of ways to balance life and gaming. Some people make themselves work out for every hour they spend playing a video game. Others have similar work/reward systems or they take up other hobbies. A guildmate of mine has recently started making wines and went as far as to make a miniature vineyard in his backyard.

For my husband and myself, our gaming time is usually the very last bit of the day. Dinner is eaten, dishes are washed and put away, the baby has been changed, read to and tucked in, and everything else is pretty much done. Then, we know it’s our own time and we get to indulge a little. The game, for us, isn’t so much as a carrot on a stick, where it’s a goal that we’re striving to get to every day. It’s just a source of entertainment and an alternative to the TV. And that’s where the line between our lives and the game comes in handy again. There’s an obvious separation between Toriah the Mom and Toriah the Hunter. Or, as I like to say, “Humble, mild-mannered mom and wife by day; sharp-eyed, monster-slaying hunter by night!”

Knowing is only half the battle. The other half is taking concrete action. The main problem I had with the article’s subject was the fact that it sounded like it was the game’s fault for the death of this man. The family wanted to “raise awareness about the health risks of video games,” like video games were the same things as alcohol and cigarettes. Unless there’s something funky with the graphics, like those alleged in the Nintendo 3DS handheld system, video games don’t have health risks in and of themselves.

Look at it this way: How much more activity does a person engage in during a session of watching reality TV than a person playing video games? Yet somehow, video games– and those who play them in any degree– catch the flak of undesirable labels while it’s perfectly acceptable to gossip about the latest episode of “Real Housewives” or “The Bachelor.” Unless the computer, console, or TV is actively pumping mind-altering chemicals into its users, it’s not the game to blame. Such cases are the result of an error originating from the opposite side of the monitor.


About Toriah the Mom

Mom, quasi-librarian, gamer, writer
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