Video games are an amazing medium for entertainment. They allow us to experience fictional worlds in a completely different way than ever before. Text, video, and music all effect us in different ways, but none of them allow us to go down to the ground and actually effect the events of the story. A video will keep playing no matter what you do, and a book is completely indifferent to skipping pages, but video games require us to put ourselves into those situations and act out the events. The immersion that this creates, however, has been misused for as long as these games have been available by lazy, oblivious parents who see them as an easy way to hypnotize their children into a stupor. Why watch your children playing or doing chores when you can simply root them in place with a console and a television. These are the parents who choose to remain ignorant of video game ratings, healthy gaming practices, or even the basic parenting skills that underlie teaching children moderation. These same parents\ call local or national news stations when they hear a swear word from the living room, or walk in to see someone getting chainsawed in half, or finally discover after months that their child has been failing classes because they play 8 or more hours per day, sparking outrages about the “addictive” content being “marketed toward children”. The audience around gaming has learned to shrug off these stories as local stations desperate for ratings, and laugh off the entire mess. Then, the World Health Organization announced on the second day of this year, that Video Game Addiction is to be officially listed as a mental disorder. Anyone reading this who thinks that this won’t change anything should think again.
The WHO listing gaming addiction as a mental disorder also implies that video games are themselves addictive. For this, it is worth stepping back and differentiating addiction and compulsive behavior. Addiction is caused by physical changes in how certain neurotransmitters are absorbed by the brain, typically by use of a drug. Compulsive behavior can look like addiction on the surface, typically because it can have similar self-destructive effects, but underneath the surface, the systems involved are very different. Compulsive gamblers, for example, can just as easily lose everything as a crack addict. The problem with equating the two, however, is that an addiction is caused by a foreign substance rewriting the brain’s chemistry, and compulsion is the brain operating as intended, seeking the shortest path toward reward. With addiction, the chemicals matter when it comes to fighting it, and there is something that can be avoided. With compulsion, a gambler’s brain doesn’t know or care if it’s hitting it big at the slots, or getting something rare out of a loot box, nor does it care in the slightest. It’s the same dopamine. While this may seem like a semantic difference, words have meaning, both in the dictionary and in context. Saying “Gaming Addiction” is a mental disorder also says that video games are addictive. Addictive substances are automatically on a road, usually a very short one, toward strict regulation. If, however, the WHO chose not to be influenced by activists, and called it the far more correct “gaming compulsion”, that is far more likely to those who have these issues to get the help that they need, and those of us who don’t have those compulsions, or have already learned to control them, won’t have to deal with the conversation and very possible action.
If you, my reader, needs more proof of this semantic difference being a real one, look no further than the video City News Toronto posted on March 12th.
The report, titled “Possible Dangers of Video Game Addiction”, is one of the more disgusting examples of both a local news station trying to stir up the public’s fears. After doing some research through their online archives, one finds that while they cover video games fairly often, unless it is a huge story of something good coming from the industry, the majority of this station’s content regarding video games is negative. So much so that the station chose coverage of a competitive gaming event in Toronto as the time to report on the WHO’s decision from more than two months ago. The video is a naked attempt to paint video games as an addictive product with a massive reach, and because nobody else will do it, I will. To everyone who thought this story was great at City News, Toronto, you are the worst type of filth. You use your position of trust to push your own agendas, and have not a single care in the world about the damage you do, as long as you pull in 2 more points. You are liars, disguised as journalists, because anyone with a shred journalistic integrity would have pulled the piece. You took a competitive event that you clearly have neither knowledge of, or interest in, and used it to try to make a dishonest, passive-aggressive point about how video games are evil and scary. If you intend to cover video games again, I suggest you either educate yourselves about them, or bring in someone who understands. You should be ashamed of yourselves, each and every one of you involved in this piece.
Any gamer being honest with themselves knows that video games are definitely compelling. A good video game can suck you in for hours if you’re not careful, and all of us have lost track of time playing. For adults with control over their impulses, it’s easy to get a handle on, but it is not so for children. Worth noting, these points I am making were also made in the above video by both Jirard Khalil (Misspelled in the video as Gerrard) and Aaron Levine, a father at the event with his son, that video games, rather than being a set and forget babysitter, are something you have to watch your kids with, and get involved with. I hope that this coming conversation will be dominated by parents like that.