The glazed over eyes. The intense leaned forward shoulders. The talking in what sounds like a completely foreign language. Any parent or loved one of a gamer knows the look whenever the video games are on. And it is easy to have concern, especially when video games begin to interfere with the rest of life such as with school or work. As a therapist, one of the most common questions I hear is, “are they playing video games too much?”
We need to ask why before we decide how much is too much. Why are video games one of the largest growing industries across the world? Why are so many people playing them dozens of hours every week? Video games are more just an amusing pastime today, and in order to talk with our family members about video games we need to first understand what this virtual world offers to any gamer.
This article is designed to help anyone who games or knows a gamer better understand how many factors go into someone wanting to play video games. A follow-up article will be coming that discusses better ways to handle the necessary conversations of how much video gaming to allow your kids and teens to play. But in order to best handle those tricky conversations, we have to better understand as parents and family why video games mean so much.
Friendships and Social Interaction
We live in an age where digital friendships have become the norm. Whether Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Kik – we have many new outlets to be friends with other people. And video games offer one of the most appealing methods to be friends with people. Being a friend with someone through a video game actually offers some unique advantages to being friends in person. For example, consider the factors below.
In video games:
Social video games can actually lead to significant relationships
Relationships are incredibly difficult to foster in any situation. Trusting someone, having a common goal, and genuinely enjoying one another’s company is a difficult combination to develop in the best of situations. After all, aren’t we all looking for deep friendships?
But video games offer a unique ability to test out all of these essential criteria for friendship quickly and effectively. In video games you can simply log on, start talking with interesting people from all over the world, and then test out their teamwork within a few minutes. It is fun and challenging, two of the key ingredients for any friendship.
Gaming also opens up a platform for people to encourage and offer constructive criticism. Friends get to see how you handle intense situations, both the good and the bad. That feeling while a little scary at times, is incredibly freeing. It means that someone gets to accept your flaws and still be there for you. In normal life we tend to hide our flaws from others out of fear or shame; in video games, they are out in the open and worked through by the encouragement of the gamer community.
And all of the challenges that video games offer only heightens the ability to trust others around you. And this where is some really amazing conversations happen. “I just feel like I can be myself online; like I can talk to people on there better than in real life” is a comment that I have heard numerous times. But what if, rather than dismissing these comments as ridiculous or sad, we actually thought about how this can be true?
The role of identity and video games
A name is a powerful thing. Throughout various cultures across the world, names have been bestowed to help focus both men and women to take on greater challenges. Names were historically given as a coming-of-age, a passage into adulthood. We see this in Native American cultures, the Middle Ages, and throughout the centuries in Asia and Africa. In Biblical times a man was given a name that would shape his life, and even be renamed in exceptional situations. Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Saul became Paul. In each of these instances the name was given to empower and encourage a person to shed their old ways and take on life in a better way. It is a beautiful moment, and one that in today’s society is only commonplace in the gaming community.
Playing a video game allows the allusion of shedding your current self and becoming something more. You pick a username that can be anything you want, and that name becomes your alter-ego. Instantly you are able to customize yourself however you want. Maybe it is the best side of yourself, or perhaps it is taking on a completely different persona. A video game opens you up to a world where you can be more. You get do more, be more successful, and garner more respect in the digital world than many of us will ever receive in life. This metamorphosis is incredibly described in the book Ready Player One and its subsequent movie.
The total vacation
Have you ever tried to let your mind be completely still, to not think about anything? It can be a very difficult thing to do. What most of us try to do instead of thinking about nothing is to enjoy thinking about something fun or relaxing. It is much easier and can lead to similar results. But the trick to making this diversion work is that we must focus our attention on something engaging. Video games offer that diversion in mass quantities.
When someone plays a video game, the whole world around them disappears into the background. The stresses, memories and worries of day-to-day life fade. And in their place the gamer is handed an adventure with problems and difficulties but also triumphs and achievements. Video games provide a complete vacation for our mind by being one of best-designed distractions in the world. It absorbs our attention completely and gives incentives and gratification that often are harder to come by elsewhere. When someone immerses themselves in a game, they often feel more relaxed and free than they would in the rest of their life.
What to do
Whenever I talk with families about video games, I find that opinions vary greatly. Some people will read the points above and be highly concerned, stating that video games are creating a faux-world that is based on fantasy. Others will see games as a fun amusement and may even appreciate that the video games offer a way to sharpen strategic skills and teamwork. Before determining “how much is too much?”, we must wrestle with what even more important: the person.
Another article will be coming out in a couple weeks with a focus on talking with kids about the role of video games in their lives. It will have some practical guidelines for parents and family, as well as more information on the role games play in our lives. But in order for any of those steps to have a chance to work well, these next two areas must be firmly developed in your relationship with your loved.
In order for any discussion of video games to be likely to go well, you must first have developed a mutual trust with your gamer that you have what is in their best interest in mind. And in order for this to be true, you and your gamer must first agree about what is best for them. If either of these conditions is not clearly present in your relationship, the conversation is likely to become an argument and cause division.
So before we discuss video games in more detail, take a few minutes to evaluate your relationship. Doing so will better prepare you for the conversation and help show that you are for them as a person, with and without video games.
Images shared under creative commons and courtesy of Flickr. If you have questions or comments you can contact Josh Berger at Alethia Counseling Center – Houston.
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I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.
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