Like many people, I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I like to keep up with friends and family, plan events, see links to things both informational and/or humorous, and to play games. I have always enjoyed playing games, whether board games, card games, tabletop RPGs, console games, or video games. I used to blow all of my pocket money as a kid going up to the video arcade and playing Gauntlet for hours. I was a pinball wizard at the age of seven. I have gotten a high score on Ms. Pac Man. I even loved the text-based adventure games of my childhood. We had Pirate’s Cove on our Vic 20. It was awesome!
Playing games can be a great deal of fun! I am all for the positive aspects of playing games. I am especially fond of puzzle games and brain teasers that can help a person learn to compute more quickly, increase vocabulary, or improve reflexes. If a new game looks interesting, I will try it out and see whether I like it. I might play for a while and then determine that I am not having fun, the game is no longer challenging, or I am annoyed at the constant prompts to pester my friends or spend real money. I game to relax, not to stress, so when a game goes beyond a challenge and becomes a frustration, I get rid of it. This is part of why I cringe whenever I see the Facebook ads that happily proclaim they have the “most addictive” or “highly addicting” game.
Since when is addiction something positive? It isn’t. Addiction is a very serious thing, and there are people who genuinely become addicted to playing games. I can understand the lure, too. If you are stressed and upset, playing a game can make you feel better. Sometimes, it is nice to go play the character who can get a job on the spot just for applying, has a bunch of friends, and can buy new outfits right away (I’m looking at YOU, New In Town). Sometimes it is relaxing to plan a giant empire. Personally, if I am trying to sort my thoughts before writing a paper, I will play some form of solitaire or another organization game because it occupies the part of my brain that is panicking about the paper and allows me to actually work through a mental outline. For some, however, the disconnect from reality goes too far, and isn’t temporary. Games, especially online games, are often programmed to get you to come back for more by having special things regenerate after a certain time period (or instantly, if you spend real cash!). Many games give you a daily bonus of in-game goodies just for coming back each day – and the bonuses get increasingly better with each consecutive day. So, some people begin to feel that they *must* log in.
As a parent of young children, I have seen how the impulse to go get every special prize can possess a child. Both of my children have Webkinz, and they get very involved with the special prizes and bonuses. So, even though I was happy with some of the math-based educational games on the site, I had to set a limit of a maximum of 30 minutes on Webkinz a day for my kids. Sure, I was called the world’s meanest Mommy for a couple days, but eventually they began playing together more. Recently, they have been playing outside with other children more, too – a very good thing. It turns out that sharing the awesome experience of watching NCAA Basketball (Go Jayhawks!) with my kids made them want to go outside and PLAY basketball. On days with inclement weather, I try to have some craft supplies, and I schedule a family reading time each day (though they do sometimes neglect to do that at the appointed time, they both love to read). My son does LOVE Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, along with many other game apps, and it does become important to keep track of how much he is playing, and to limit that with a variety of other things.
I am not saying games are bad. I don’t think most people are addicted to games, or will become so. I think that reading can be just as much an escape as games, and would bet that there have been times in human history when people were just as concerned about the effects of fiction reading as they are now about the effects of gaming. One thing that I have seen in many articles about gaming addiction is a negative stance on games in general. I wouldn’t ever go that far. There are some games that are not appropriate for certain ages, yes. There are some games that people get sucked into, sure. There are “free” games on FB that I have seen people spend literally thousands of dollars on to get the best level-ups and perks (so that they can be stronger than everyone else playing) – that is pretty extreme. But one thing that I think should be addressed, should be abundantly clear, is that advertising that your game is addictive is positively in poor taste.
Sure, we would like to see truth in advertising… “Our cigarettes will get you hooked on nicotine!” “This beer tastes disgusting, but people only drink it for the buzz!” “Going to this casino might just deplete your savings!” and even “Playing this game will make you feel anxious because the people who paid for bonuses will bully you!” … but touting addiction as something good, something positive, something desirable? That’s pretty twisted.
Super-special thanks to the ever-awesome Lisa McMullan, who is an addiction specialist as well as an awesome maker of cardboard doll furniture, for discussing this topic with me and clarifying exactly how video games can be addictive.
What’s your opinion on the subject? Please feel free to share!