Monday, June 15, 2015

Just Say No: To Video Games

I came across an article about giving kids an old-fashioned, carefree summer on Simple Homeschool. Some aspects of the article I enjoyed, but I was disturbed when it became clear in the comments section that many children just wanted to play Minecraft for hours, and in the interest of a carefree summer in which freedom reigns, parents were considering allowing it.

I hate to be the stern librarian type who constantly tells people to be quiet in the library--you know, an annoying know-it-all type--but I have to say something about this video game craze.

It's insanity.

We don't play them here, and yes my kids feel like oddities because of it, but they agree with me about video games. They've seen what they do to the neighbor kids, and it isn't pretty. They hear the boys at church talk about little else.

Did you know that 9 out of 10 American children play video games? I'm sure you know they're highly addictive? If something doesn't change, our country's in trouble: children are the future.

The history of video games here: My kids used to get 24 minutes a day on a website called Cool Math Games, but last fall I banned it due to worldly ads showing up on the site as pop-ups. I originally let them on because the site was recommended by my sister, who was going to school to be a teacher at the time.

The site turned out to be a joke, mostly. Not much educational value, but I didn't think 24 minutes was going to kill them--not enough time to get addicted, I surmised. And only Paul really looked forward to the time each day (more so than I liked). I frequently had to tell him to stop watching the screen during someone else's time--that if you watch, you don't play yourself.

They dappled in and on too over the years, when they weren't using Cool Math Games for their 24 minutes, but I've banned anything that looks or seems like a video game. The computer is a tool and nothing else. That's where the line in the sand is here, and where I think God would like it to be--though for your house, of course, I can only make suggestions.

They don't miss video games all these months later because they never had an Xbox or Wii or PlayStation, or anything like that; video games were never prominent in their environment. And I thank God every day that my husband doesn't care for such things either.

34 million Americans spend 22 hours per week, on average, playing video games.

Drug-Like Effects that Rewire the Brain According to a study featured in Neurology Now, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology, nine out of ten American children play video games -- about 64 million. The study found that "excessive gaming before age 21 or 22 can physically rewire the brain."
"'Playing video games floods the pleasure center of the brain with dopamine,' says David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. That gives gamers a rush—but only temporarily, he explains. With all that extra dopamine lurking around, the brain gets the message to produce less of this critical neurotransmitter. The end result: players can end up with a diminished supply of dopamine."
I've never seen Minecraft but I've read several articles about it, in which parents claim it teaches problem solving. I don't think much of that rationalization. First of all, I hear it's very addictive, as are all video games (even ones that are supposedly just virtual building blocks). Secondly, there are real-world ways to encourage problem solving--ways far more productive and well-rounded.

Would you give your kids a cigarette or an alcoholic drink or a street drug? All these things are addictive, and video games do similar things to the brain.

I know it's very hard to say no to kids, but I urge you passionately to get these things out of your home unless you can limit it to thirty minutes or less without hassles (for non-violent, wholesome games).

Our children benefit when they learn early to say no to worldly things. Fitting in with peers just isn't worth it--not at 12 years old or 35 years old.

We fit in with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with the world should be ministerial.

If your kids are already addicted, give it all away and give your gaming budget to charity. The Lord wants us to gauge our eyes out, or cut off our arm to keep ourselves from sin. We're called to do whatever it takes to rid our lives of things that don't honor God.

Are your children all still young? Then I urge you to never introduce these things in your home in the first place. Tell your children: we will live differently than the world. We are set apart. These games serve no real purpose and as Christians, what are we supposed to be teaching our children about their time and their minds and their hearts?

Our time is a gift and our salvation is a miracle. We were chosen. 

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

1 Peter 1:16 Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Entertainment is not our God. Our Heavenly Father is infinitely better and the water he offers is living water

Teach them: Seek first the kingdom of God. Live for what Jesus loved. Let your hearts bleed for the orphans, widows, sinners, and the poor. Make each day, each hour, count for His glory.

See part two of this post, regarding causes of addiction, here.

And if the spiritual arguments don't convince you, read the following sobering facts below, reblogged from here. You may not allow violent games in your home, but if you allow a gaming culture, your children may be tempted to venture out into other, violent games when they move away from home and are exposed to new gaming friends and acquaintances:

Violence and Video Games

There are countless cases of violence and crime connected directly or indirectly with video gaming.  Grand Theft Auto, for example, has created a long death trail in its wake.  However, few have had the courage to call its designers and promoters to task, halt its production and reverse the severe damage it has unleashed.  Here are only some of the many crimes connected to Grand Theft Auto:

  • A man was stabbed and his copy of the game was stolen;4
  • A college student stole a car, kidnapped a woman and slammed into nine parked vehicles. He said he wanted to play the game “in real life”;5
  • A teenager in Thailand killed a taxi driver in a copycat crime from the game (Thailand banned the game afterwards);6
  • An 8-year-old boy in Louisiana shot and killed his 90-year-old caregiver minutes after playing the game (this was ruled a homicide);7
  • Students as young as six acted out drug and rape scenes from the game.8

It is also noteworthy how some observers have recognized similarities between the virtual riots enacted in Grand Theft Auto and the real life riots over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

More crimes tied to other video games can be seen in the following cases:

  • After his Call of Duty game was taken away, a 13-year-old boy shot his own mother multiple times, killed her, and proceeded to attempt to rape her;9
  • The father of a two-year old son punched his child in the face, killing him, in order to stop him from crying while he was playing his video game;10
  • A 17-year-old in China was stabbed through the skull with a kitchen knife after being caught cheating in an Internet café while playing an online game;11
  • A 16-year-old boy killed his mother with a hammer while she was sleeping after she took his Play Station away;12
  • A couple in South Korea allowed their real child to starve to death while they were feeding a “virtual” child on a game called Second Life;13
  • An 8-year-old hung himself after he was scolded for spending too much time playing video games.14

Gaming to Death

Video game addiction can be so overpowering that players sometimes lose their most basic instinct of self-preservation.  Dozens of people have injured and killed themselves playing video games as can be seen in these examples:

  • A young man was found slumped over his keyboard at an Internet café after playing for over 15 hours. He died of an heart attack caused by lack of sleep and dehydration;15
  • A 20-year-old died from a blood clot after playing 12-hour binges, sometimes staying up all night on the computer;16
  • Another man died after a 40-hour binge playing a game called Diablo III.  He passed out at a computer terminal at an Internet café. When an employee woke him up, he promptly stood up, took a few steps and collapsed and died;17
  • A man in China played for an unbelievable 27 days straight (650 hours of consecutive gaming), and died of heart failure and malnutrition;
  • A 13-year-old girl, while playing video games, called to her mother, “Mom, I can’t breathe.” She had a severe heart attack and later died.

When Imagination Overpowers the Mind

Video gaming frequently allows the imagination to cloud the intellect and weaken the will.  The player sees a virtual “world” on a screen and interacts with it as if it were real.   The distinction between real and false is blurred.  Even in extremely simple games such as Angry Birds, impulse and imagination rule.  Because of the “respawn” -- when the digital player or human player comes back to life after being killed -- gamers act first and think later. 

To win, the player makes split decisions, ignoring all danger.  After all, it is only a game. However, this behavior lends itself to a real imbalance.  If you routinely “do” things you would never dare do in reality, there is a chance you might behave in real life as you behaved during the video games. The player can “do” crazy things -- usually involving violence -- that would be horrible crimes in real life.  This mental dichotomy desensitizes the player. 

For example, in countless games the player can rip out throats, slit necks, shoot and stab people, and run over people with a car.  Imagine the mind of a young man who just played six hours of Gears of War II, an extremely violent game. He walks into the (real) street after "killing" people with a chainsaw, but suddenly, that's no longer a good idea.  He must switch "realities."  If the same fellow sees a chainsaw in a yard, images of human carnage will flash into his mind.  He might chuckle to himself, thinking, “I wish I could do that in real life.”

In fact, Grand Theft Auto V is so realistic that there are Google maps that show real-life locations used in the game set to Los Angeles, California. The designers of the game took pictures of buildings, intersections, and places of interest to make the game more life-like: “There's always new things to see, and layers of detail on the ambient life that really makes it feel like there's stuff going on without you," said video game architect Aaron Garbut. "It's a world with which you interact and exist, it doesn't feel like a facade that's created around you.”18  Grand Theft Auto V, which cost $265 million to make,19 promotes criminal activity, cop killings and prostitution while the player visually "walks" on real California streets.  Can this have a positive effect?

5 comments: said...

Some very interesting thoughts there, Christine. When my son was younger and displaying some very destructive and anti-social tendencies, the fact that he played certain games was a relief. It was the only time he was *still*. Also, my husband loves computer games - not the 'kill everything in sight' games but very complex games. I do sometimes wonder if the occasional violent bits satisfy some innately male tendencies that aren't expressed in 'real' life. This is his way to unwind, since he doesn't watch much TV, and although I cannot see what the appeal is personally, I can't stop him and nor do I want to.
On the other hand, my 12-year-old wants a mobile phone because 'everyone in her class has one'. The answer is 'no'. She may get one at 14, if I feel I can trust her with it. I have read such awful things teenagers do with phones - have you heard of 'sexting'?! Also, occasionally the children play (child-orientated, non-violent) games or watch CBBC or youtube videos, but this is with supervision because you can be watching something innocent yet if you scroll down you will find some genuinely obscene comments. My children love assault courses, gymnastics and water slides so they will find videos of these. This I don't mind. I have expressed my disapproval of Horrid Henry, but I decided not to stop them watching it occasionally.
Last year my husband decided that our middle child could buy herself a tablet if she saved her money. Sure enough she started becoming addicted to it. Thankfully, it broke after a couple of months (it was dropped and the screen cracked) and she has not shown a desire to replace it. I think I will voice my objections a little louder should the idea occur to any of them again. I want my children to stay children for as long as possible, not because I want to control them - on the contrary, I want for them to be free and then as adults to have the 'tools' to equip them for life.
Like I said, a very interesting, very thought-provoking read there, Christine!

Christine said...

Hi Sandy, I knew not everyone would agree. But I think it's worth warning those with young children that this isn't something your children need, and if it is known to be addictive, why even go there? They can make different choices as adults and that's okay. They have to answer to God for that then, but when it occurs in our home in children under 18, we have to answer for it partially too.

If putting strict limits on time doesn't cause tension and fights, then they are probably okay, but if the limits cause problems, then the games should go in my opinion as that more likely indicates there is already an addiction presnt.

In my case my kids see the harm they can cause--with obesity being one of them. The neighbor kids are all heavily into computer games and have all gained a great deal of weight in the last two years.

Christine said...

Forgot to say that yes, sexting exists here too. Researchers know now that the teen brain is hardwired for danger, supposedly due to hormones and the changes they cause, so really, the teen years are a terrible time to give the Internet to them unsupervised. They don't have the self-control necessary during these years to handle the experience without sensible limits in place.

Those who participate in sexting and get caught at or after age 16 can be registered as sex offenders for life, so the stakes are incredibly high if a teen makes a mistake. A teen needs a lot of scaffolding and society instead thinks this is a time to give them freedom so they are better prepared to handle choices when they are aware from us. But the control over their own lives has to be handed over in small increments as they prove themselves mature enough. Instead of hand them freedom and see how they do, it should be more that we wait for several signs that they are maturing in self-control, and then give them a simple trial, and keep proceeding incrementally from there.

And none of it works if we don't already have a loving relationship with them. They are less likely to rebel if they feel loved and valued and a part of a loving family unit.

There as many opinions as to how to raise children as their are parents, and each child is still an individual. said...

The hardest thing, I find, is my children saying they're 'different' from their peers. It is so hard to explain why we're different to nearly everyone else. But the dangers are there and I agree with you far more than I disagree, Christine, and I am glad you're writing about these things. It's vital that we don't ignore them and just 'hope for the best', which is all I saw when I was growing up even within church-going families except for ONE WOMAN (my friend's mother) who was a born-again Christian and probably the biggest influence on my faith in my whole life... I should write to her and say thank you.
Sandy x

Tesha Papik said...

Great post! I've never had video games in our home recently this Christmas my mother bought two iPads for Christmas, I hate them and I wish they would disappear! We Strictly limit the games, we do allow them to use them as videocameras and for graphic design probably more than they should. We don't have a TV but we do use the computer for movies. I really want to work on having a unplugged summer and get the kids outside as much as possible! Thanks for the great research you did it was eye-opening and terrifying