Video Games, Addiction and Violence
In connection to a prior post regarding my opinion on the link between violence and video games (here) I want to talk about video games in regards to addiction. I mean, clearly gaming is not like the addictive substances like nicotine and alcohol, but how can video games be compared to deadly substances that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths?
In truth, they can’t. Not exactly. But they can be compared to other addictions like shopping, adrenaline, or even sex. They can wreck lives, and relationships when used in excess. So ask yourself why you play video games. Of course most answers will be “Because it’s fun” but the science of it goes far deeper than that.
What got me thinking about video game addiction was when recently, I caught an episode of the talk show, “Katie” (Not that I watch that show, but it was on). The episode involved the case of a young man, who, as a teenager, shot both his parents, killing his mother and severely injuring his father. Throughout his high school career, he was a major athlete until an injury prevented him from playing at all. Lacking an outlet, he turned to video games. Over time he became intensely engrossed in the gaming world, spending on average 18 hours a day gaming; at one point, he spent 72 hours straight playing Xbox. This went on and on and his parents took notice of his withdrawn actions and lack of interest and banned him from playing video games in the house. Angry and distressed, he shot them both, killing his mother.
Many accredited his horrific actions to his constant use of violent video games, specifically Halo 3, an Xbox sci-fi shooter that is played by millions around the world. A psychologist on the show diagnosed the boy as being addicted to the games which then led to his severe misjudgment. The story was extremely sad and touching, however, it was far on the extreme end of the spectrum. Few people actually play for several days on end, but it does get you thinking about what your brain does while playing video games.
See the way our brains work is that they respond well to dopamine which is caused by or creates pleasure, depending on how you look at it. Many stimuli increase the body’s dopamine production; stimuli like drugs, sugar, sometimes exercise, depending on the person. Video games have also been shown to produce dopamine in many people; therefore people will continue to play video game, after all, who doesn’t like to have fun? But does this mean we will become addicts, or murderers? Not at all.
While listening to an NPR show called Radio Lab one day during an episode about psychotic killers and their mindset, I learned that there is a set of genes that, when activated, can cause a person to act without emotion, or get pleasure from certain things; including killing. This was tested in the vast majority of serial killers with the same results. The startling part was that a little over 9% of the U.S. population possesses this genetic code. But clearly there are not millions of serial killers running around… as far as I know.
In most people these genes remain dormant until activated. To be activated, the person must be subject to constant emotional trauma during early development (i.e. birth until late teenage years). This could range fro m abuse, physical, sexual, or even verbal; watching a close family member die, or even being in a stressful environment.
Some consider violent video games to be a stimulus for these genes; that they can be traumatic enough to push someone over the edge of sanity. However this is not what happened to the boy mentioned above. After a lot of research, I concluded that this boy was simply suffering from some serious misjudgment after being hooked on video games for so long. When his parents banned him from doing what he was so used to doing, and with his house filled with guns (he lived in a hunting household), he made a judgment error and shot at his parents, killing one and wounding the other. Yes, the fact that the game he had been hooked on was a violent shooter probably contributed to his decision, but he was not suffering from the sociopathic murder rage that I described above. So this in no way shows that video games will trigger the serial killer genes. not at all. Many may argue that because the games are so addictive, they will increase the chance of an event like this happening. Well honestly, this event was caused by a lack of doing anything but gaming (albeit gaming on violent games). But constantly doing something that gives pleasure and then stopping cold turkey is shown to produce the misjudgment issues that can lead to murder.
But on the topic of violent games being traumatic: They aren’t. simple as that. I mean if you sit a four-year-old down in front of a game like Manhunt, then yeah, expect some problems down the road. But if someone had common sense like most of the world, that wont happen. Anyway, Video games just aren’t graphic and immersive enough to cause trauma equivalent of being abused constantly. In moderation, games are not harmful to the general public.
My favorite argument against the anti-gamers is about a boy. A Manchester boy who loved to game, and began to make commentaries and put them on YouTube. As his fan base grew, he actually quit his job and left school to become a full on gamer. Yes guys I’m talking about Tom Cassell; Better known as the Syndicate Project. This guy is with out a doubt the best gamer I have ever seen! He must spend several hours a day gaming and does he look like a serial killer to you? No! He seems to me like one of the funniest, easy-going people in the world. he seems undisturbed by the stress and troubles of everyday life. After all, isn’t that why we all play video games? Yes, video games are possibly addictive but only when not moderated. So keep gaming!!!!
I’m Anxious for Opinions!