Am I Giving My 6-Year-Old Video Game Drugs?

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Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was my first attempt to play a video game with Wyatt. He would climb onto my lap and I would give him charge over a few buttons. We’d press on, together, through the colorful lands of Skylands, father and son.

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The toys to life market has exploded since the original Skylanders debuted. Disney has followed suite with their own Disney Infinity and LEGO with LEGO Dimensions. The race for your nostalgic memories blended together with basic compulsive behaviors is on.

Skylanders: Superchargers, Disney Infinity, and LEGO Dimensions are not cheap. Each brand forces you to buy a base set, at prices ranging from $75 to $100. If you want to go beyond the initial starter pack characters, prepare to pay $15 per character. Want to play, I mean “unlock” more of the game levels you’ve already bought? The ransom price will be $30 per expansion. Good times for kids like Veruca Salt; bad times for a child who only gets a video game on their birthday.

As a parent, I wonder at what I have introduced my son to. Am I no better than a drug dealer, pushing the latest video game with expensive add-ons? What about the morality and business model of a developer who is double-dipping? Buy the initial game for x-amount and then pay more to play the rest. Is this fair?

Take LEGO Dimensions for instance. The main game, according to some reviews, is 12 hours in length. Which is not a bad amount of gameplay for $100, at $8/hour. But, any of the past LEGO games have been whole. Yes, they have lacked an accompanied physical LEGO set, but they have been fully unlocked. Interested in Portal themed levels, Mr. Nerd? That will be $30 please. Content that is already on disc, waiting to be saved.

In our brave new world of toys to life, I wonder how long consumers will stand for buying the same product 5-6 times. On a positive note, Skylanders: Superchargers only requires four vehicles to experience the game.  None of the content gated to specific types of figures, as it has been in the past. A step in the right direction.

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But who am I kidding? I can rant and rave about pricing structures till the end of this blog. Will LEGO Dimensions make my Christmas list? OH YEAH! I can’t pass up playing with Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle. No matter the cost, playing this game with Wyatt will be awesome. LEGO told me so.

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:14 (NIV)

Rewind Wednesday – Video Game Addiction: Level 1

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Video game addiction is a topic that flares up just about as often as the devastating Southern California wild fires. Which is to say that every year the words “video games” and “addiction” get tossed into the media blender. Unquestioningly accepted as truth, the case for video game addiction is built upon statements such as,  ”My son plays My Little Pony’s Adventures in 128 Bit Land x-amount of hours, he must be an addict!” Is it fair though to compare video games to something as addictive as sex, drugs or alcohol? Take a look at the following DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition) Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Dependence entry below:

A maladaptive pattern of alcohol use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following seven criteria, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

  • a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
  • b) Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.

2. Withdrawal, as defined by either of the following:

  • a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to DSM-IV for further details).
  • b) Alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

3. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

4. There is a persistent desire or there are unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.

5. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol or recover from its effects.

6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.

7. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the alcohol (e.g., continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption).

Now, I can see how video game “addiction” can be compared to alcohol dependence. There are many similarities:

  • The Time Escalation Component: Where the gamer increases his gaming time as he becomes more engrossed in the game.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Especially from games that employ the “carrot on a stick” philosophy (“just have to get to the next level…”).
  • Gaming Culture: Checking out video game web sites through out the day. Reading the latest walkthrough and immersing oneself into the particular game’s community.
  • The Social Sacrifice: Family, friends and loved ones fall to the wayside as the gamer becomes more immersed in the game. This, in my opinion, is when things become a problem. The gamer has lost any sort of balance between the digital and the real. Welcome to the world of escapism.

What do you think?

  • Are video games and alcohol on the same level?
  • Do we overuse the word addiction?
  • Is this a matter of what society deems acceptable?
  • Could you apply what was written above to your favorite hobby?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

Video Games: Imaginative Play Possibly Gone Awry

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Hobby – an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation: Her hobbies include stamp-collecting and woodcarving.

A friend recently told me that he had been playing a certain video game late into the night, every night. In his case this had only been going on for a short period of time. One might even liken his playing as to absorbing that new car smell–mmm!–. Eventually that newness will wear off and reveal an object that has been meticulously explored. The search for the new “shiny” will soon commence once again and late nights are sure to be an end result.

Video games, as with other forms of media, have the potential to take our time and imaginations captive. Quite quickly, we can find ourselves longing to spend hours in a world that isn’t actually real; Our every waking thought longingly dedicated to a counterfeit reality. This addiction is “imaginative play” gone awry. A perversion of the very word, hobby.

When I think of a hobby, I picture my Grandpa and his model airplanes. He had tons of them! During the day though he was a jeweler by trade. His model airplane hobby never seemed all consuming. Flying balsa wood craft was just something relaxing he did in his spare time. In short, he knew moderation.

The line between hobby and addiction is paper thin, especially with video games. I find myself constantly asking myself whether I am putting my hobby before my Creator. If somehow video games have become an idol in my life. What is hard for me are the thoughts:

What if they have already become an idol…

Am I willing to walk away…

Am I willing to put my faith in God first…

What do you think? Do you have a hobby that has become more than a hobby? Are you so into sports and bedazzeling that you live and breathe them? Let me know.

Video Game Addiction: Level 3

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Think of gaming like you would think of reading a book…when you sit down to read a book, you are totally in it…but then you close it…you are done. I think gaming should be like that. – Scott

The problem with video games as a hobby is that the hobby doesn’t stop when the game is turned off. Magazines, web sites, and discussion boards further fuel what can easily become a second obsession, the video game culture itself.

Through out the day, I find myself visiting various video game related sites to check out the latest news, reviews and editorials–all of course happening on pre-determined breaks–. Quite quickly, this habit can become distracting as my thoughts all rotate around my hobby. Now I am sure that a sports nut checks the stats of his favorite teams/ players through out the day. People desire to stay connected to that which they like. However, I have had times where I have needed to cut back. I have found that all the professional and enthusiast press chatter can actually serve to depreciate my love of gaming. Sometimes one has to experience the artwork without the critic’s comments coursing through the back of his mind.

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My good friend Cory Anderson, of teencounselingsd.com, saw that I was writing this series on video game addiction and wrote me the following (thanks Cory!):

A book I highly recommend on the subject is called Hyperstimulation by Georgianna, Underhill, and Kelland. I know two of the authors, they worked on the teen addiction recovery book with me.
Another simple principle we use to distinguish addiction is “the 4 C’s”:
1) Can’t control – there is a pattern of out of control behavior
2) Consequences – severe consequences due to the compulsive behavior (related to relationships, work, school, legal or health)
3) Can’t stop – even in light of the consequences present
4) Coping mechanism – using the behavior to numb or escape difficult life or emotional circumstances
Hope this helps further the cause, you and the other blogger are doing a great service!

Video Game Addiction: Level 2

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Jordan Ekeroth, over at Follow & Engage, has been writing a series on video game addiction lately. In his second post, “Engage: Game Addiction Part 2”, Jordan says that gaming can be “compulsive”. I couldn’t agree more.

I have witnessed the devastation of video gaming taken to the level of obsession. Which is to say the hobby taken to levels where a gamer’s health, relationships, and job become affected. In college, I remember guys on my dorm floor staying up until all hours of the night playing the latest game. For some this was perfectly normal behavior as they used video games as a means to blow off stress in between homework sessions; For others, video games were the only thing they lived and breathed. As the sun rose and fell, they played with little regards for personal hygiene or school work in general. Those that fed this obsessive behavior either wizened up after a devastating semester of failing grades or dropped out.

College, in particular, is an interesting time of learning all about personal responsibility and life in general. I remember what I consider to be a “lost summer”. I had driven home to California from my college in East Texas. I had left my girlfriend, my friends, and the sheltered life that college brings–sheltered from reality that is–. In an effort to have fun and just chill out, I ended up playing World of Warcraft that entire summer. Day and night, night and day, I sat at my parent’s kitchen table and leveled my character. Working hard to out level my friends who worked during the day. I feel stupid talking about this now, as that time seems like time completely wasted, but it is what it is. I was obsessed over the game.

My personal relationships began to suffer during this time. I drove my parents nuts, almost lost my girlfriend, and did nothing to grow myself physically/ spiritually. What I do know from my experience is that:

  • I will never again let a game control me like that, ever.
  • Video games, as with any other media medium, can quickly become an easy way to disengage and escape from reality. For me during this time, I was escaping getting a job for 3 months and trying to ignore the nagging of my Mom to get a job (she was right!).

What about you? Are video games more than just a hobby?

Video Game Addiction: Level 1

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Video game addiction is a topic that flares up just about as often as the devastating Southern California wild fires. Which is to say that every year the words “video games” and “addiction” get tossed into the media blender. Unquestioningly accepted as truth, the case for video game addiction is built upon statements such as,  “My son plays My Little Pony’s Adventures in 128 Bit Land x-amount of hours, he must be an addict!” Is it fair though to compare video games to something as addictive as sex, drugs or alcohol? Take a look at the following DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition) Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Dependence entry below:

A maladaptive pattern of alcohol use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following seven criteria, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.

b) Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.

2. Withdrawal, as defined by either of the following:

a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to DSM-IV for further details).

b) Alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

3. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

4. There is a persistent desire or there are unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.

5. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol or recover from its effects.

6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.

7. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the alcohol (e.g., continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption).

Now, I can see how video game “addiction” can be compared to alcohol dependence. There are many similarities:

  • The Time Escalation Component: Where the gamer increases his gaming time as he becomes more engrossed in the game.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Especially from games that employ the “carrot on a stick” philosophy (“just have to get to the next level…”).
  • Gaming Culture: Checking out video game web sites through out the day. Reading the latest walkthrough and immersing oneself into the particular game’s community.
  • The Social Sacrifice: Family, friends and loved ones fall to the wayside as the gamer becomes more immersed in the game. This, in my opinion, is when things become a problem. The gamer has lost any sort of balance between the digital and the real. Welcome to the world of escapism.

What do you think?

  • Are video games and alcohol on the same level?
  • Do we overuse the word addiction?
  • Is this a matter of what society deems acceptable?
  • Could you apply what was written above to your favorite hobby?

Leave a comment below and let me know.

On-Line Gamers Anonymous

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Awhile back I came across On-Line Gamers Anonymous. The site is a virtual self help group for those struggling with gaming or Internet addiction. Their mission statement says:

On-Line Gamers Anonymous is a fellowship of people sharing their experience, strengths and hope to help each other recover and heal from the problems caused by excessive game playing.

If you find yourself struggling with gaming or Internet addiction, On-Line Gamers Anonymous would be a great place to start getting help. Your PSA for the day.

Friday Sing Along!

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Phew. What a long crazy week! As the countdown to summer approaches, I don’t know about you, but spring fever is hitting hardcore. Others around the world must be feeling this as well (even though its not spring everywhere). Below you will find a collection of odds and ends from through out the week. So sing along with JBG…

it's a world of laughter, a world or tears its a world of hopes, its a world of fear theres so much that we share that its time we're aware its a small world after all...

1. Number 1 on our countdown is a delightful story of a little boy with rage issues. You see, his parents took his keyboard away as a disciplinary measure. So, the kid bludgeons his dad with a sledgehammer while he is sleeping. Mom, scared stupid, gives the 14 year old his keyboard back. The kid takes the keyboard and plunges right back into playing games (which is why his keyboard was taken away in the first place). Scary. – For the full story click here.

its a small world after all its a small world after all its a small world after all its a small, small world!

2. Number 2 in the news of the weird this week, a Wii Fit accident leads to sexual addiction. Don’t believe me? Click on over here then for more. If you dare…

There is just one moon and one golden sun And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide And the oceans are wide It's a small small world (repeat chorus)

3. Finally, number 3 on our countdown is a bit of a cheat. The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced a curfew for young gamers this week. For more on this click here or here.

It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all

And to answer the person who searched for “why am i paying $15 a month to be harassed by wow players”…I truly don’t know. 🙂

It’s a small world after all, it’s a small small world.

Song stuck in your head? Too bad.

Until next week. Good bye! Adios! Ciao!

Videogame Addiction Center Opens in Britain

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Internet Addiction

Reminds me of something I would have seen in college.

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported that Britain’s first videogame addiction center opened.

Mr Dudley* believes treating game addiction needs a different approach to “conventional” vices like drink and drugs.

”Obviously this is the very early stages of researching how many youngsters are affected,” he said.

”But I would stick my neck out and say between five and ten per cent of parents or partners would say they know of someone addicted to an online game.

”However, you can’t simply say to a 23-year-old male ‘you should never use the internet again’. It’s just not practical.

”So we go through all the issues surrounding gaming use and ensure there are triggers through which an addict recognises their usage has become a problem.

”Behavioural shifts include users becoming agressive, with chaotic lifestyles that result in irregular eating and sleeping patterns as well as social exclusion.’

”I don’t know anybody else who is treating such cases in this country. There’s no helpline.”

Having spent a summer of my life playing World of Warcraft from dusk till dawn, I can personally attest to the power of videogame addiction. If you find yourself living and breathing videogames 24/7, I encourage you to talk to someone. There is a difference between living in a virtual world versus playing videogames as a hobby. No duh, huh.

(*Brian Dudley, the center’s chief executive)

Addiction

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*The month of February is most popularly known as being the month in which Valentines Day co-exists with a holiday dedicated to a stack of dead presidents.

Circle of Life theorists no doubt rejoice and hold massive parties on the savanna (in the shadows of Pride Rock) during this prelude to spring. A sweeping trend in both the mainstream and gaming presses this month (2/06) has been on the topic of gaming addiction. Long the whipping boy for politicians and presidential candidates, vide games have once again come to the forefront of the pathetically bored American Press. Love, candle-lit dinners for two, and discounted cars are all topics for another time and place. The topic of gaming addiction rules the day, and I wish to wade forth into this “dreaded” territory. I will warn you dear reader, we are about to enter a virtual abyss of stupidity. So please pull up a chair, and continue this adventure below.

Every new form of media has been met with intense scrutiny by the generations introduced to them. Radio at one time was probably called a great evil; television, a sign of the impending apocalypse. Scrutiny and distrust generally apply to the nouns we have failed to be properly introduced to. Nearly a decade since the inception of videogaming, the mainstream press continues to poke, prod, and accuse a media format they themselves know nothing about.

On the almighty chopping block of media’s grand altar, World of Warcraft (WoW) is actively being examined. Known for destroying many a marriage, this massively multiplayer online (MMO) game has claimed the lives of nearly 8 million subscribers. I don’t think that addiction is the problem here. I believe that the outcries from small African governments, who quake in fear over WoW’s powerful economy, have become too great for the media to ignore. In an age in which Hollywood often sets the political tone of the nation (or so they would like to think), WoW is soon to be the next campaign against Aids or even Darfur. Whispers that I have personally heard from the Internet (yes, it talks to me) have even gone as far to say that Al-Qaeda has integrated the games leveling concepts into their terrorist training camps. Addiction should clearly be the media’s last worry in the face of the global threat that is the World of Warcraft behemoth.

In closing, videogames indeed can be addictive. Although I would argue that they are just as addictive as any other hobby or recreation. Moderation and self-control are key to living. So wise up dear readers and learn to control yourselves! Otherwise, the government might soon be doing that for you…but that is a topic for another day.

*A note to our readers: This article was originally written/ posted to JBG in February of 2006.

World of Warcraft: Online Therapy?

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World of Warcraft logo

Websites such as WOW_widow and GamerWidow serve to allow those who have lost friends and family to the addictive nature of World of Warcraft (and other MMO’s) to vent and find support. Real life horror stories of absent spouses and divorce are common on such sites. The existence of online support groups for the popular MMO speaks of one truth, World of Warcraft (WoW) is addictive.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Dr. Richard Graham is interested in combating WoW addiction by traveling to the very lands of Azeroth itself.

“Those effected don’t exhibit the same outward warning signs as most teenage anti-social behaviour issues do because they’re in their bedrooms most of the time, seemingly out of trouble. Because of this we can’t get through to them in the traditional educational environment or intrude on their actual bedrooms, we need to turn to the internet itself to tackle these problems.”

Those worried about random in-game therapy sessions need not worry.

“I think it’s already clear that psychiatrists will have to stay within the parameters of the game. They certainly wouldn’t be wandering around the game in white coats and would have to use the same characters available to other players,” said Dr Graham.”

The therapy begins this year.

Order

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Order

Note: I wrote this back in 2009. Ever since my summer of being anchored to the kitchen table playing World of Warcraft, the fine line between hobby and addiction has been on my mind. Enjoy! – Bryan

Hobby: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.”

What happens when a hobby starts to consume ones waking thoughts?

In my pursuit of finding the balance between my electronic hobby and life, I have found myself walking a fine line between hobby and addiction.

Video games are not a casual hobby but a culture. At one time the video game culture was regulated to ones living room but this is no longer true. The Internet now serves to connect a gamers living room to the rest of the world. News, reviews, and varying editorial run rampant and at different levels of professionalism.

Culture: the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.”

No longer are we, as a society, unplugged. The Internet is present in our cellphones, handheld game systems, and even local coffee shops. Not being able to unplug allows one to have constant access to the vast reaches of cyberspace. For me, this means that I have unlimited access to the gaming culture. Throughout the day I find myself reading various videogame related sites. On the outside, there is nothing wrong with this, but I have found myself treading the fine line between hobby and addiction.

As a Christian, I find that my love for videogames and video game culture are often in conflict with my spiritual life. There are times when I should be praying when instead I am thinking about the latest MMO; times when I should be reading my Bible and instead I am reading the latest video game magazine.

To fight against the tide of addiction, I have found that it is best to take a step back and remove whatever it is that is dragging me down. Balance between my hobby and life is not what I seek, but order in the my life’s priorities.

Find yourself overwhelmed by a hobby? I encourage you to take a step back and find order.