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.