Hi all! I have been wanting to write about video games for a while now. Ever since I was a little kid, I was told to not play video games too much, don't sit close to the TV, go outside and play with friends, and run around to get exercise/join a sports team or club. Now, it seems the rules I grew up with are turned upside down. Gaming has become a huge source of social engagement, VR puts us up close to the screen, and streaming on YouTube and Twitch provides income for gamers all over the world. What happened? Is this good? Is this bad? How can a parent understand these changes when their child is gaming, and how can a gamer remain realistic and remember there are real world responsibilities?
Yep... That's my proud Fortnite Victory Royale selfie.
As you can see, I am a gamer. I've been playing video games since Nintendo NES and SEGA. I too got caught up in the wave of Fortnite back when it was first gaining popularity. I've always been more into narrative/single player/story-driven games. However, lately, there's an influx of online, BATTLE ROYALE styles of games with Fortnite, PUBG, H1Z1, and a seemingly endless number of clones. They're rewarding, time consuming, and can get pretty expensive.
I let you know this about myself because trust me when I say I know what it's like to get lost in the world of a video game. I have had nights where I played all night and well into the morning. Only realizing how long I've been playing because I saw sunlight and heard the birds outside. I know the feeling of winning in a battle royale. I know the feeling of reward when I defeat a difficult boss after it destroying me several times. I know the feeling of rage quitting or wanting to throw my controller in anger and frustration because I just can't solve a puzzle or someone sniped me from across the map. I've said to myself "Just another 30 minutes" more times than I can remember. I used to be on a team in Counter Strike, and I know about the social and friends aspect of gaming.
I also know that gaming can be a form of escapism, avoidance, ignoring or shutting out life's problems, become unhealthy and addictive, and it can create a seemingly safe bubble when school, work, relationships, or family become too anxiety provoking or overwhelming. As a counselor, I work mainly with young men, and a big problem facing young men today is video games becoming less about social interaction or reward, and more about avoidance.
There are so many stressful and unpleasant events and feelings we wish could just go away. Video games offer us that temporary reprieve. But it's when that temporary reprieve turns into the main mode of being that problems start to happen. It kind of replaces one problem with another problem, which is what avoiding things does. People think they're protecting themselves from the negative events or feelings with gaming, but then that causes other problems like poor sleep, unhealthy eating and drinking, poor grades or school attendance, anger and irritability when it's time for the game to be turned off, or financial problems. Yes, those "free games" are not exactly free. With downloadable content, skins, loot boxes, upgrades, and so on, people can spend hundreds of dollars a month on games like Fortnite.
So what can you look out for and be able to recognize when this is a problem? What can you do if and when gaming becomes a problem? Here's a list of a few suggestions:
1. Be honest with yourself: Really reflect on if you’re spending too much time and devoting too much mental energy to gaming or streaming.
2. Ask yourself: Am I avoiding something? Again, be honest with yourself. Are you feeling upset about something going on with friends, family, or a partner? Are you feeling scared about school or sports or something coming up that you don't feel prepared or confident that you can face? Being able to name the thing you are trying to avoid can be an important step in solving the problem.
3. Are parents or friends saying you're spending too much time gaming? Or are they trying to hang out with you, but you refuse to go out? Perhaps you're feeling social anxiety lately, and the thought of interacting with others is too much. Is there some arguing in the house with the parents and you're trying to avoid conflict? Let's talk about this so you can feel heard. You don't need to lock yourself away. You have a voice, and your thoughts and feelings matter.
4. The reason you avoid things with gaming is because it is EASY. It's easy to push buttons and get a kick of dopamine in the brain that makes you feel good. It's hard to talk about your thoughts and feelings when things are getting rough for you at school, at home, or with friends. Talking about and reasoning in the real world is how problems are solved. Problems do not get solved in the gaming world. You can overcome whatever it is you're afraid to face.
5. No game or social interaction is worth your health deteriorating. A common theme I hear is "I have friends across the world who are awake when it's 2AM here." Listen, I get it, talking to people across the globe is awesome. But no friendship and no game is worth you not getting sleep and not being healthy.
6. This isn't just a problem for Americans! If you're interested in doing a little cultural research, look into Hikikomori. It's a diagnosis in Japan related to gaming, social withdrawal, and increased isolation.
7. All-in-all gaming becomes a problem when: Most of your time revolves around gaming, your personal relationships suffers because of gaming, your personal health and hygiene suffers because of gaming, your grades and responsibilities suffer because of gaming, you're avoiding addressing anxiety, depression, or other problems and game instead, and you do not want to stop gaming despite all of these negative things happening.
I want to continue this topic in future blog posts for gamers and their parents. I'll actually allow the ability to leave comments below! I wish I could go further, but this seems like a natural stopping point.
Just know this, I play video games, I watch streamers, but I also know the value of hard work, facing and overcoming life's obstacles, and knowing when things that are enjoyable and fun can become problems due to avoidance. I'm not demonizing gaming, nor saying it's a waste of time and you shouldn't do it. Just, like all things, keep it in check, good things in moderation.