I don’t very often comment on gaming in the news, except for the occasional tweet or post on my Facebook page. But I have to absolutely respond to an article from today in the BBC’s gaming/technology section. With the rise of awareness of “gaming addiction” – and therefore reporting on it, such news is becoming more frequent. Here I have a small rant at both journalists and gamers, with a call to both groups to enjoy what they do, responsibly.
A Shocking Gaming Addiction Headline Does Not Make a Story
The first article I am referring to is here. The journalist/reporter focussed on one person saying they once (back when they were a student, no less) spent 32 hours gaming in one go. I’ll come to addressing that to the ex-gamer himself later. The problem with focussing on this is that is over-emphasises the 32 hours and does not balance it against the once. I once did a Lord of the Rings movie marathon through the night (when I was a student). Admittedly I did eat, but that once does not highlight a shocking mental issue I have to deal with.
Later in that same article another male said his sessions went from “four hours to twelve hours”. The journalist likely didn’t have enough information to know how many sessions were nearer four than twelve, but the numbers look great.
We really don’t have the full picture from the headline, especially when they later say that an average session was “four hours”. At least they followed it up with another article about ways to combat gaming addiction.
A better headline would have come from a throw-away phrase towards the end.
“Gamer’s Lack of Discipline Ruined His Life”
Gaming Isn’t a Unique Time-sink
To people that don’t play computer games, a person spending four hours a day playing games looks insane. But as someone who does play and blog about games (LOTRO, & SWTOR), I can’t understand why someone would sit and watch television (I include streaming services here) for four hours. But if I had any money I would bet some on a high proportion of the UK population spending four hours a day, most days, watching TV.
Are we addressing addiction to TV with the same focus? No, because “Man spends four hours a day watching TV” isn’t shocking. But I can tell you, I improve my reactions and engage my brain when I game. Working out whether a new piece of gear is mathematically better than the old one is not always easy. I doubt the same brain-engagement is true for most television shows viewed.
TV “Addiction” StatisticsIn 2015, the Daily Mail reported that on average UK households watched 24 hours of TV per week, with some watching 40 hours. That’s a 3-5½ hours per day average. That is really not much different to gaming.
And in 2018, it was reported that the average British person watched “22 hours of TV every week, not including streaming services”.
Our society has many such time-sinks: online and offline shopping, going out drinking, following a sport, heck even reading.
So the problem isn’t necessarily on the time that is spent gaming, but on the effect gaming has on a person. Or, as I’ll come to shortly, the effect a thinking human being allows gaming to have on them.
Reading or Watching the News Can Be Addictive!
Ever considered that? Wanting to be kept up-to-date with the latest from around the world.
- Just one click or tap away on the app.
- On all devices wherever you are!
- “Coming up this hour”
- Watch this documentary”
- “Breaking News, click now”
- “stay with us for all the latest…”
If “Games by their nature are addictive(link)” then anything else that encourages you to keep watching or interacting can also be addictive. Refreshing the BBC News Android app when it tells you a news story has been updated is no different from a new quest becoming available or re-checking your Twitter feed.
Gaming Is Not Anti-Social or Unsociable
This one really annoys me. Heck, even the BBC’s own site ran a long-form article about the positives of gaming.
But phrases like this
excessive exposure can harm young peoples’ studies and socialising (Ref, emphasis mine)
To be honest excessive exposure to anything that isn’t studying at college or university, will harm their studies. Excessive exposure to night clubs, house parties, social media apps – anything.
Social Aspects of GamingBut I dispute the inference that gaming is not socialising. Not all socialising is face-to-face. Twitter, Facebook and many others built businesses on being sociable without meeting people in person. That’s why we call it Social Media. In an online game (which the journalist is focusing on), you can
- Chat using text
- Use voice services to talk with other gamers
- Play group content that involves teamwork and cooperation
- Use video links to talk to people while you play
- And if you have gaming friends who are local to you, then you can game together in the same room.
Taking even those things, gaming is more sociable than watching TV, going to the movies or even an outdoors activity like fishing. We are in an era where the mere existence of mobile devices is affecting family life. That means even if you’re not gaming, you may be neglecting your family when they’re in the same room as you!
While some games are offline and/or solo-play only, you cannot say all gaming is unsociable! Heck, recently a gamer I know got married to a man she met through SWTOR, an online game. Gaming, like any social activity, can bring people together.
I’m not arguing that gamers should not meet people face-to-face. I am simply arguing for balance here.
What BBC Did Get Right in Their Reporting
What the articles in question did get right was to highlight a form of addiction that likely needs addressing. But pretty much anything can be addictive: food, career progression, exercise, watching a Soap Opera and following your preferred sports person or team.
It’s also suggested that gaming companies integrate reminders into their systems. Such reminders might be to go make a drink, or have some food. Maybe that would help, maybe it would be ignored.
But mobile phones don’t tell you to put the phone down after playing an app game for ages. They don’t stop you using it during your normal sleep time. The responsibility for how anything in life affects a person before it becomes a gaming addiction is realistically down to the person.
Not taking responsibility for our own actions is hardly a new human trait. Whether you believe the Bible or not, you will likely know about the story of the Garden of Eden. Basically at the end of that story: Adam blames Eve for his disobeying God and Eve blames the serpent for the same.
So it is with gaming in the news. The focus is clearly on the game being the problem and not the gamer being the problem. Please note, I have many gaming friends and this is not in anyway a rant at people who get this stuff right. This is aimed at the minority who don’t.
People Ruin Relationships, Not Games
If Matúš Mikuš lost his girlfriend it’s because he got his priorities wrong. If you have a relationship with someone (and I’ll include family relationships here), they are built up through time together, interacting, talking and a billion other factors. Blaming the gaming industry is the wrong focus. Relationships usually do not die overnight and repeated neglect will eventually cause a collapse.
Even his counterpart, James Good said:
Gaming becomes a problem because you let other things slide but it is not the root cause of the problem(Ref)
Take Responsibility for Your LifeWhatever your passtime or “addiction” you must take responsibility for your own actions. It’s too easy to say “gaming companies need to fix this” or “fast-food chains need to stop advertising”. That shifts the blame off you. Once you’re a gaming addict you have lost control (and should get help). But it can be prevented by taking ownership of your time, your relationships and your choices.
My Own Gaming
I have played computer games, especially online games, for years. And I’ve been married for twelve years, nearly. But I do the housework, I spend time without devices when I’m with my wife or young daughter. I share what I do online with them. And yes, I spend hours gaming – sometimes for my blog, and sometimes for relaxation.
But people I care about come first and only when I know it’s okay do I get into a game. I’m not perfect and some days can get out of balance. But I do periodically check with my wife to make sure I’m being the husband and father I should be.
Gamers, Look After Yourself Properly
If you didn’t eat or drink liquid for hours on end then that is hardly the fault of the game. You can log off, put your character into a rest zone or (as LOTRO has) set your character to do some crafting. Then leave the sofa, chair or desk.
However you break the quest-to-quest thing, you must do it. You need food and liquid to live. Make a drink every hour or two. No game, combat or quest reward is worth annihilating your body for. If you want positive reinforcement, then food and liquid will likely make you better able to play! But realistically, getting breaks in any activity is essential to ensuring you stay healthy.
You cannot blame the game for something you have power to control. Maybe that’s what you need reminding of: you do have the power to control your gaming time.
Don’t Dismiss the Positives of Gaming
A more positive note: if you know your life is fairly balanced, then don’t let these kind of news stories stop you promoting the good things.
A few positives I’ve had are:
- Providing me with a form of work (whether it pays or not) when my Fibromyalgia symptoms meant a “normal” job wouldn’t be feasible.
- Finding true, supportive, encouraging friends who have shown kindness above and beyond what happens in a game.
- A distraction from the pain I fight on a daily basis.
- Inspiration for fanfiction writing
There are, no doubt, more. So do not be afraid to speak out when gaming has been positive.
TL;DR Gaming Addiction in the News: A Call for Balance
Any tool used for the wrong reasons can have a negative impact. That includes gaming. Journalists who write about gaming need to take note of the bigger picture. The way things are reported nearly always infers a blame placed on the gaming industry. You cannot make a full story from one or two shocking cases. These things do need reporting and anyone addicted to anything needs help. But the balance is wrong in how it is reported, in my humble opinion.
But gamers must also take responsibility for their own actions and their own lives. If you lose your partner or family relationships due to you neglecting them, then that is your own fault. Whether that’s because of gaming or any other reason.
Gaming can be a medium that brings people together, teaches teamwork and improves reactions. It can be highly social too. But games, as with anything, need to be held alongside other responsibilities. I hope that gaming addiction reporting in the news can bring about both balance in reporting on one side, and redressing imbalances for the gamer. Only time will tell, of course.