Draft One, a larger and meta-ironic sprouting of a seed of a talk on boredom:
In the interests of full disclosure and also disclaiming official stances for my employers, I admit I am a long-time video gamer and nothing I put in this blog post should reflect on the official policies of those who pay my paychecks. Also, my opinions are my own and based (mostly) on anecdotes and my own first-hand experience, although my professional opinions are affected by training as a scientist/practitioner at a medium-sized, accredited University. I have worked, and am currently working, in the field of mental health counseling as a therapist and have helped clients with serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar mood-disorders, and have been employed specifically to target dual-diagnosis problems (that is mental health and substance abuse) in prison populations as well as in the juvenile justice system. That said, I am a relatively new therapist – I graduated in 2010. I say this so you know, well in advance, that although I know whereof I speak and have looked into it and handled it professionally, I am not far removed from the problem myself. Video games being the problem in question.
Computer games. Console games. Hand held portables. My first flirtation with video games was this device. When the state of games advanced (I think I was around 6 at the time) we had a Magnavox Odyssey, an Atari 2600, an Intellivision, and a Commodore 64 and 128, and the various Nintendo 8-bit systems. Some other vaguely remembered console had a big Dirty Harry-type gun as a peripheral. I have been suckled on the teat of video game violence and was weaned on the arcade culture of Miami’s late 1980’s and early 1990’s arcades. The comic store I came up in (Brother’s Grimm, sadly long defunct) had a Mortal Kombat cabinet that I dumped much of my teen allowance into. I have played intensely violent computer games of all stripes: DOOM, Quake, Fallout 1,2,3. Bioshock. Games in which violence was a perk and was also the main attraction Street Fighter, Samurai Shodown, Time Killers. House of the Dead. I have lost uncounted hours of my life to video game violence and digital entertainment. Ok, enough. Enough, you get it.
Before I proceed, I will share that I value the ethical and theoretical stances of the American Counseling Association, a professional organization of which I am a member. I have not looked into any official stances of the ACA on behavioral addictions (or process addictions). Whatever it is, I don’t speak for them or my colleagues in the trenches. I speak for myself. Video games are the culmination of human art. I don’t care about this guy and his dumb opinions or the battle of semantics that is likely to ensue from this first premise. If you can’t imagine a table of ping-pong when you play Pong and envision the battle of wills that must ensue, well, stick with criticism and put the paddle down, sir. Roger must not have shared the consensual hallucination of fleeing willy-nilly from ghosts through a neon maze that many of us call Pac Man Fever. I beat it, don’t sweat at night anymore but I am prone to relapse every couple of years. Video games are the current pinnacle of our capabilities, the human imagination laid bare and available to be shared and laughed and cried over. They are to my mind magical and amazing. Also, they are a blight and a drug and a poison for children and ought to be avoided by sensible parents at all costs, as the risks involved in allowing your kid to consume video games (yes, all of them, Tetris included) far, far outweighs – I say it again for emphasis – FAR outweighs whatever benefits may come from that consumption.
We are at an interesting point in human history at which the possibilities available in the sensorium of the video game experience are now so advanced that for a small kid, maybe at a certain operational level of development, they are practically indistinguishable from reality. I will leave out links to arguments on this issue, and I will present here what I am experiencing in my day-to-day job experience. I find that many parents that come to me report that their kids are irritable, aggressive, generally short-tempered and prone to tantrums when frustrated. I do not know if this link that I propose is causal or correlational. For example, it could be that households in which kids have these problems tend to be poorly supervised and parents, say, ignore the warnings on the label of (e.g. GTAIII now available on the nintendo DSi and iPhone platforms). The kids may have poorly parenting parents so they play 4 or 5 or six hours of video games a day, and they are never far from sources of digital entertainment. I point out that I have my iphone in my pocket as I write this. I could (and likely will) play some violent game – currently Swordigo – before I go to bed. Swordigo leaves out humanoid and anthropomorphic enemies, BTW, God Bless Them. The same cannot be said for MW3 or Call of Duty:Black Ops, in which the primary point is to mow down human-controlled human-approximating enemies. One of these titles is the highest selling form of entertainment of any kind, ever, in the realm of human pay-for-entertainment experience. I encourage you to investigate more than I have. I make, perhaps, some unfounded assertions.
The problems we are experiencing, as a society, stem (at least in my opinion) from a casual disregard of consequences for our actions, disrespect for human and non-human life, overconsumption, drive for stimuli, and (perhaps the most important, to my mind) the need to escape our own cognitive processes and experience. Maybe due to poverty, or maybe gross cognitive dissonance about potentialities versus experience. We have all been trained by Farnsworth’s box to expect things, we haven’t got them. Now, we let our kids listen to another box – Nolan Bushnell‘s (or whoever you want to say started this chain of events) and we let it baby sit them and learn things that are patently unreal but seem very convincing. Our brains and bodies have gradually been molded to deny some very simple truths, to eat things that are probably quite bad for us, and to take pleasure in the ceaseless and constant symbolic slaying of things that look like us. Pac-Man. I played a lot of Pac-Man and Space Invaders at a very important time when my brain was shedding the dendrites that just didn’t fit my experience. That’s one thing; I’m behaviorally and cognitively primed to want more resolution and better graphics, less symbolic representations of amusing hypothetical events. I really like, for example, the nauseatingly common Zombie theme that is ponderously crushing even the independent game world, now. It’s just cool from a anthropological and sociological (not to mention psychodynamic and Jungian) sense. And I get a little rush of adrenaline and dopamine when I evade a slow zombie in a digital house in a microcosm. There, I put myself and my persona in the place of some stretch of pixels on a screen that has no soul or agency of its own. I have only the smallest and least empathic sense of what it must be like to be (like some people I know professionally and personally) unceasingly entertained by the non-stop slaughter of others. Especially so when it’s a small child with wild behavioral problems like aggression and tantrums, with a parent that tells me that NO, it’s not the caffeine and video games they have access to, my kids aren’t affected by these things. I am often at a loss as to what to say. I feel like we as a society are being trained for some calamity. A zombie-pocky-clipse? I hope so. The slaughter our kids are being trained for would seem less barbaric if it were only committed upon the walking dead rather than our fellow humans. Maybe aliens would be slightly better, although that’d probably be a loss as well. Depends on the aliens, I suppose.
That’s it. If you object to any of my points, feel free to send me a semi-rational argument or counter-anecdote. I would be pleased to bat this one about. I don’t want to give any video game people the impression that this is an attack on them (ahem Please Gabe Give Us Episode 3 Already ahem); rather an attack on poor parenting and failure to maintain adequate controls over kids’ media consumption. On that note I’m gonna peace out. Deuces y’all.