Monday, September 13, 2010


I was watching ESPN with my husband last week when one commentator went on a bit of a rant about some issue. He turned to his co-anchor, apologetically and said, “Sorry to get on my soapbox for a bit.” Hi co-anchor replied, “I thought you looked taller.”

Recently there has been a lot of buzz on my local homeschooling group board about the merits of gaming. I think it’s fascinating how we can feel equally passionate about diametrically opposed points of view. I like that we can, though, and I think a sense of ‘righteous cause’ can bring out the best in each of us, even when we’re at opposing points of view. For me, video games are a hot topic and I have to sidestep a soapbox nearly every time they come up, because I’ve never met anyone who feels as strongly about it as I do. Without going into detail, I’ve personally witnessed significant damages done to families as a result of too much gaming. It’s those experiences that have led to my personal feelings on the matter, and so I recognize that my point of view is pretty slanted. That said, here’s my point of view on gaming.

Video games trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, dulling a person’s senses and causing addiction in many cases. But it never triggers the release of serotonin, which leads to satisfaction or happiness. If it dulls our brain function and doesn’t make us happy, why do it? Incidentally, this is exactly the chemical response that occurs in pornography and gambling addictions.

The following link describes the results of a study about gaming done at BYU. The psychologists on the study were actually hoping to find some positive results because one of them really likes interactive team gaming, and he was very disappointed to find that everything associated with gaming thus far in their research has been negative.

I firmly believe that any time spent playing a video game would be better used in other pursuits. Gaming can be like a gateway drug to pornography addiction to many people, men especially.

When a program is supposed to be educational—like a flight simulator or ever-advancing medical technology to aid doctors in surgery preparation, it is called simulation. When the program is not educational or does not promote standard moral values (such as the sanctity of life), it is called a game and deemed harmless. Both of them train our minds and bodies, whether it’s for entertainment or professional development.

Many people, boys especially, have a lot of physical aggression that they need to express somehow. Some suggest that video games allow a kid to get out their aggression without hurting anyone, but I disagree. In the few times my son has played violent-natured games, he has come away more hostile. But when he leaves soccer practice, physically tired and having been mentally engaged, he is a kinder, better person. Frankly, the same is true for me. If I’m tuned in to the TV, no matter what the show, I’m never as happy as I am when I’ve been exercising.

A true optimist can find the bright side in every situation. Many people seem to do this with video games, saying they enhance hand-eye coordination and develop strategic thinking skills, etc. Similarly, a drug addict could be said to be preparing for a career in phlebotomy.

Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but why should we try so hard to praise the few good qualities of a thing with so many negative side effects? Why not just choose a better past-time? Because guess what, folks? Time is passing.

How about ping-pong for hand-eye coordination or chess for strategic thinking? There aren’t any social, developmental, or addictive side-effects and plenty of good outcomes that have us using our bodies and interacting with other humans in person.

I know most people believe there is plenty of good interaction in games, and even physical exercise with the Wii Fit. I just think it comes in a distant second to reality every time.

I saw the movie “Inception” recently. It’s a fascinating, graphically stunning film. It left me thinking hard about reality and fantasy. When it comes down to it, most video games envelop the player in a fantasy world. So the question remains, what about our own realities are we avoiding by playing them for hours on end? Could we be doing things that make our realities better if we spent a little more time in the here and now and a lot less in a fantasy world?