In this assembly Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider the addictive effects of video games and suggests some relational strategies to address them

Engagement

Leader: Kim and Choi are a married couple from South Korea. Like most couples they share an interest. For Kim and Choi the shared interest was the Second Life-style game Prius, which they regularly played at their local internet cafe. Their carefully chosen avatars lived out an idealised life onscreen. The perfect couple.

Reader 1: It has been estimated that 70% of UK households are connected to the internet, with the figure rising as government initiatives make the technology widely available. Faster speeds and wider bandwidths are made available with increasing regularity. The internet is used for a wide variety of purposes: online shopping, research, catch up TV, news and sport, social networking and gaming.

Leader: In the spring of 2009, Choi gave birth to a baby – a girl. In a parallel move Kim and Choi’s avatar alter egos also began to raise a child. In order to handle the complex issues of properly raising this virtual child, the couple spent up to 12 hours a day at the internet cafe.

Reader 1: Gaming is one of the most popular uses of the internet, particularly amongst the under-25 age group. There are more than 16 million active gamers in the UK. These range from young children, who begin with brightly coloured learning games and gradually progress to the more complex variations, to adults who engage with 18-rated versions. Many of these gamers spend hours in front of the screen.

Leader: Kim and Choi’s real baby daughter was initially cared for by her grandmother but eventually moved back in with her parents. They would give her a bottle of milk, then leave her at their apartment for the rest of the day, while they went to attend to the child on screen at the internet cafe.

(Pause)

One morning in September last year they woke up to find their real-life daughter dead. The cause of death was severe malnourishment and malnutrition over an extended period of time.

Reflection

Leader: Are video games dangerously addictive? Social scientists can’t agree on this question. They say that addiction is too strong a word to describe the way that a game can take over a player’s life. Nevertheless I think we could go around this assembly and hear stories of excessive behaviour and intense absorption involving the playing of Second Life, football manager or war games. There would be stories of late nights, missed homework and broken friendships. Internet gaming can take over, even here in this school.

Why are these games so engaging? You could probably give me many reasons, but here are some that I’ve heard of:

First, these games are so fantastically creative. Anything is possible. Players can fly, transform themselves, go forward and back in time, regenerate, steal a fortune and rule the world, or win the Champions League with [name local football club]. Players can create an alternative identity, their avatar, who is everything they wish to be: cool, good-looking, intelligent, powerful. It’s an alternative self-image, an improvement on real life.

Second, these games give quick results. Whilst success in real life takes years and a lot of effort to achieve, success in computer games comes within days, if not hours. Failures can be bypassed and cheats enable players to overcome difficulties. Achievement comes quickly and satisfaction is guaranteed.

Finally, the game is a safe place to be. There is no bullying, rejection or failure that cannot be immediately addressed or avoided. The player is in control rather than suffering the experience of the victim. It’s easy to see what the attraction is.

I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with video games. The producers don’t set out to create a monster. Nevertheless, for some players, there are negative effects.

Reader 1: One player may show a gradual weight gain because he or she is confined to a chair for an excessive length of time and isn’t getting the necessary exercise.

Reader 2: Another player may suffer from weight loss through not eating. There simply isn’t time.

Reader 1: Many players suffer from sleep deprivation. Time passes without them noticing. This affects their school performance as they are tired during the day.

Reader 2: Personal hygiene can be forgotten when someone is engrossed in a game. They don’t wash or shower, change their clothes or brush their teeth.

Reader 1: Obsessive gamers lose friends because they’re never around. The only place you can meet them is in their room, in front of their screen.

Leader: None of this is as serious as Kim and Choi’s neglect of their baby, but it’s significant enough for us to be on the lookout and to have strategies to deal with it.

Response

So what do we do about video games? First, I’d suggest we enjoy them. They are an amazing activity, if you like that sort of thing. They exercise the brain, offering lots of problem solving and logic skills. They’re great for a long car journey, a wet Saturday or an evening when there’s nothing worth watching on the box.

Second, even though social scientists can’t agree whether or not gaming is an addiction, it’s helpful for us as a community to apply the same standards of watchfulness towards one another that we’d apply when dealing with drugs or alcohol. Keep an eye out for significant changes in behaviour in any of your friends – mood swings, forgetfulness, weight loss, tiredness etc. Talk to one another when someone drops out of a social group or a sports team. Don’t let them become isolated.

Finally, take control of your own life. Practise walking away from the screen and doing something else. Make sure that you spend as much time with real people as you do with your virtual friends, because this is where real life begins and ends. The game ends when the power’s switched off.

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear GodI feel thankful for every interesting, amusing and entertaining activity that computers provide.May I enjoy them, while staying in control.May I place a higher value on real life than I do on the virtual world.

Amen

Sources

The Kim and Choi story can be found at here. It was quoted in The Sunday Times magazine 18/04/2010 p38-45 Game Boy from where additional material has been sourced.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Brian Radcliffe

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