The ostensibly static life of a gamer shouldn’t be disparaged. It’s a passionate story that epitomizes love and determination.
The story begins in the cluttered isles of a big-box retailer, when a sleek design on a garnished box galvanizes the curiosity of an up-and-coming adolescent; call him Slick. The box promises a new world where fantasies can be lived, where new identities can be donned and old ones shed. Hormones fired up, Slick makes a move on the voluptuous box and, with a glimmer in his eyes, runs a credit card debt to purchase it. Slick has now joined the ranks of 11 million other users who have been cajoled into betrothing themselves to the World of Warcraft, the massive online role-playing game.
Slick installs the game and plays, customizing his avatar, a warlock, and beginning his pursuit of quests, gears and gems. Like the average user, Slick pillages, explores and collects for about 25 hours a week, padding his pride with each experience point. The work pays off; Slick’s leveled-up avatar raises eyebrows every time it unleashes the fury of its magical battleaxe. It gets him membership in an exclusive guild where he begins to meet people who, like him, enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer, and have pledged to satisfy their Warcraft infatuation with all the irrationality it desires. Slick begins to play longer into the night and becomes his own cult hero. Slick has it all.
That’s how Slick views himself. However, the real Slick doesn’t embody his name. He’s unemployed, single and 35, the average age of a gamer according to the Entertainment Software Association. With dilated pupils and swimming in perspiration, his fingers incessantly click away only to pause when Mr. Bladder comes calling.
Although Slick may represent an aberration of the gaming norms, his story is shared, in part, by others and reveals the more somber realities of the virtual world. A 15-year-old Swedish boy who, earlier this month, played World of Warcraft for 20 straight hours, collapsed and went into convulsions, shares his compulsive gaming behavior. His neglect of his own life is shared by an American couple who last year, obsessively played the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons while their two children became severely malnourished. Qui Chengwei, who, three years ago, fatally stabbed a fellow gamer for stealing his virtual sword, shares such a fixation on leveling up and gaining influence in the virtual world.
Recognizing the atrophic effects of video games, China, in 2005, began to implement controls that would dissuade its more than 20 million gamers from playing certain online games for more than three hours. After three hours, game characters would have their powers reduced. The controls in China go so far as to force gamers to take a break after five hours.
In America, the U.S. Army embraced the gaming media for the very reason the Chinese government decided to restrict it: addictive power. The U.S. Army pushed video games as a potential recruitment tool to entice adolescents to enlist, and after the success of its free action game, America’s army decided to establish its own video game studio. Currently, over 27 million copies of its video games have been distributed, costing taxpayers $2.5 million annually.
The reality of video game addiction has started to get some attention from the medical community. Last year, the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health prepared a report for the annual American Medical Association policy meeting. The report suggested including video game addiction as a disorder in the revised version of the DSM, a manual compiled by the American Psychiatric Association that lists recognized mental disorders. The report estimated that five million young Americans might be addicted. The proposal was denied, but with four out of 10 Americans now playing video games, the debate continues.
Like almost everything else in life, video games are as enjoyable as pumpkin pie, if enjoyed in moderation. However, video games become a prevalent problem when you add people lacking self-control to games that can shove self-control into a corner. So think twice this Christmas season before buying your friend or loved one that embellished box with the sleek design. Otherwise, that Warlock waiting to be played inside could end up ruining your holidays or worse, your life.
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Filed Under: Opinion