The Thinking 

One Mother’s Tale of Video Addiction

February 5, 2010


IN RESPONSE to the previous post on video games and their effects on the academic performance of boys, a mother reports her own distressing experience with video game addiction. bigstockphoto_Floral_Cross_3116033[1]This is a powerful story of one family’s encounter with the compulsion to play.


Ann writes:

As one who has been subjected to witnessing video game obsession since 1987, I wholeheartedly concur that those who play them incessantly become less and less functional in the real world, but may be predisposed to this behavior by other life factors.

When my oldest child was three, my husband brought home a Nintendo game system, something brand new at the time. My husband comes from a home in which the father was an alcoholic, the mother a sweet, religious, but weak woman who enabled her husband’s drinking and otherwise did the best she could. The family was always either playing cards or other games, or watching TV.

Now, as head of our family, my husband (who himself had been a teenage alcoholic), was no longer drinking and was a fine worker in his job, but still given to addictive behavior. ( I believe, for all my mouthing off and persistently trying to come up with alternative activities and ideas while trying to maintain an intact family, I am probably playing his mother’s role to a “T”).

Enter the Nintendo. He brought it in, set it up, and began to play. This went on for hours. The next day the same thing, and on and on, until almost every bit of time off was consumed by this activity. The things he did with the rest of his free time consisted of eating, sleeping, TV watching, and taking care of bodily functions.He has always spent at least an hour in the bathroom and often will spend the entire night in the bathtub. (I recently learned that his mother used to do this). His dealings with us were often twofold: either us tuning out, or explosive, angry outbursts. Once in awhile, he would be a responsible, enjoyable adult, but that was rare. As I stated before, though, on the job he was always a stellar employee, going above and beyond at work.

But the children of course were witnesses of this, and then co-players.

Every time a new game system comes out, we have had to have it. The succession of Nintendos, Sega Genesis, Play Stations, X-Box, and Wii, we have bought it all. Hundreds of games, thousands of hours, and many children later, still it goes on. Actually I saw him begin to improve a bit after he was disabled. Now that he is on daily pain medication and anti-depressants, he actually does involve himself in working around the house and being a more social person. Somewhat.

But the damage to our children is the real sin here. I would say that they are all addicted to entertainment in some fashion. The oldest, always the recipient of harshness from his father, is over-sensitive, has problems getting along with other people, and is thoroughly addicted to video and computer games. Other children are either involved with drugs or alcohol, and have been in trouble with the law. One has become obsessed with playing online poker. When not working, or out partying, one watches TV or is on Facebook. Another is considered to have a combination of bipolar and conduct disorder. Two of them have graduated high school and taken college courses, but no degrees, at least yet. Two of them dropped out of high school and have gotten GED’s.

Only the baby seems well-adjusted. He does well in school, is involved in church activities and is well-liked by peers and adults alike. I am so grateful that he is a good boy, but those who work with dysfunctional families often point out that there is usually one persistently “good” child in those families, which is their particular coping mechanism and based in neurosis.

With one exception, they are all underachievers. And they become extremely agitated when they are forced to be “unplugged”. You can just imagine the electric bill.

Add to this my personal knowledge of other young people in the community who are sleep deprived, increasingly antisocial, and have failed at school or work because they are gaming all night long.

My point in writing to you about all this, is that I believe that obsessive, incessant video gaming is both a symptom of emotional problems and a cause for more damage to the psyche, with all manner of negative outcomes. And the best thing a person like me can do to change things is to detach and become healthy, productive and a good role model, for which I covet your prayers.

                                                                      —- Comments—

Laura writes:

I thank Ann for sharing her experience. Some men and boys clearly become addicted and disengage from the world. Not all men and boys by any means, but some. Just as with alcohol, we are dealing with an activity that is not addictive for everyone. Whether it is an activity that has a good effect on anyone, well, that’s a whole other question. Obviously many men and boys get a lot of pleasure from these games. It’s a form of play and relaxation. Men used to hunt and fish with their sons. Some still do, but it’s rarer.

There is an enormous incentive for parents to overlook these addictions (and of course I am not suggesting that Ann has). A boy sitting in front of a screen is at least in one place. He’s not doing anything that looks dangerous. He is quiet and occupied.

Rev. James Jackson, FSSP writes:

Thank you for the shots at video games. 

Some years ago, a psychological autopsy of the two boys who committed the murders at Columbine High School in Littleton was on the public radio. The boys were the Denver champions of a video game called Doom. It’s one of those hyper-violent things where the player walks around and kills people. 

This being established, the host then got the inventor of the game on the telephone, who predictably protested, “Hey, I play the game all the time and so do my kids. I don’t go to high schools and shoot people. The game doesn’t make anyone do that.” 

I was going to call in to protest that this was not the point at all, as I had once visited the USMC Sniper School. But a Marine beat me to it, and pointed out that the Corps uses video games (very graphic ones), to train a sniper to kill. The games will not make the Marine kill, but they help greatly to remove what inhibitions he might have to killing.

Laura writes:

Research has shown that violent video games are much more harmful than violent TV shows and cause measurable increases in hostility.

Here is more from Leonard Sax’s book Boys Adrift:

One of the highly regarded researchers in this field, Professor Craig Anderson, chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Iowa, has pointed out that the strength of the evidence linking video games to antisocial behaviors is every bit as strong as the evidence linking second-hand smoke to lung cancer or lead poisoning in infancy to lower IQ scores. Professor Anderson also notes that the controversy now surrounding video games is reminiscent of the controversy surrounding cigarette smoking in the 1960s or lead poisoning in the 1970s. After all, most people who are exposed to cigarette smoke will never get lung cancer. … Likewise (Professor Anderson would argue) not all boys who play video games twenty hours a week will disengage from real life, and not all boys who disengage from real life are video game players.

 Fitzgerald writes:

Addiction is addiction. If you are an addict, you’re an addict. I have considerable experience working and interacting with addicts, most importantly people who are old sobers as they say. Anything can become an addiction.. sex, tv, books, smoking, eating, skin picking, cutting, movies, etc.. these are manifestations of addicts who need recovery and support. 

I agree video games are less ideal than other activities, and children should be constrained from letting them run their lives as children will chase after anything shiny and fun if allowed to. 

But I don’t think video games are to be feared as a societal menace or that’s it’s time to have a neo-luddite smash the machines response. Violent video games don’t anymore engender a propensity for violence in people than Looney Tunes cartoons do. Ninety-nine percent of people can distinguish between reality and a computer screen or TV. I will agree they can be a desensitizing agent, but let’s face facts, men and boys have violent urges by nature that they must learn to control. Give a boy with n0 exposure to violent movies or video games and I guarantee if he’s not pretending to shoot or swordplay he’ll be smacking ish brother/sister/dog/friend or your freshly painted walls or the family car.. just because he’s a boy. The one percent of kids or adults that people like to blame video game violence for going on murderous sprees were already sociopaths to begin with. The fact they played these games really didn’t have any bearing on their behavior, besides they mostly all come form deeply disturbed homes where they were either neglected or abused. 

Same goes for addicts. The addicts who go crazy with vid addiction were addicts who weren’t really sober, just not drinking or using and because they weren’t really working their recovery program surrendered to next most convenient addiction. If it wasn’t video games it would just be something else because they are trying to desperately trying to escape themselves. 

Saying we must stop video games to protect against the creation of monsters is like saying we need to ban the sales of knives because people use them as deadly weapons. It’s like the old adage, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, it’s just sometimes they use guns. I think the witch hunt from conservatively-minded people on video games in general, there are games that are truly reprehensable and sould be banned or at least seriously constrained, I’m not attempting to whitewash the genre, just serves to alienate people on an issue that doesn’t have nearly the moral or societal import a abortion, marriage, feminism, religion, etc.. But then again, my brain may have already been turned to mush by playing too much Counterstrike and I’m asleep at the switch. The same kids or boys if they didn’t have computer games would be hanging out at the local convenience store or milling around looking for trouble to get into, racing cars, fighting each other, etc.. Taking vids away isn’t going to turn these people into literate people spending their idle time listening to classical music and reading literature, they’ll just do something else.

Laura writes:

No one here is suggesting banning video games. That would be a preposterous idea. They are here to stay. But I disagree that when they are used excessively they simply displace other equally harmful activities.

Look, I grew up in a world without video games and the boys didn’t all get into trouble because they didn’t have electronic games to play. They were much more likely to be outside and to be actually engaging in some kind of activity with people. I remember one boy across the street who was obsessed with cars and always tinkering with an engine. He did not have a happy home life and cars were an escape for him. Were they an addiction? No. Today he would be inside sitting in front of a screen. I grew up in a neighborhood very similar to the one I live in now. The decline of outdoor activity by children and teenagers is truly amazing. I can drive through street after street and not see a child in sight on a summer day. 

It is not true that violent video games are as harmless as Loony Tunes. Obviously,  not everyone who plays these games becomes violent. But they can exacerbate latent antisocial tendencies. If someone has asthma and smokes, the cigarettes make their asthma worse. If a boy has mild antisocial tendencies, video games can make these worse. A study done at Yale published in the Journal of Adolescence in 2004 showed increases in violent behavior by adolescents who play Doom. A review of all the research on the subject in the same journal stated that the most violent games lead to “aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and cardiovascular arousal, and to decreases in helping behavior.”

Regardless of the influence of volent games, I think there is no question that heavy use of any games causes social problems. I have known boys barely able to hold a conversation. They have a glazed-over look in their eyes. These are boys under 15. Are you saying they would be addicted to something else if they didn’t have video games?

Fitzgerald writes:

My main point I didn’t make well enough is I believe video games are not the primary reason boys and young men are slouched on couches and chairs bombarding imaginary enemies. I think it’s a sign of a general malaise and retreat from society due to being hammered left and right by feminist propaganda on a daily basis. Just like men are withdrawing from professions not being dominated by women, the state is new spouse of the feminist horde running roughshod over Western society. Man is no longer the master and when this happens most men, just retreat into a hole. Not saying it’s right, but it’s understandable. I for one continue to fight like hell, but I’m war weary like so many of like-minded males I know. I’m just unwilling to surrender because that’s the kind of nut I am!

John Purdy writes:

I would like to temper the generally negative treatment electronic games are getting by pointing out that there are other types of games (Age of Empires is my favourite) that,
while containing some violence (not graphic, just shooting and explosions), also require considerable economic development and scientific research to be successful at the game.

These games teach that there are long-term consequences to investment in improved technology, industrial production and military strength. You also get to build up a home city across multiple games.So, yes, addiction is always bad and I agree there are possible desensitization effects from games like Doom, other games have useful educational aspects to them.

The thing I dislike about Age of Empires is that it’s very PC, employing women settlers in mining and logging and that it is difficult to win without causing civilian casualties. It’s a very neo-con view of the world. It would be interesting to develop a similar game but based on Christian Just War doctrine and assigning traditional roles to male and female characters.

N.W. writes:

Since boys are discouraged from acting like boys in the real world, is it any wonder they retreat to a virtual world?

Ann writes:

All of the comments are very interesting and make sense, but I think, from my vantage point, that the one that is the most accurate is that video games and other entertainment are just another form of addiction that allows the addict to escape from himself and that addicts who are not actively working their recovery will simply transfer the addiction to something else. Truer words were never spoken! Through the years I have come to think of my husband as a “dry drunk,” sober but still anti-social. And as you might have guessed, he has not done any recovery work in 30 years.

With the children, it was definitely a learned behavior, but sure caught on. Amazingly though, we once went six months without TV or games when the children were small, as my husband was deployed on a ship. Guess what happened? Within a few days, all the Ninja Turtle moves and other nonsense became extinct. My oldest, who had been having trouble reading, became an avid reader at that time, and the creativity in their play was a delight to behold.

Of course, when their father returned, he managed to go two weeks without the TV, and then back it came. But I was able to hold off getting cable TV until the youngest was in fifth grade, and always let them tear up the yard playing and building things out of junk, so I think all of that helped them a bit. They were also in church every Sunday of their lives.

I eventually lost the battle with electronics, however. When I have expressed my total frustration and anger about his cultivation of the boys into gaming, he will counter that at least when they are here playing they are safe and not out there getting into trouble. I have replied that there is a vast middle ground out there called Real Life, but my stance moves no one.

As far as the violence angle goes, and again just speaking from my own experience and observations, the games do seem to provide a way for the males to let off steam and engage in confrontation and conquering without actually hurting anybody. I think it lets them vent and be aggressive, which is normal male behavior, if only in a virtual setting. So I don’t think it can be compared to other compulsions like to porn or doing drugs, which require more and more while delivering less and less satisfaction. Like at least one gentleman stated here, there are some games, like the computer game World of Warcraft, that require group cooperation, planning, and gaming skills and equipment, that actually may even be a bit positive for people. The fault in them lies again in the enormous time and commitment they require, all while taking away from real life experiences, and face-to-face relationships.

But, for all that has gone wrong or been done wrong in our family, there is at least, no actual violence going on. Nobody is threatening or hitting anybody, and the one boy who would be the most prone to anger and aggression is the one who is least interested in games or TV. He is the one who has the psychiatric diagnoses and has had the most trouble conforming to the laws of society. But he was different, even as a baby.

I guess I could have been more strident in my opposition and in implementing my vision for raising the children, but I didn’t want to completely run my husband, nor did I think that leaving him would be a better option, since I reasoned that I could not save my family by breaking it up. Thanks for allowing my to get out my story.

Lisa writes:

Dr. Jane Healy, author of Endangered Minds and Failure To Connect (among other books), studied the effects of technological activities on children’s growing brains. The brains of children exposed to video games, for example, actually formed differently and looked different than the images of others’ brains. She did not say that all video/computer exposure was necessarily bad, but it definitely can and does change the actual wiring and process of how a child thinks, reacts to his/her world, etc., and she came to the conclusion that technological exposures to developing minds should be very limited and monitored, at least. There is so much we do not know, and only the last several decades have we been exposed to it, so to equate it to just any other age old addiction, to me, is not necessarily wise. The interactive aspect is thought by some researchers to be more addictive than certain other compulsive activities, also.



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