It's just a game, right? Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
Blockbuster movies, celebrity culture and tabloid headlines, often we think of movies as the pinnacle of media entertainment but in the age of the internet, the gaming industry and culture has surpassed the movie industry in both popularity and revenue. It is no longer a hobby just for geeks, but a large proportion of people within society spend hours each day gaming.
The essence of gaming is to escape from reality into a more colourful world. It is typically perceived as a world full of fantasy with no boundaries, only limited to our imagination.
Many play games in groups over the internet with people they have often never met personally but who share the same interest for gaming. Many gamers play late at night and verbal and cyber abuse is common amongst players. As a result, people’s productivity during the day can be severely compromised.
Have we considered the effect gaming might be having on our relationships and health? We know, for example, that staying up late several nights each week eventually takes its toll on the body, for example leading to chronic exhaustion amongst other issues.
The mainstream gaming culture is still a recent trend. What if we are yet to see the full effects of this on people? What if gaming has become an addiction for many?
Have we considered that a whole generation is growing up spending several hours each day gaming, and what affect this might have on our future society?
What if gaming allows people to indulge in behaviours they would never be able to get away with in reality, such as acting out online their darkest urges related to violence, sex and crime? As gaming graphics become more advanced their resemblance to reality becomes stronger, with virtual reality becoming less and less virtual and more real as a result.
Whilst we can say that gaming is a make-believe world and not reality, it is important to note that scientifically our bodies go through the same experiences nonetheless. For example, research indicates that when people imagine they are in a warzone, their bodies experience all the signs and symptoms as if they were actually there for real. Hence what effect is gaming having on people’s bodies and perceptions of life and people long-term?
And what effect does gaming have on our ability to connect and communicate with others? If we are feeling a ‘war-zone-like’ tension and heightened state for hours per day how easy is it to switch out of this mode and truly relate to friends, family? Can we really assume there won’t be any communication issues? If we are recreating war zones in our own homes through increasingly vivid and violent gaming experiences, how does this effect our relationships with the people and situations we encounter in our everyday (non-virtual) life?
Further, sexual violence is increasingly prevalent in popular games, with one game rewarding players if they pay money to have sexual encounters with a prostitute and then murder the female character to get their money back.
What impact does this type of sexual violence have on young men who play these games? How does it influence their perception of what it is to be a man and how to be a man in the world? Does it change their views of women?
Perhaps it would be wise to consider that gaming is not merely entertainment, and that a responsible approach needs to be applied. For if we continue to see gaming as ‘just a game’ we are likely to turn a blind eye to the potential effects it may be having on our quality of life. Whether online or offline, nothing truly exists in isolation and hence everything plays its part in affecting everything else.
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.