I am looking over my son’s shoulder as he plays on the computer. He can tell I am not happy. “Mom, it’s just a game,” says my six-year old as he plays a video game he found on the Internet. I ask about the objective of the game and he says it is to destroy his opponent. “I get points!” he tells me with enthusiasm. “I’m almost to level three!”
How harmless were the beginnings of video games – a ball going from side to side in the mesmerizing game of Pong. The 80’s arrived with games like Pacman and Space Invaders and the 90’s brought us Sonic, Doom and Laura Croft, with more sex, violence, and more realistic graphics.
I walked into a video game store last month to buy a CD game for my son’s birthday. Row after row of games with titles like “Assassin’s Creed”, “World of Warcraft”, “Grand Theft Auto” and “Command and Conquer” filled the store. It looked as if 95% of the games for sale offered killing, war and sin for a bargain price of $59.95. I left empty-handed and saddened at the gaming “advances” of the last 30 years.
Although there are some good educational and even good entertaining games, they seem to be the great exception. In my own home full of boys, I have yet to see the good in most video games. When my boys play, they show a predictable pattern. There are fights over who got more time, fights about who didn’t get a turn and fights with me when it is time to get off. My normally kind boys are not very nice. My in-home focus group has taught me what science already knows: Violent video games create more aggressive behavior and can be addicting. Studies show that video games actually alter the brain.
“A team of British researchers found that video game playing actually changes the chemistry in the brain by increasing the activity of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain, controlling movement, attention, and learning.” (”Playstation Nation”, Bruner &Bruner, 2006, p. 28)
“UCLA psychiatrist Carole Lieberman says, “So the brain not only is seeing the images and getting stimulated, but it’s practicing a response. When the person is exposed to these violent media stimuli and it excites the psychoneurological receptors, it causes the person to feel this excitement, to feel a kind of high- and then to be addicted to whatever was giving him the high” (”Playstation Nation”, Bruner &Bruner, 2006, p. 20)
The new Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) like EverQuest and World of Warcraft are even more addicting. Players create their own character and go on “missions” with other simultaneous Internet players. The players rely on each other for support. Gamers play for long periods of time to improve their character’s skill to stay up to speed with others. Players can create new identities and live in a world of fantasy where social interaction exists. They feel that they can be part of something grand and extraordinary. For the addicted gamer, the virtual world is more exciting than everyday life.
According to the National Institute for Family and Media, about 92% of children, ages 2-17 play video games regularly. This translates into 59 million young players. Of those children, one in seven players shows signs of an addiction. (www.mediafamily.org)
Unlike other “toys” in childhood, adults who play frequently have a hard time giving up video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average adult gamer has been playing for 12 years. Fifty-three percent of game players expect to be playing as much or more ten years from now than they do today.
Even the American Medical Association brought video game addiction to our attention in 2007, recommending that Internet/video game addiction be a formal diagnostic mental disorder.
I am very grateful for counsel of inspired church leaders who would steer us away from the bad in media and its possible addictions. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormons), children and teens are counseled to stay away from violent media.
“Depictions of violence often glamorize vicious behavior. They offend the Spirit and make you less able to respond to others in a sensitive, caring way. They contradict the Savior’s message of love for one another.” (For the Strength of Youth , 19).
What goes into the minds of children is hard to erase. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of the Mormon church has said,
“Just as we exercise great care about what we take into our bodies through our mouths, we should exert a similar vigilance about what we take into our minds through our eyes and ears” (“Windows of Light and Truth,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 77).
The effects may not be immediately visible, but they are present. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expressed it well when he said:
“I believe the entertainment industry cannot portray on film people gunned down in cold blood, in living color, and not have it affect the attitudes and thoughts of some of the people who see it. … I believe that the desensitizing effect of such media abuses on the hearts and souls of those who are exposed to them results in a partial fulfillment of the Savior’s statement that ‘because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.’” (”When Shall These Things Be?” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 58.)
The scriptures teach us that contention’s source is not from God or His Son, Jesus Christ:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. 3 Nephi 11:29-30 .
Not only is contention to be avoided, but it can be replaced with good. Video games try to mimic a sense of purpose and direction. If our children have a knowledge of where they are headed from an eternal point of view, they don’t need a fantasy or escape from reality. They can work toward the eternal reward and find great joy and happiness. And at the end of their lives, they will have a happy day of accounting with God in how they spent their time.
We all need recreation, but Elder M. Russell Ballard recommends that we not let “things get out of balance. It is not watching television, but watching television hour after hour, night after night. Does not that qualify as idling away your time? What will you say to the Lord when He asks what you have done with the precious gift of life and time? Surely you will not feel comfortable telling Him that you were able to pass the 100,000-point level in a challenging video game” (“Be Strong in the Lord,” Ensign, July 2004, 14).
The social wave of video gaming is strong. These games seem to be everywhere. They are in many homes and played by many kids. Video games keep kids busy and quiet, which is a great motivator for busy parents. We’ve all been there. But the content has evolved into a sneak-attack on unassuming parents. When the virtual killing of humanity becomes “no big deal”, it is a wave worth blocking.
I have seen the negative effects of violent games on my children. I have seen friends’ marriages fall apart in part, due to addictions of video gaming. I have read scientific material on the subject and I am convinced.
I tell my boys that I want them to be able to hold a conversation, have a real relationship, and have a hobby that produces and doesn’t consume. There is a time to relax, but a greater sense of purpose will lead them to creative and creation-based play. Because I am convinced, I am selective, firm, and most times unpopular. But I am also grateful.
I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that gives me knowledge of what my Father in Heaven wants me to teach my children. I am grateful for a modern-day prophet and apostles who can give wise counsel as times change. I am thankful for the purpose, direction, joy and excitement that comes from living the gospel. I am grateful for beautiful children that I can love and protect with a hope for their happiness all through their lives.