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Is It Bad to Play Video Games?
A dear friend of mine sent me this e-mail a little while ago. This is a snippet from that e-mail;
Last week I was downloading some free game apps onto the iPad. One was Monopoly Hotels or something. Money literally falls from the sky just in case you need a few extra bucks to buy something. I can see why people get interested in these types of games because they are a bunch of quick wins. But I was trying the game out and all I could think of is that there isn’t even a story. Just fake money and a bunch of cute graphics. You can’t even do anything wrong. I was disturbed because I thought of all the people who play the game or similar games and what a waste of time it is. I can see it as stress relief, but if people spend more than that on it, I literally think it’s a waste of time. But I wonder if there is some mandate or ulterior motive for which these games are made. To keep our attention in a screen, to zombify us, to keep us weak? Take our money through some new App?
Although I do enjoy video games, when I get really involved and spend all my free time playing I feel that it isn’t good for me. I don’t feel guilty for goobing around, just that I should be paying attention to life and working on myself. Developers research what makes games hard to stop playing and routinely implement these things into the games.
Her final question was whether I think that it was wrong for her to play too many video games. This is my reply:
In this day and age videogames have taken over as perhaps the premier form of modern entertainment. People have many devices in which to play these games and you can see somebody playing just about anywhere, now that tablets and smart phones are much more affordable.
Being far older than I look, I can remember that day when people used to worry about television and how this evil little device was going to take over the minds of the world, turning us all into zombies that would work all day and then come home to drool in front of our televisions. And before this it was the radio the people feared; people would sit around listening to the little box just like they now sit in front of the TV or in front of the monitor playing some videogame.
People have always wondered about these seemingly simplistic forms of entertainment. In many ways they are rightly concerned that many of these programs or video games are truly just a waste of time. They worry that their precious time is taken up by menial and silly things that are not worthy.
Generally speaking, I do agree that there are many programs and games out there that are really just a waste of time and they are specifically designed to hook the attention of the viewer. These games and programs can be quite destructive because they have an addictive quality. And as my friend mentions in her e-mail, the makers of this entertainment seem to design their programs in order to take advantage of the weaknesses that we all suffer from.
But are all these games or all of these television programs bad?
The answer to this is and an emphatic no!
It has been a long-standing trend to consider these forms of entertainment a waste of time. I personally believe it comes from our Puritan background where we consider ‘idle hands to be the devil’s work’. People sitting in front of some kind of monitor with very little movement tends to engender a reaction in others; this reaction is never a positive one.
When television was the biggest evil in the world, people believed that watching nonsense on television amounted to not only a waste of time but of depravity of the mind. Certainly all television is terrible, they would think, and even what would later be called educational television was still largely a waste because there you were sitting in front of that boob tube drooling; how much can someone learn like that? These critics thought that there wasn’t much to be gained from television and that the only real way to learn and experience was to do it physically.
While people seem to be a little more active while they play video games, the lack of physical action engenders the same feelings that were once generated by the television or the radio. Videogames are seen as even worse because there is, to my knowledge, no such thing as educational video games for adults. In other words if you are a person of a certain age and you are playing video games, you are essentially wasting your time. Most likely you are even learning terrible things because most videogames involve some kind of killing or some other horror, or so it is believed by non-videogame players.
But believe it or not these forms of entertainment are highly valid forms of personal growth. This seems like an impossibility to the Puritans out there but human growth is not a purely physical affair. Our subjective, highly personal, experience is an incredibly important part of our lives. It is true that most people tend to believe that subjective experience can only be gained through objective action, that is people believe that you must experience things and from this physical experience you grow subjectively. But this subjective growth without physical action goes on all the time; for example in our dreams there is no physical action at all and yet our dreams help us immensely in our personal growth.
- Playing video games might seem like a waste of time but it is not. When we play a videogame it is usually because we like that game, this in and of itself is a subjective experience that teaches us about our personal likes and dislikes and it allows us to define the parameters of our personality. Since videogames are so prolific and have such a varied nature, they can truly help us fine tune our desires and as a result the scope of our personal values.
- When we are playing a game that we like we are playing this game because there are certain facets within it the challenge us or inspire us in some way. This personal inspiration allows us to fully experience these facets that we covet so much. It allows us to experience new ideas and to formulate our own conclusions about what would be better or worse. Many artistic individuals find great inspiration to videogames, not because they are copying something that they see but because the subjective act of pursuing something they enjoy allows their minds to make a quantum leap into new possibilities that then discovers new ideas. These discoveries are often even more fantastic than the original game.
- Sometimes we pursue a certain game because we are curious in an almost morbid way. People seem to forget very quickly but as children we are all quite morbid. We love to pretend that we are dead or that we are killing someone in the most terrible way. Children do not do this because they are evil but they do this because they have a more free approach to their subjective reality. They explore what it would feel like to die in the most terrible way, what it would feel like to kill someone and in this way they understand the reasons why they shouldn’t. When we are drawn to violent and destructive videogames, we are doing very similar things, we are exploring what it would be like to experience certain terrible situations and what it feels like to destroy an opponent or kill a monster.
As long as we are willing to explore our feelings while we perform this subjective and morbid exercise, we will soon discover that these are just passing fancies. When a person learns to listen to his subjective desires, he or she will realize that a certain game becomes quite boring after a while and it is in this way that the subjective part of the individual changes perspectives and pursues new games that inspire new subjective ideas and ideals.
- Videogame can help the subjective individual state by allowing a person to release certain hormones and emotions that might have been built up during the day. Often when people engage in very violent or sometimes even very whimsical videogames, they do so because they are trying to pursue a type of release that they are not getting in their physical life. While it is the case that indeed a person should try to pursue objective change, it is also the case that this kind of subjective/hormonal release is a necessary component within all of us. Those that usually engaged in terrible ‘physical’ violence are usually those that do not allow themselves this kind of release; instead they try to control these terrible feelings that they are experiencing and bottle them up. After a while the bottle becomes quite full and it explodes releasing this anger and these frustrated feelings on the objective physical world.
Videogames are not a bad thing, they are source of growth and great subjective potential. Just like the radio and the TV before them, the videogames of today help us find internal truths. They also help us to find new growth as individuals, and even though this growth does not seem evident because subjective growth is a very difficult thing to measure, this growth is nevertheless palpable to those that enjoy these videogames. Their joy and their desire to explore new realms in the videogame world, is a subjective feeling that should not be ignored because it is an internal desire to explore new realms and internal possibilities.
Individuals that greatly enjoy videogames, and play them on a regular basis, tend to be people with huge imaginations. These videogames provide new ideas and the type of mental scaffolding that they use in order to pursue new ideas within themselves. This is especially true of introverts who need this kind of subjective vehicle in order to grow in ways that would be very difficult for them through regular objective means. There are those that would argue that introverts should get out there and experience “true” reality, but people that make such statements are people that are usually very unaware of the potential of the subjective mind and of the incredible power that many introverts have.
Subjective reality is a valid reality. In many ways this subjective experience is far more valid than the objective and physical one. It has become our custom in this modern age to explore our subjective experience through videogames, television, comic books, books, etc.
Do not deny yourself these subjective realities because you believe that it is somehow a wicked waste of time. If you explore your feelings, you will know when you are playing silly games or doing silly things that are wasting your time, and you will also know when you are truly inspired to take ‘action’ as it were in the subjective realm. Pursue your desires in this subjective realm and when you do so you will grow immensely as an individual.