Case Study 4
Along with the internet, video games present adolescents with new temptations and new potential obstacles to cognitive development. At its worst, video-game addiction can lead adolescents to replace the real world with a fantasy world. They can come to identify too strongly with fictional characters. Real life can begin to seem dull by comparison with the fast-paced thrills of the game. The consequences for adolescents’ patience, emotional stability, and concentration can be dire.
Twelve-year-old William clutches his gaming console. Playing in his darkened room he prepares to attack a pack of seemingly peaceful wild boars. It’s his first mission of the day. He shoots; the wild boars become enraged and, grunting, surround him, charge, and trample William underfoot. In spite of the assault rifle that he just bought for 50 cents, William is no match for the onslaught.
On screen, William’s avatar lies dead on the ground. A message appears on the screen, suggesting that he dissociate his soul from its current body and find a new one to inhabit. William accepts. Now William only has an hour to find another body for his avatar, and the countdown has already begun. If he fails, he will lose his streak and the weapons and features purchased using his parents’ credit card. He makes the most of his new status as a phantom, flying over lakes and volcanoes until he reaches the Isle of Sirens…
A light knocking at his bedroom door diverts his attention. William’s father has come to tell him that it’s lunchtime. But William can’t come down to eat; otherwise he will die. His father insists and his voice goes up a few notches. William flies into a blind rage.
In the wake of this incident, how might William’s parents bring up the issue of video game addiction with him? Here is one suggestion:
“William, this video game has started to take on a problematic role in your life. We are concerned about yesterday, when you didn’t even want to come have lunch with us.”
“It just wasn’t the right time. If I had come down to lunch, I would have died. And I would have lost everything.”
“You wouldn’t have died. OK, maybe your avatar would have died. The real you—William—needs regular, healthy meals. The real you also needs light, fresh air, and exercise. Not to mention a little time with family—and friends. When you spend so much time locked up in your room taking care of your avatar’s needs, you start forgetting about your own!
“How long has it been since you last played ping-pong or volleyball at the park? You used to love that. We want you to realize that the health and strength of your avatar are working at odds with your own health. But he is virtual and you are not. You identify strongly with him, and we sometimes get the impression that you are living his life instead of your own.
“You love playing your game and we don’t want to stop you from doing so, but we do want to lay down some ground rules, so that you can strike a balance between time spent on your game and time spent doing group activities and playing sports.”
In this situation, William’s parents are trying to make him understand the dynamics of his relationship to the video game. To this end, they explain to him that in order to succeed in the game, he would have to spend all his free time on it (and spend money on accessories); this is exactly the outcome the game’s creators want.
Consequently, players who wish to succeed in the game must cut themselves off from everything and play for hours on end, which leads to a decline in both their health and their social lives. In a nutshell, the stronger William’s avatar becomes, the weaker William himself becomes. His parents therefore do not suggest banning the video game, but rather spell out for him what they feel is necessary to strike a balance regarding his health and developmental needs.