Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gamers go to Amsterdam to get clean...

CNN posted an interesting news article on a new 'detox clinic' for video game addicts that recently opened in the Netherlands. I always find it interesting how often news articles on games addiction hold contradictory tones. They contain elements of both the fear inspiring 'emerging threat' news flash and the cheesily amusing 'public interest' piece. It can't decide whether or not to take itself seriously.

In this case, the article opens by announcing the emergence of a new treatment center for "people who can't leave their joysticks alone". Would you preface the announcement for the opening of a new chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous with the marquee: 'For folks who never met a bottle they didn't like'? The editor himself doesn't even appear to take the topic seriously and certainly wouldn't run those lines if he thought there was any chance of serious backlash from an irate group of former addicts furious at the network for making light of their affliction. Nevertheless, several paragraphs later the article issues grim warnings and proposes dire consequences for misguided parents who would unknowingly subject their children to the dangers of an addiction likened to substance abuse. Games addiction can "start with a Game Boy", progressing and culminating to insidiously designed "multilevel games that aren't made to be won", sucking up progressively greater amounts of time. In the end, homework is left undone, dinner un-eaten, drugs are consumed, and, most distressing of all, social networks are destroyed. Not only is their life in shambles, they've become social pariahs.

Articles on gamers and gaming often seem to flipflop between distaste and mockery of the gamers themselves and the perception of a real and serious threat to healthy, normative behavior. I think this highlights the real issue behind almost every mainstream discussion of games addiction: the privileging of certain kinds of behavior. The implication of this article is that gaming addicts are recluses with no social skills or friends. Frequent mention is made of socialization within the gaming sphere itself, but this is always contrasted negatively with normal, healthy, 'face-to-face' interaction. It isn't that these hardcore gamers don't have social relationships, they simply have the wrong kind of relationships.

It smacks of a circular argument. The proposal is that gaming is negative because it promotes anti-social behavior. The rebuttal is that gamers have numerous gamer friends. The counter is that these friends don't count, because they also partake in this negative activity. Why is gaming negative? Because it promotes anti-social behavior. Third base...

Certainly, I would regard extreme cases of anyone spending 14 hours a day doing any one activity distressing, but special attention seems to be paid when people spend excessive amounts of time on activities outside of mainstream culture. When anything similarly disparaged by mainstream culture is associated even marginally with such activities, drugs for instance, causal assumption gives rise to further demonization. I could write a number of satirical pieces similarly attacking mainstream activities, such as sports. How an innocent game of childhood ping-pong progressively and inevitably leads to football, frat parties, fornication, and unwanted pregnancies. How thousands of men across the nation neglect household chores, mates, and careers to watch hockey games, read sporting columns, listen to radio summaries, and obsessively memorize pointless statistics, all while slowly developing ulcers and diabetes from a steady diet of beer, nachos, and cigarettes consumed in seedy gin-joints.

Such simplistic arguments, however, would be based on unfair exagerations and generalizations of the extreme activities of a few fanatics. Certainly it's foolishness to equate table tennis and boxing, or the consumption of an occasional pint during 'the game' and raging alcoholism. Yet such are the kinds of conclusions drawn with video gaming, a category of activities that lacks the kind of protection that comes with being the recreation of the majority. A GameBoy necessarily leads to World of Warcraft, and gaming to cannabis and social isolation.

I'm perfectly willing to listen to arguments against excessive gaming, but let's keep the hyperbole and hypocrisy down to a dull roar please. Correlation only implies causation when you don't happen to like the subject matter.


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