Gaming is not child’s play

Written by on 30-05-2019

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That is true. The idea is to give work, study, or any vocation you may need a break and spend some time in some play. The break, combined with the activity, should hopefully bring you back rejuvenated to your work, and also equipped you with better relationship building, creative and social skills. I grew up in a gated community and to spend most evenings and holidays with my friends out in the garden and playground. It gives me joy to hear the children in my street playfully cheering each other while they play gully cricket in front of my house. But unfortunately, it is also a signal for me that there is power cut in my area. The children come out to play only when they have no access to the TV or the internet.

The internet – there are games galore for everyone. Games that have all but lost any engagement of physical activity – the thumbs you see are still moving for most of them. There are word games, puzzle games, card games, strategy games, and then there are multiplayer first-person shooting games. The puzzle games are a big hit with the adults – Candy Crush for example. I have seen people play it (and other similar ones) during travel, at home / party / work, and even at their short one-minute stop at the traffic lights. Someone in my extended family said it would become the primary reason if there ever was an application for divorce from his wife.

The latest and the most heard of online games now are PUBG and Fortnite. While there is a long list of similar games that have been forerunners to these two, the accessibility to internet via mobile phones to almost everyone has made them popular and most indulged in by this generation of young people. I see teenagers playing them early in the morning, on the drive to school, at home on the internet TV, on the phone in the playground and all imaginable places. Well then, why are we not happy that youngsters are engaging in such play.

While there are some positives about online gaming, such as improvement in coordination, decision-making and competitive skills, there a few negatives, especially when one spends more and more time on it. Most of the top-rate games have always been violent ones that require eliminating other players. An increase in aggressive behaviour is but expected to seep into real life. This coupled with the raging hormones of teens and twenties can only spell trouble. Another problem is that of possible addiction to the games. While it starts off as innocuous indulgence, it does not take too long for one to try and be on at every possible opportunity. And then start creating opportunities for it. We are now in the realm of addiction.

Gaming addiction is a behavioural addiction, but the fact that it does not involve substances that might be harmful for the body does not make it any less harmful. The basis of all addictions is the same – the high that the brain gets from indulging in it. With online gaming, it is the same cycle of urge-indulgence-high that is similar for gambling, kleptomania, and other compulsive behaviours. The ultimate reward is the happy chemical surge that the brain experiences from the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gaming addiction is most seen in young people. The addiction, if not regulated may lead to:

  1. lying (to keep parental control at bay)
  2. theft (to pay for access to higher levels of the game)
  3. aggressive or violent behaviour when either of the earlier two do not work (and even otherwise)
  4. anti-social behaviour
  5. loss of age-appropriate motor skills (from bad handwriting to inability to eat properly with one’s hands)
  6. rebellion against authority figures
  7. impulsive behaviour

If unchecked, the above mentioned will ultimately lead to personality changes and behaviour problems that will affect the individual’s growth emotionally, mentally and socially.

What can young people do:

  1. Remember that online gaming is only small part of your life.
  2. Get out with your friend and indulge in regular physical activity.
  3. Be wary of who you make friends with online.
  4. Report any attempt at bullying or blackmail.
  5. Do not divulge any details about yourself, your place of stay or study.
  6. Report to your parent/parent-figure if you feel uncomfortable or threatened by anyone online.

What parents can do:

  1. Define the rules of engagement - privacy, amount of time allowed and control on game account.
  2. Check for age-appropriateness of the game.
  3. Check for parental controls that the game allows.
  4. Keep checking the activity reports that the game may generate.
  5. Play the game with your child every once in a while.
  6. Check account security.
  7. Make sure that there are not automatic links to bank or credit card accounts for payment.
  8. Spend time with and indulge in other activities with your child.
  9. Check for and work on the emotional balance of your marriage and the family.
  10. Whenever you notice something different about your ward’s behaviour, make sure you sit them down and let them know that you are there for them to help.

Excessive gaming has now been classified as an addictive disorder by the World Health Organisation.

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