In 1978 the Labor Party raised concerns in Parliament concerning the supposedly addictive nature of what was then the cutting edge of video game technology. Its name? Space Invaders. In the intervening 35 years the technology has moved on to embrace a sometimes alarming level of realism, but the kind of alarmist behavior which prompted questions in the house back in’78 has kept pace with that evolution. The children supposedly hooked on those little blobs moving around a screen back then are now middle-aged men, but do we see any signs of mass psychosis? I think not.
What constitutes addiction?
Before we can address the subject of video game addiction we need to define what the word actually means. If a person indulges in an activity to the extent that their everyday life is affected and they show no interest in anything else, including their personal appearance and hygiene, then this is an indication of addiction. However, children predominantly have a structure to their daily lives which precludes this, provided parents are fulfilling their responsibilities. They go to school, have time set aside for doing homework and after school activities and have chores to perform. In other words, a child’s first line of defense against becoming obsessed by any one activity is their parents and a structured environment.
There have always been concerns about how children spend their leisure time and the suitability of their interests. Just look at the recent half century or so. In the Fifties, comic books were considered addictive and blamed for juvenile delinquency. In the Sixties and Seventies it was deemed that children were watching far too much TV. Computers and video games are simply the latest scapegoats for a society that cannot perceive its own faults. Video games have been denigrated to the extent that you might even feel as though you are contributing to the ruination of childhood if you are selling your video games online and they fall into a child’s hands. So it is time to get a little perspective here.
How serious is the problem?
A recent Harris poll suggested that 8.5 per cent of young people between the ages of eight and 18 have an obsession with video games comparable to that of pathological gamblers for gambling. Then again, another survey claimed the level was around three per cent. Statistics can be made to say anything and even if these figures were accurate, they can be interpreted to suggest that the vast majority of children suffer no such problems. The fact is that an addictive personality will always find something to become addicted to, whether it is alcohol, gambling, drugs or a simple recreational activity. That is a mental health problem, admittedly, but it means that video games are simply a symptom, not a cause. The roots of addiction should be investigated, not what the person is addicted to.
Any behavior taken to excess is unhealthy, but healthy children have no difficulty in distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Video game addiction has never been classed as a psychiatric diagnosis. The concern over it is just a temporary panic that will run until the next scapegoat comes along to be seized on by those who make their livings from such things.