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Video Games – An Escape From Reality?

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Video Games

An Escape From Reality?

Millions around the world spend their free time playing video and computer games. Many even believe they are improving themselves by doing so. Could they be right?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Beads of sweat form on your brow as you grip the gun. Your heart is beating out of your chest as you creep through this virtual world. You are in control. Law—what law? Go ahead, steal a car, shoot innocent bystanders…

Crouching on a rooftop, you patiently wait, not making a move. Suddenly, there is movement—the enemy. He comes into the crosshairs of your rifle’s scope. You pull the trigger, his neck explodes and blood splatters on the street…

As the general of your army, you are the commander—the conqueror! Tremendous power lies at your fingertips. At your command, tanks will enter a city, destroying whatever, and killing whoever, is in sight. Commandos will stealthily sneak in and blow something—or somebody—to pieces. The enemy doesn’t stand a chance…

Real?—Almost. “Thrilling”? “Heart throbbing”? “Captivating”? “Addictive”?—YES!

The video game industry is exploding. People of all ages are enjoying them, whether on a computer, game console or the Internet.

Everyone is talking about them. Consider these recent headlines: “Top Activity for National Goof-Off Day: Playing Video Games!”, “Video games, not TV responsible for obesity in kids…,” “Video Games Approved For Teens Often Contain Sex And Violence, Study Concludes,” “Violent video games are training children to kill,” “Are video games breeding killers?,” “Video games ‘increase aggression,’” “Electronic Nightmares: Sex and Violence Invade Your Game Console,” “Child’s Play? – Grand Theft Auto III Provides Video Gamers With a Virtual World of Extreme Violence,” “Boy grabs knife after dad unplugs video game.”

Are video games a paradise?

Why is society so wrapped up in them? What do studies and research show? Why are people so enthralled by these inventions, spending countless hours in front of a screen?

Escape From Stress

For many people, the world of video games is a perfect break from a reality filled with deadlines, stress and responsibilities. People play them because they are fun, interesting and a way to relax. Often, they are used to pursue certain passions. Sports fans love to play football and baseball video games. Many chess lovers who cannot find enough human opponents to compete with will play computer chess or even seek competition from online chess players.

Computer and video games are often used to help people focus on something other than life’s daunting problems. For a few fleeting moments, the players “lose themselves” in the games as they feel the bliss and release of being in control. They are in a virtual world that makes sense to them—a place where they can be whoever or whatever they choose, without worrying about how they look or act, and without having to deal with real-life problems.

For some, this escape is just a passing fascination—but for others, video games are much more.

In Search of Social Lives

The video games of today can be compared to the board games of previous generations. People once played board games as a form of social interaction. These games were generally a way of learning about and getting closer to family, friends or even dates. It was an opportunity to spend time with people and learn about how they thought. Board games offered a chance to socialize, stimulate the mind and enjoy interesting conversation. Human beings need this type of innocent social interaction. People were designed to engage with—talk to—each other.

Many today believe they can gain a social life from playing computer and video games.

Practicing Skills

Recently, the U.S. Army and Navy have employed video games to train their recruits. They have found that the large simulators once used were much too expensive. Since there is a whole generation already raised on video games, training today’s recruits through video games is considered an obvious solution. Instructors are able to spend far less time explaining how to use a complex simulation; this allows them to spend far more time training soldiers in battlefield tactics.

There is evidence that “gamers” (those who play video and computer games with such intensity that they call themselves “hardcore”) have faster reaction times and more accurate hand-eye coordination than “non-gamers.” Like the military, certain corporations have seen positive results from using video games to train workers who engage in intense mental activities, such as stock market trading.

Games Make You Smarter?

Additionally, there is a tendency within the circle of avid gamers to talk about the wonderful benefits of these games. Many in this crowd claim that video games are actually making them smarter.

In a recent book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, the author presents the idea that playing video games further develops various aspects of the brain. He reasons that, since video games are complex and difficult, people who play them become smarter. He argues that this is a major factor in why people are achieving higher scores on IQ tests than those of previous generations.

In a recent study by the University of Rochester, participants were asked to count the number of squares that were flashed on a screen for a 20th of a second. Gamers picked the correct number 13 percent more often than non-gamers did. Some believe this proves that gamers are more intelligent. However, since the study used an activity common in video games, all this shows is that gamers have simply become better at taking certain tests.

One of the greatest difficulties in creating a good intelligence test is finding one that measures innate skill or capability. Given the same circumstances, a “smarter” person should be able to do better than a “normal” person should. As with anything in science, for an experiment or test to be valid, it must eliminate all other variables, except the one being tested.

There are various conflicting theories as to defining and measuring intelligence. Some psychologists say that it is skill; others consider it an aptitude for learning; and still others assert that it is an ability to handle diverse situations. Regardless, knowledge is not the same as intelligence.

Gamers have not actually become more intelligent—they have become more experienced.

Consider. Would anybody be surprised if studies proved that smokers are better at smoking or that heroine addicts are better at giving injections? Experience in these “skills” does not make such people more intelligent.

Children Are Practicing Violence

Practicing an activity makes one better at it. Apply this understanding to the video games that children play—games in which kids practice fighting, murder, taking drugs and even sexual activity. As a result, children are becoming good at being deplorable!

Additionally, the scientific community has known for several years, proving through several studies, that violence in games directly correlates to aggressive behavior. It is inferred that sexual acts, drug use and the constant barrage of swearing in modern video games have similar effects on children. The evidence shows that video and computer games are making children worse, not better.

Consider all the acts of violence that have become commonplace among youth: fights, stabbings and shootings. There is a growing trend involving children murdering their siblings and even their parents; and shockingly, young children have carried out large-scale planned attacks. Yet, video game marketers claim that they and their products are not to blame.

Many parents are unaware of the level of violence to which they are exposing their kids in giving them such games. Sadly, most parents simply do not take the time to know what their children are really doing. Often, the few who try are met with the violence or cursing that their kids have been learning from video games.

Some parents trust stores and corporations to tell them what is good for their children, yet these are often unreliable. For example, the “kids and family” section on currently has Grand Theft Auto III—a game that graphically depicts especially violent beatings, thefts, and murders—as number three on its list of “family games”!

Parents need to be diligent and cautious in buying video games for children, or else they risk exposing them to violence and sexually explicit material.

Cause and Effect

Remember, people once played board games to engage in conversation and to learn about each other. But today, when people play video games with each other, the conversation is far from engrossing. It will usually consist of meaningless comments and exclamations like “ha-ha!”, “ooh…”, “oh no!”, and “duh!” More commonly, the conversation will simply degrade into a tirade of cursing and swearing.

Then there are online games, in which players do talk to each other and participate in group activities within virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Everquest. Many gamers claim that since they are not good at dealing with other people, they turn to their “online friends” to find the camaraderie they lack in reality. However, is the “virtual social life” that these people engage in truly as beneficial as real life?

If you are hit with financial trouble, or need help with moving your furniture or building a house—or if you just need someone to talk to for hours on end, someone you can confide in and trust—a friend is somebody to whom you can turn. You cannot get this kind of friendship from “virtual friends” on online computer games.

The Bible is clear that human beings were intended to work with, confide in and rely upon each other: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up” (Ecc. 4:9-10).

A vast number of people participate in online relationships—now considered a normal part of the “gaming experience.” People even go so far as to get “married” in these games to show their supposed love and devotion for each other. However, people are actually substituting real relationships with false ones—which, in the end, will be terribly unfulfilling. The reality is that, when it comes to romance and marriage, man was designed to have a partner in his life—a real, living, breathing, human being that he can enjoy and share life with face-to-face (Gen. 2:18-25).

Gamers who devote virtually all their spare time to playing video games do not allow themselves to develop the social skills that would lead to real-life relationships. They do not have a social life because they have not allowed themselves the opportunity to develop one!

To be good at anything takes practice—and this includes developing an active, healthy ability to interact with all kinds of human beings.

Addictive Behavior

Recently, researchers have recognized that video games have another destructive quality: They are addictive. Many video games are so engrossing that players feel they absolutely must finish the tasks in the games—even going so far as to neglect their own personal lives. This has been further compounded in online games, in which players who “take time off” in order to live their normal lives feel as though they are letting down their online friends.

The effects of this have been tragic. In 2002, a gamer was so addicted to Everquest that he actually took his own life, most likely because of problems he was having solely within the game.

The implications of addictions have been demonstrated even more profoundly throughout the world in cases in which people have actually died while playing video games. In 2002, a man in South Korea died after playing games non-stop for 86 hours. Ten days later, another man died in Taiwan after playing for 32 hours. Just recently, a twelve-year old collapsed from exhaustion after playing in a computer club for 12 straight hours. Doctors said that his death was the result of emotional stress due to being obsessed with games.

Of Lasting Value

The current state of video games reveals a world that is progressing further into self-deceit, confusion, violence and ignorance. However, the world will not always be this way. God’s Word shows that Jesus Christ will soon return and establish right knowledge through His world-ruling government. Then, all will learn which pursuits truly have long lasting value.

Ultimately, God will teach mankind how to form correct relationships and how to react, respond to and deal with stress. People will no longer turn to vain pursuits in the hope of finding social lives, or to waste the day away.

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