On Monday in the UK, the BBC's flagship investigative TV show, Panorama, covered video game addiction. I watched it with interest, expecting yet another media-mauling of the digital satan that is online gaming, but I was surprised and pleased that it was a relatively balanced and reasoned piece of journalism.
The show was only thirty minutes long and as such only really skimmed the surface of the issue. Although it's primary focus was on the impact of video gaming amongst young Europeans, there was some coverage of the more sensationalist occurrences in South Korea that have resulted in death which should serve to elicit some knee-jerk reactions from the Daily Mail reading parents. I feel sorry for their kids, who were probably dragged off to the child psychiatrist as the result of asking for an X-Box Kinect for Christmas.
However, the message that I think Panorama was aiming for was one of concern at the hidden and misunderstood nature of addiction to online games. I believe the cause is just and I should know; when I'm not being Seismic Stan, Freebooter, Capsuleer and proud member of the EVE-Online blogging community, I am a thirty-five year-old husband and Healthcare Professional whose primary hobby is playing computer games.
I would freely admit that there are times when I do not get the balance between those two existences right. In fact, this blog came about as a result of me needing to justify, to myself and others, the time I spent playing online and the lack of anything tangible to show for it. The hours spent playing internet spaceships does raise questions, but does all time need to be productive? And who is to say that time spent playing video games is not of some value.
As Panorama mentioned, there are benefits to video-gaming over "passive media", like television. Video games offer forms of mental stimulation, education and hand-to-eye co-ordination that television cannot compete with. So for all those ageing gamers, if a crossword-a-day keeps dementia away, you should be fairly safe from synaptic degradation. Additionally, video games are a valid form of relaxation and stress management and they are also far more sociable now, allowing people to communicate across the globe.
However, anything done to excess is unhealthy; repetitive or excessive exercise can damage joints and tear ligaments, over-eating leads to obesity, too much alcohol leads to alcoholism, too much telly-watching makes you admire Jeremy Kyle/Doctor Phil, etcetera, etcetera.
The point which Panorama flirted with but ultimately side-stepped was that the excessive playing of video games is the symptom rather than the root cause of the problem. There are many factors that contribute to an individual's behaviour and for those seeking the ultimate form of escapism, people have to consider what it is they are trying to escape. Granted, in most cases it's chores/homework/responsibility/inlaws, but behavioural disorders are not created by video games, they are simply magnified by them.
In my case I have to admit I'm a bit of a lazy responsibility-dodger and EVE Online is just the most attractive chore-avoidance tool, but generally I manage my time effectively enough to juggle more than one ball. I have a happy marriage and a rewarding career, so I must be doing something right. Although I am rubbish at EVE Online.
The Panorama programme did seem to focus more on World of Warcraft players (there are more of them after all) and I suspect that the EVE Online demographic is slightly different, however the demands of our chosen digital world are similar and perhaps even a little more insidious.
I'd be interested to hear from you on this subject. How do you feel about your video gaming time? Do you feel you are disciplined with your playing hours or do you let external forces govern you? Or is real-life just getting in the way of your next planned fleet op?
Are you an addict?