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September 2017
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Gaming: The Killer of Ambition

Pop Culture Stereotype of a gamer

Gaming: The Killer of Ambition

As I made my way into his room, engulfed in the faint scent of Doritos and sweat, I found Arnold stooped over a large computer screen; the only source of light in the small, dark space. He let out a feeble “whassup bro”, but paid no attention to my reply. Since he was in the middle of a League of Legends match, I sat down at the desk next to him and made space for my notes among the numerous discarded cans of energy drinks; there I waited to receive his undivided attention. Arnold is someone you would call an “eccentric character”; he is also a self-admitted gaming addict.

Arnold’s life consists of mostly sitting, sleeping very little, and drinking and eating food that requires little to no effort to prepare. Certainly it is not a desirable or healthy lifestyle, but these are the sacrifices one makes to be able to play videogames roughly six hours every day. Arnold prides himself in being part of the Major League Gaming community; a term that unites people of all ages that take gaming ever so seriously. However, lately his friends have been voicing their concerns over his hobby; which by now has become a lifestyle for him. Arnold is an intelligent student, with great potential, but due to his time consuming gaming habit, he sunk into mediocrity. That is partly the reason why I went to talk to him that day; to get an insight into why and how gaming can be so destructive if done in excess.
Videogames are drugs that do not have to be particularly expensive. Dedicated players can dump hundreds of hours of gameplay into a single game that can cost only 30-40 Euros. However, the emerging trend of micro transactions within games saw some parents outraged when their children annihilated their credit card balance without even knowing they were spending money. This is only one way videogames can jeopardize people other than the person gaming.

Due to their increasingly immersive nature, videogames can envelop players in a world so detailed and interactive that they will lose track of time. However, the real danger comes from players equating the importance of in-game goals with that of their real life.
Game developers know that players will get bored of the game once they achieve an ultimate goal, and there is nothing significant left to do in-game. Therefore most modern games have procedurally generated goals that are somewhat repetitive, but keep the gamer playing nonetheless. Many games have in-game economies, jobs, commodities to purchase; as graphics and technology improves, games increasingly resemble real life.
There are a multitude of reasons why people play videogames, and depending on their habits they can range from casual to hard-core gamers; the distinction is often nebulous. However, what is certain is that Arnold falls into the latter category. According to David G. Embrick’s book Social Exclusion, Power, and Video Game Play gamers can seek anything from simple entertainment and competition, to “assertion of their masculinity” in games. When asked about his motivations for playing games, Arnold explained: “It’s not only stress relief, but also a safe space for socializing”. He elaborated that gamers are more “honest” over chat because there are no social boundaries or immediate consequences to what they say. Professor Delfabbro of Adelaide University sheds light on why some gamers like Arnold prefer online interaction: “Within the gaming culture are people who have trouble developing relationships in the real world and often prioritising their activities. This is in stark contrast to their abilities to make decisions and to achieve in a virtual environment…some gamers may identify more closely with their virtual character or avatar than they do to people in the real world.”

During our conversation Arnold also expressed his wish to become a professional gamer. The “sport” of gaming is an infant industry, and largely unheard of in Europe. On the other hand it draws a large audience in Asia, with gamer teams often competing for prizes worth millions of Euros. Arnold complained that despite the copious amounts of time invested in gaming, his university degree keeps him from taking his chances in the professional gaming industry. Hearing this was quite shocking, as it was indicative of his priorities. According to Professor Mark Griffiths, one of the few pioneers in the subject of gaming addiction, the turning point for gamers who succumb to full-fledged gaming addiction is when their “responsibilities” in the virtual world start to precede those in their physical life; they no longer play for the sake of entertainment, but play for the sake of playing.

There are numerous documented cases of death by exhaustion induced by gaming, such as the Taiwanese gamer called Chuang who passed away after playing Diablo III for 22 hours continuously. However, the real societal jeopardy of videogame addiction lies in more mundane effects. The pop culture stereotype of gamers being asocial fourteen year olds locked in their parents’ basements for hours simply doesn’t hold up when faced with hard facts. The Entertainment Software Association’s 2014 demographic study reveals that the average age of gamers in the United States is 31, and that 48 percent of gamers are female.

After taking the above figures into consideration it’s easy to see why it would be devastating to the productivity and society of the Western world if more and more people went down Arnold’s path. In the words of Professor Griffiths “the most striking finding was that a quarter of the sample played for more than 41 hours a week. This is evidently a significant amount of leisure time and almost certainly impacts on other activities and commitments”. While gaming addiction is not recognized as a legitimate condition by the UN or international medical communities, that may very well change in the near future.

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