You Can Pry My Video Games From My Cold Dead Hands: Try Reading

I don't actually know any Joneses, but I know if I did, I wouldn't be able to keep up anymore.  I haven't bought myself any video games in over two years (besides free apps on the iPad), and while it has left me somewhat behind the times, it also has been incredibly freeing.  Gaming is an addiction, like smoking, or drugs, that takes over lives, especially boys, and it is nice to no longer be an online junky.

Cute adorable cat kitten playing video games Nintendo DS white/grey gamer animal
"Please, just two more minutes, I'm defeating the boss dog!"
The realization that I was not able to be a competent human and a gamer occurred somewhere in the 648th hour (or 27 actual days) of logged game time in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.  My wife had asked me a simple question for the fifth time, which I was not able to formulate a cognitive answer beyond "uhh" or "what" or "bacon," because I was in the midst of freeing the mythological world of online terrorists.  My wife, appallingly, shut off the game device (the first time she'd ever "confronted" my problem).

"What are you doing!"

I was losing it, like a second grader pulled off a quarter-machine horse ride in the middle of its two minute saunter.  Myself, a grown man about to throw a fit over a game I'd already conquered (I was a level 10 prestige, with the golden AK-47...ask a nerd what that means), stopped, and it dawned on me that I might have a problem.

So I hung up my Wii nunchuck and remote on my fancy plastic holster-stand, and walked away.

It doesn't mean I don't miss the old gunfights and strategy games and imposing my will on 12-year-old braggarts online.  Like any addiction, it is always there, ready for a relapse when a friend harmlessly shows me their newest operating system or a revolutionary new game.

Homeless guy logging on to laptop computer Dell Hobo park wifi internet checking email
I can never get good wi-fi in this park
Right now, some of those friends would be arguing with me.  "Chris you sell out!  None of this is true! We don't have a problem!  We can quit at any time!  Just cause you are fat and lazy doesn't mean we are!"  And if any of them actually read my blog (Troy excluded) they would probably say that. I hope they do. Most of them don't have time to read with all the gaming they have to do. It's time we as a nation have a serious talk about gaming culture and what it's doing to boys; including the boys or men actually doing the gaming.

I say boys, when many are grown adults.  I just hesitate to call anyone who logs more than twenty hours of video game time a week, an adult.  At least not an adult in the sense of what our grandparents were.  If our grandparents had twenty hours a week to devote to anything besides work, it was probably to work around the house, or repairing the car, or if time allowed, reading.

The Great Gatsby Nintendo NES 1990 Video Game opening scene pixelated
Games based on literature aren't much better:  You can
play this 1990 NES game online.  Not sure why I hit
butlers with my boomerang bowling hat, but...
I got into an argument a few years ago about how someone was trying to argue that video games are the new literature, here's the article it was based on.  Initially this makes sense.  Games have a hero, they follow a narrative (some more than others) and have many challenges that the hero has to overcome.  In basic, it is a story.  To gamers, they are better than books, because the reader (or user) can actually dictate the outcome through his choices, whereas a book has a predetermined layout.  I'd argue that the majority of games have a predetermined outcome as well, just many different ways to get to the end point, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.

You see, the reason I don't buy the argument, is because games don't make us think.  Oh sure, they challenge our instincts, and our problem solving skills, and force us to figure out the riddles that the game designers put in place.  Some evidence has shown that games actually increase vision,  mathematical and instinctual skills (occipital lobe, hindbrain, and left brain development) to some extent.  Making us gamers quicker reactors to stimuli, and maybe better drivers at night.

Adam Sandler Waterboy with helmet something wrong with your medula oblongata
There's something wrong with your medulla oblongata 
But evidence has also showed that those who log many hours playing violent games showed less activity in the part of the brain associated with controlling emotions and aggressive behavior.  The frontal lobe, the area of the brain most responsible for our decision making, is de-evolving due to the images we see on screen.  And it isn't any surprise to me.  For years, I have controlled characters with no empathy towards either the character I was playing, or for the enemies I killed.  It's a kill or be killed world in video games, that rewards survival, but doesn't really punish one for their death.  Many games take points away for killing pedestrians, or for friendly fire, but don't really put the situations even close to their real life perspectives.

Most of us gamers have the ability to separate reality from fantasy.  I know that the "terrorists" or Soviet troops, or zombies or aliens or whatever I'm obliterating on screen is merely a creation of a graphic designer.  My Wii remote, or Xbox controller is not a weapon.  However, just because I have the ability to go in and out of fantasy at will, does not mean that the guy on the other side of the screen does.  How many Star Trek fans cannot separate their dream world with reality?  Just the same, many boys, especially those that are loosely parented, or suffer a social disconnects like autism or Asberger's don't possess the emotional or mental processing to travel in and out of video game worlds.

Bioshock video game Playstation 3 Xbox 360 shooting gun
Bioshock was one a few games where reviewers lauded
its storyline.  Some games now have "moral" questions and
variable outcomes ... a step in the right direction 
I've taught a lot of kids with social disorders the last number of years, and all of them immerse themselves in video games: they write 12 page novellas based on characters from Halo, or draw anime versions of Link and Zelda all over their notebooks. Their math based brains thrive in pixelated worlds, and I'm not advocating a removal of games from their weekly schedule.  I think to some extent it is good for them.  But not as good as books.

A good novel makes us think about consequences.  We develop empathy for characters like Lenny in Of Mice and Men, who by today's standards would be characterized as a dangerous mentally handicapped individual (maybe like the kind of individual who might commit massive gun violence).  We toil over George's decision to mercifully execute Lenny at the end of the novel.  While the novel is predetermined, it makes the reader think about LIFE.  How important and fickle and interconnected LIFE is.  How simple actions and reactions affect LIFE around us.  How we might affect LIFE.

Games don't teach us that.  They don't teach us how to deal with the complexities of people's character, and how someone else may respond to a situation in a different manner than I might.  But books do. They make the reader respond to the main characters actions and reactions and get mad, get sad, get annoyed, get caught up, and question the entire story arc.  That's what we as humans are good at. Analyzing situations and coming up with appropriate responses.  We aren't supposed to be reactionary creatures that respond to stimulus (like games teach us).  The fact that the the hindbrain and medulla, the oldest evolutionary aspects of the human brain, are increasing in ability as a result of games, is proof that we are becoming more animalistic.

Survival. Gamers will be good at it.  Better than they are with relationships, and maintaining jobs, and friendliness, and smelling good, and staying active.  But we as a society, and guys my age who grew up playing games, who probably have addictive aspects towards games, need to think:  Is this how we want our children to grow up?  Unwilling to open a novel, and sitting stagnant for hours on the couch manipulating avatars on screen?

Weird manual about how to hold and lift a baby, support back do not lift by head
Sad this actually exists
I can already hear my dissenters:  Video games, like guns, don't kill people.  Yes I know.  People do.  However, access to games, guns, violent philosophies, consequence-less societies, bad parenting, socially isolated individuals...all of these are aspects of "violent" prone individuals.  Just because I am not that person, and my children are not those people, doesn't mean those people aren't out there in large numbers.

I'm not saying we need to outlaw games or guns, or sterilize bad parents, or arm teachers and retail associates.  Those all seem exactly like the knee jerk reactions that video games teach us will help us "survive" as a species.  We need to pause the game...

Goodreads pie chart on how people discover booksObviously, we need to teach people how to find value in life again.  Give grace to the annoying kid sitting next to you in class, value the Lennie in your life--and what you do to help him, value the random stranger who walks in the mall, value the child whose parents don't.  Recognizing people, whether they are hurting or not.  Looking people in the eye. Complementing others.... 

That paragraph could go on forever, so I'm just going to get simplistic.  Open up a book.  Open up a lot of books. Challenge the concepts. Trade 25% of your game time to reading time.  See if you don't understand yourself and others better after reading them.  Find lists like this one I made on, and lose yourself in a world that might better yourself.


  1. I enjoy video games but have never been a "gamer". I search for treasure in Uncharted or save the world in Call of Duty but then I put the controller down. Life is too busy for constant play for me.

    I do have a brother in law that will forgo time with his wife or his baby to play the next game. I just don't get it.

  2. I have a brother in law that doesn't come out of his room on Holidays to visit as he is wrapped up in online killing mode. Days he will spend up in his room. But he is only 17. There is time for him to snap out of it. Hopefully.

  3. Gee, thanks Chris! - beckie JONES (LOL)

    1. Oh right, touche. I do know one Jones. (I knew I should have thought that one out before I wrote it...But I haven't known you very long (Jill has)).

  4. Really good points, Chris. Thankfully, I don't have a Wii, or Play Station, or whatever other systems are out there. (I don't even know. I'm really behind the times.) But I do have a number of game apps on my Kindle Fire. If I'm not careful, I can waste ridiculous amounts of time even on those. I've just about had my fill of Plants vs. Zombies...about the closest I come to playing a game that kills things.