Tooned Out

Suburban mommy talks about kicking her online gaming habit.

Location: Redmond, Washington, United States

Just another face in line at the grocery store...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Little Perspective

Here's a link to an article about the reaction of Chinese WoW players to that country's plan to limit the amount of time that gamers can legally play online games. It's an interesting concept and one that has been discussed in at least 2 threads at Olganon. So what do you think? Bad idea? Good idea? What if there was a legal limit on the time you could spent playing online games? Would it solve the problem of online gaming addiction?

Well, in my opinion, the answer is "Of course not!" People, especially addicts, would inevitably find a way around it. The tech savvy would do it the hacker way, and the tech challenged would just pay someone tech savvy to do it for them. A more interesting question, at least for me, is "should we do this here?" While I know that such a law would not end online gaming addiction, certainly it would help in some, perhaps many, cases. So should we do it here? Well, I vote nay. Here's why.

The argument for legally mandated limits placed on gaming time is that the gaming companies psychologically manipulate us gamers into becoming mindless zombies consuming their digital product in a kind of trance, having lost the ability to think for ourselves and make rational decisions. To be honest, that's true, they do exactly that. They carefully construct games that are pleasurable, engrossing, absorbing, attractive, and that consume vast amounts of our time. They do it on purpose. Bad companies, bad! Well, surprise, they are certainly not the only ones creating that kind of consumer atmosphere.

Malls do it, casinos do it, amusement parks do it, and they don't do it for the good of our health, they do it to get our money, as much of it as they can. Personally, I detest the mall, but when I must go I often come home with a bunch of crap that I never intended to buy. So the psychology works on me, much to my chagrin, even though I can't stand the place, and avoid it if humanly possible. I won't even go into how many unnecessary and not so good for me tidbits end up coming home with me from the grocery store, in spite of my awareness of the tricks used by retailers to manipulate me! I know that's not addiction, but there are an awful lot of people who love the mall, and happen to be compulsive shoppers.

Now let's talk about TV. 99% escapism, mostly just visual and mental candy floss, and it turns us into overweight, out of shape spuds. Ever notice how many shows use those teasers like "later in the broadcast we'll see ..." and then describe the most titillating or emotionally gripping portion of the show? So you wait through the commercials to see whatever it is and then you find out that it's going to be on after the next break, or the next. Usually it's the very last portion of the broadcast, and you sat through 55 minutes of junk you weren't really interested in to see a couple of minutes of other junk. Ever notice how much of TV is just advertising more TV? "Must See TV" indeed. What is the average for Americans now? 5 hours a day? TV must be the most prevalent addiction today when you think about it. Of course there's also a handy way to combine compulsive shopping with television. I think in my area we get at least 4 shopping channels. You can also get your gambling fix from home now with online gambling. Ditto pornography.

Here's the thing though, annoying as all this temptation and manipulation for profit is, only a fraction of people will be seriously impacted by it to the point of compulsion or addiction, and the same is true of online gaming. Only a small fraction of gamers are addicts. Most gamers can play and maintain balance in their lives. That's not to minimize the damage done to the compulsive gamers (and other compulsives like shoppers, overeaters, and gamblers, to name a few) by their compulsion. It's just wrong to single out gaming by limiting hours played when there are so many other ways that people use compulsive behavior to hurt themselves.

In the end, you'd have to have TVs that shut themselves off after a couple hours, casinos that kicked you out - win or lose - after a specified period of time, customer cards giving you a weekly allotment of junk food, libraries and bookstores limiting the number of books you could have, grocery quotas, "what's good for you" spending limits on your bank accounts regardless of how much money in your account, and the list goes on and on. It just isn't workable because the number of ways human beings can find to make themselves miserable through compulsion or obsession is infinite, and once you to try and solve one through legislated limits where do you draw the line?

One of the scariest things about such a scenario of big brotherism is that, while perhaps we'd all be healthier in some ways, we'd never develop any self-control. You need to exceed the limits sometimes to know where your tolerance level is. Growth as a human being is not possible without making many mistakes and learning from them. The whole challenge of living is in making your way through the maze of choices, good and bad, and learning from experience. If we get lost for a while, going around in circles, it's up to us to figure out how to take that one different turn that's going to get us out. If we have big brother leading us out every time we'll never learn.

*Parts of this entry are excerpted from my posts on the Olganon boards. If they look familiar it's just me quoting me. I can only have so many reasonably intelligent thoughts per day, ya know.


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