Why Video Games are More Valuable than Vice

Game controller

Parents do you fear your child's addicted to video games?

Do you wonder if your child plays too much-and even relies on playing daily? How about-  who's my child playing with online….where are they from….how old are they…? As a psychotherapist who consults with families during treatment, I often find there is a family discussion around….are they actually asleep or up gaming? Also, parents may feel concerned watching their children play and think...Why do they get so mad when they play?

Trying to understand our youngest generation may leave you thinking…”Do they know what they’re missing by living like I did when I was young-going outside and hanging out with friends in-person? The list goes on and every concern raises anxiety and fear-these questions are best to discuss and explore rather than fixate on and fear.

As a parent, if you begin to change the way you think about gaming and what it means to your child, then the discussion itself can spark an atmosphere of curiosity that creates valuable conversations in real life that can bring about similar levels of relief to your child as gaming does. It’s what they know, love, and want to talk about, so it’s worth indulging their fascination.

Problematic and excessive gaming can interfere with social, emotional, academic, and familial functioning, but before jumping into what’s wrong with gaming, how it’s problematic- or even pathological, I encourage people to think from a more neutral/positive perspective of gaming. Even parents who love to game themselves may even struggle bringing about behavioral change in their child’s gaming behavior.

Gaming has been, and always will be- a survival tool

When the physical world and community closed during the pandemic, technology saved humanity. It opened a virtual space to commune, work, learn, and survive. Online video games provided this virtual meeting space and playground way before crisis struck in the world. Human beings need ways to survive, and deal with the pain of life, even as adults this dilemma must be resolved in a healthy and balanced way.

Video games might seem addictive and “vice-like,” rather than a healthy and normal activity needed to socialize, release emotion, feel competent and survive (Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014). Neuroscientist and researcher Dr. Daphne Bavelier shares the cognitive-benefits of gaming, not only for children but adults as well.

Big emotions like anxiety, guilt, shame, frustration/anger/rage, all build up throughout childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood resulting in developmental challenges that are often amplified during life transitions. Children and teens need a way to shift their existence in time-and-space to regulate stress. Video games transport children and teens to new worlds that help them deal with experiences in school, the community, and within the family.

When is Gaming Officially a Problem?

Problematic gaming will emerge with disruptions to sleep, physical activity, and eating routines. These behavioral disruptions in routine result in problems in school that translate to the home, and gaming may be central to the problem. Also, gamers who develop problematic or excessive gaming behavior may also experience co-occurring symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.  Gaming at first helps them feel better, although overtime may create a barrier to understanding their underlying mental health conditions, and how it impacts their life.

However, beginning the discussion by victimizing gaming and the gamer will not foster open communication, and allow the conversation to get at all the other factors creating the need to escape and pull away.

The benefits and drawbacks of gaming are different for every gamer, and parental conversations bring about balance

A core concern I have with technology is how integrated it is into our everyday life. I question my own ability to step away from cell phones and computers to be fully present in the moment. Technology use is like balancing on a delicate tight rope- between a virtual compulsion to check emails, take pictures, use a GPS, call or text people- and my ability to disconnect to be in the “real-world,” “in-real-life,” in a mindful state, -simply existing.

When simply existing isn’t going well, or the feeling of anxiety emerges around others- people turn to cell phones to shut down interaction and control social anxiety. There’s a compulsion for a pleasurable activity to override uncomfortable silences at dinner, or waiting in-line at a coffee shop. Technology can help people feel better through the awkwardness, and provide the escape. Similarly, online videogames offer various layers of personal protection to make socializing easier and controllable for the socially anxious.

Gamers feel bursts of pleasurable physiological states, or hits of dopamine, similar to other activities outlined as behavioral addictions.  Such as those who can’t stop gambling on slot machines or impulsively clothes shopping.

Often gamers chase these adrenaline rushes -but not always. Gamers enjoy a wide range of positive emotional states while gaming- from extreme pride, excitement and adrenaline on one end of the spectrum- to a laid back role playing games- that bread a sense of security, community, and comfort on the other. As for negative emotions, like frustration, anger, and rage, gaming provides the activity to safely allow these emotions to surface, as well as the game world as the place to safely dump disturbing emotions without hurting family, friends, or teachers.

Each gamer’s core problem is different, thus each conversation may lead to different conclusions about the gamer’s central conflict. If gamers feel incompetent in school yet win in a game,-they may seek “win’s” to remind themselves they’re capable of being successful and more than a failing grade. Those who struggle with bullies and toxic people-online and in-real life- may seek games that attract gamers with a need to affiliate, build and achieve together rather than compete.  Once they find their gaming preferences and routine-it may become rigid and fixed. The game and how they play becomes esoterically meaningful as certain gaming moments help them get through life, thus in search for relief rigid gaming behavior may be clung onto despite being an unhelpful barrier in life.

Gamers

When the problem feels unsolvable within the family, a professional space that facilitates social skills and socialization can help.

Sometimes, professional help is needed when these conversations about gaming don’t go well, or attempts to bring about structure lead to more conflict.

If your child and gamer’s buy-in to traditional talk therapy creates a barrier to their mental and physical health, then a different approach is needed. Real-Life Gaming’s community-focused and identity affirming stance can help build therapeutic trust and rapport with mental health professionals before the group intervention begins.

What’s Real-Life Gaming?

Real-Life Gaming balances remote and in-person modalities of a modern virtual play therapy methodology coined “therapeutic gaming.” In “social gaming,” gamers are encouraged to let go of their preferred game as they are guided to play the same game together. Also, the group facilitators coordinate partnerships for “partner gaming,” and as the group watches the gameplay followed by a reflective discussion about both in-game action and what the experience was like for the gamers and observers. When social comfort requires time to build-up- the gamer can show off their individuality and preferences by “showcasing” what they’re doing, or turning their device around to share their gameplay to the group.

Group facilitators ensure a safe virtual space, regardless of whether mics or cameras are on, Real-Life Gaming becomes an accepting, supportive, and desirable place to not only play with others but process life and self-reflect.

Group members often have conflictual social and emotional limitations/desires that the group can help resolve. For instance, individuals who face limitations with perspective-taking often feel a conflicting desire to build real, sustainable friendships-yet unable to reflect and understand why friendships don’t last. This is a process that demands perspective-taking and self-reflection. Rather than teaching “concrete skills” on “how-to” do it, we do it together in a natural social exchange. Members hear from others who may also share the same difficulty with understanding people in a social context, and troubleshoot together how to understand and resolve life’s problems.

Real-Life Gaming encourages putting down the controller during the second half of the session. Our workbook and character creation module teach intricate social skills while disguised in a role-paying game. The characters they create are a reflection of themselves, and thus the “role-playing game” is the social fuel for natural dialogue- rather than forced skills training often met by the gamer with resistance and opposition.  Real-Life Gaming will not only “teach” members social skills, but it will provide the virtual space, and professional guidance to understand other’s and maintain strong relationships.

If you’re interested in bringing about healthier gaming behavior with your child, adolescent or young adult, please contact us for our group enrollment and programming. Real-Life Gaming can help bring about the change you and your child may be looking for in this modern, complex, and chaotic technological world.

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