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Real Life vs. Virtual Worlds

By Edited Feb 20, 2016 6 4

Do Video Games Lead to Social Issues?

    “We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control” (Turkle, 2012). In Sherry Turkle’s TED talk “Connected, but Alone?”, Turkle discusses how technology is becoming a dependency in our lives. More specifically, she argues how cell phones are directly causing loneliness and isolation, accompanying the comfort we take in them to avoid real life situations. Of course, cell phones are just one of many various types of electronics people tend to become heavily attached to; other forms of technology are laptops, television, music players, and the focus of this essay: video games. As a steady growing and more increasingly popular form of entertainment, video games have created their own culture, similar to cell phones and texting, and a lot of their success is by “being scapegoats for the problems in society” (Jindra, 2007). By providing virtual fantasy worlds, gamers immerse themselves within the game cutting off most connections with reality, at least in the moment. There is definitely a sense of comfort in playing video games, as they do give enjoyment, stress and anxiety relief, and relaxation all while providing this false reality.

teen playing video games online

 

   Turkle in her TED talk mentions that cell phones and chatting on the internet let the user share as much or as little as they please, also showing themselves, or at least their avatars, off as the best representation of themselves and there is no pressure of face to face conversations. This also holds true while playing video games, more specifically mass multiplayer online games (MMOGs), allowing players to talk via headsets and microphones while remaining basically anonymous to others (Jindra, 2007). Even though video games can be seen as a form of entertainment, therapeutic, and even informative, gamers create such a comfortable and familiar environment that often start to take place of interpersonal relationships and over time can eventually lead to self-inflicted loneliness and isolation. Social issues, such as avoidant behaviour and antisocial tendencies, are just a few of the numerous problems that can arise when people begin to seek comfort in technology rather than developing personal relationships.

 

 It is hard to argue the obvious positive features of video games. The target group of video games ranges from all ages, but the people (gamers) discussed are from about 16-30. Most simply, video games provide a distraction from real life situations. By playing inside of a virtual world, most people find relief in the form of virtual realities and find them useful to escape whatever they would like. Although this can be argued that trying to “run away” from your problems is a bad thing, having this option is on the other hand arguably healthy by finding a balance through stress management, which leads to the next point.

   We find ourselves in a world where everybody is burdening by daily stressors: environmental, social, whatever it may be. By having a few hours to ourselves to just escape for a while, the distraction and immersion in virtual reality can help take off some of the stress and anxiety people experience from their own lives. In the text, Edward Castronova from his Synthetic Worlds, mentions that people “seek refuge from the ‘meaningless’ and ‘boredom’ of everyday life, while also forming stronger social bonds than in real life” (Jindra, 2007). Also, he believes that these false realities give people a sense of feeling accomplished and loved. This may not be that strong of a point, but the feeling of accomplishment and feeling loved and praised are very important to one’s mental health, and without them, possible risks for things like depression could become factors.

   On a more universal and globally considered view, video games are entertainment. They are fun and stimulating. Having enjoyment in one’s life is important to feel satisfied and video games can fill that roll. There is really nothing wrong with video games for general use, but when do they get to be a problem?

  At what point do people have a dependency on video games that starts to threaten a person’s health and overall well being?

One of the biggest health problems we tend to hear about in relation to social isolation is depression. Being a very common mental health issue, depression is characterized as chronic sadness for extended periods of time, as well as threatening to interpersonal relationships, jobs, schools, and almost every aspect of one’s life. Many people, especially older adults and parents of children who game, are usually quick to assume that video games only cause problems and are unhealthy. In recent studies, gaming habits of adolescents were followed for a couple years in order to determine whether or not video games indeed did contribute to depression among young adults deemed as “addicted” to them. Results showed that kids who were more uncomfortable around other people and who were more impulsive were more inclined to play video games. After another couple of years, these same children who played video games on a high constant basis versus regular children were more likely to adopt depression and anxiety and other social issues, as well as more trouble in school and with parental relationships (Rabyn, 2011).

On a contradictory note, Dr. Gentile of Iowa State University proposes that these studies are not so concrete. He suggest that children who already have mental health issues hold a certain vulnerability for depression and other things that increase through the use of video games. He compares this idea with illnesses; Robyn says,“You can get the flu, and then get pneumonia, which is a different thing, but it kind of came along with the flu, and flu made you at greater risk for it. And then, once you got the pneumonia, you’re at risk from something else” (Robyn, 2011). This happens over time, as the side effects from gaming often get worse through progression.

 With ideas aforementioned from Turkle, Gentile suggests that adolescents who do actually have issues may seek comfort in video games, though this can cause the unwanted effects of depression and isolation. In the end, it is hard to draw conclusions about a topic that has equally strong and agreeable arguments. Though video games can develop a vulnerability for getting depression, it is not entirely the fault of video games which are merely just some sort of an enabler, not the cause.

video games

People that wish to distract themselves from real world situations might find themselves as feeling a loss in control of their life. In most games, the outcome of the game is largely based on the how the player plays the game, giving them control. Many aspects of a game like The Sims or Civilization put the player in a god-like position giving a type of control that is otherwise unattainable in real life. People often want to share with others their accomplishments in a game and do chat with others via online games or gaming with friends, and the misconception of “video games creating loneliness” is blurred.

“The social bonding tends to be more ephemeral than in traditional communities and there is some evidence that players prefer video games over contact with other humans, perhaps from giving an ‘illusion of intimacy’ while maintaining control over the situation” (Jindra, 2007).

  While people still do socialize in video games, they are able to control the situation and are still able to find the intimacy one longs for, just on a different level and a bit more abstract. Though, by being able to cut off these relationships and conversations at any time, this poses an unhealthy model in which real life relationships could not survive or develop. Serious gamers get used to the way they interact with people online, thus not being able to have a stable social life offline in reality.

Sherry Turkle mentions quite a few ways in which we use technology and we often do not realize how much time we dedicate to it. We are constantly finding ourselves in virtual world, whether it be through video games or through the internet, and not spending enough time in the world we currently live in.

  The video game culture in particular has quickly become one of the  most popular forms of entertainment, experienced by almost all people, though especially enjoyed by adolescents and young adults. By providing people with a virtual reality, it is a great way to escape from the reality of the real world for a little while, which is a great stress and anxiety reducer. Not to mention that video games are just plain fun, games now are being developed with very elaborate and emotional story lines to allow the player to become attached so they can relate.

  There is really nothing to dangerous about video games on a basic level for regular play, but the problem arises when it gets to be too much. It is hard to say when exactly someone is playing too many hours of video games, because every person is different and deals with things in their own way. Many people can probably function in the real world perfectly fine even if they do play video games excessively.

  Though this may be true, there are other people to do see video games as a reality escape, but spend more time in that false reality rather than the real world. When someone does this, it can definitely hinder personal relationships and affect other aspects of their life. It is mentioned before that video games can create social issues that can ultimately lead to more severe problems like depression.

   Though, Gentile believes that the people that already have some of these social issues like avoidant and impulsive behaviours are the ones to tend to seek comfort in video games and play them a lot. So it again is hard to know what the true answer is. Though people who seek comfort and play video games can be at risk for social implications in their own everyday lives, it is the people who already had previously existing social issues that were at more of a  risk for developing more severe problems by resorting to play video games; but video games themselves are not a cause, merely just a symptom of existing problems.

Video games are made to be enjoyed and to have fun while exploring a new world and being able to do things and be someone one cannot do or be in real life. In the end, just make sure you only visit the worlds of Azeroth and Hyrule, not live in them!

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Comments

Jun 11, 2014 1:47pm
Hanabanan
Really good points; you perfectly explained what I always try and say when this subject comes up!
Jun 11, 2014 2:26pm
spotila
Rated, superbly written.
Jun 12, 2014 3:59am
probertson85
fantastic article! have rated it as well!
Jan 7, 2015 1:40pm
tweakn
This topic is something I have personally been through. For others, it may not be a problem. For myself, many of these things mentioned ring loud and clear. I am happy to see people making efforts to bring awareness to others, while also showing both sides of the coin. Instead of blaming games as the cause of social issues, you also show that it may help others with underlying social issues. Nicely done!
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Bibliography

  1. Sherry Turkle "Connected, but Alone?." Ted Talk. 30/04/2014 <Web >
  2. Michael Jindra "Video game Worlds." Society. (2007): 67-73.
  3. James Weaver, et. al "Health-Risk Correlates of Video-Game Playing Among Adults." American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (2009): 299-305.
  4. Caryn Rabyn "Video Games and the Depressed Teenager." The NY Times. 30/04/2014 <Web >

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