The Flip Side to Gaming

We all know that one guy who hides in his room and spends countless hours online, gaming through the night into the wee hours of the morning  with a fresh supply of Mountain Dew and Doritos within easy reach. I think we can all agree that this kind of lifestyle is an unhealthy one. We can also see the flip side of this scenario as well.  People who are not abusing video games.  What is happening with this group of people that is different?  How have they adjusted to enjoying video games while not becoming addicted? Is it really possible to just play for a little bit? Let’s look into that a bit deeper.

Ali Carr-Chellman, a former elementary school teacher, is on a mission to bring gaming into the classroom to both teach and entertain with new rules that let boys be boys. In the above TED talk, Ali pinpoints three reasons why boys are no longer interested in traditional education (the classroom) and are falling behind as a result. She presents some staggering statistics about the current culture that is built around girls, especially in schools, and the impact it’s having on boys. Currently boys are 2 times more likely to be suspended, 3 times more likely to be expelled, 2 times more likely to be in special ed, 2 times more likely to have a learning disability, 3 times more likely to have an emotional disturbance and 4 times more likely to have ADHD. The cause? Ali argues that schools are trying to teach boys as though they were girls and it’s not working. Boys don’t learn the same way girls do, could video-games be the answer?

There has been a new way of looking at video gaming. That is, what are the positives of appropriate video gaming? This plays into the different games that are available to kids, teens and adults.  There is an article that was published by the American Psychological Association called “The Benefits of Playing Video Games” that talks about the cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of different types of games from the classic Super Mario Brothers to the new age World of Warcraft. To best illustrate this point, the article highlights a team of biology researchers from the University of Washington who decided to create an online game in hopes it would solve a real-world crisis. The researchers then allowed the public to participate in their online game where they would try and model the genetic makeup of certain proteins. After 3 weeks the highest-scoring players had produced the data necessary for the researchers to find the answer to a problem that had eluded them for over 10 years. What exactly was this real-world crisis? AIDS. This story illustrates the power of social gaming and the unique attributes that gamers seem to possess. Could gaming really be considered an asset as opposed to a liability?

…the nonlinear, cooperative, and creative problem-solving techniques used by these gamers seemed to be precisely the skills needed to finally solve this elusive problem.

Now we could sit down and argue wither or not video games are good or bad until we are blue in the face.  The true fact is that we need to look at both sides of the coin at the same time.  Video games cannot be just bad or good. There are gray areas that bend how we must think about them.  Video games have become prevalent in the culture of today.  It definitely doesn’t look to be going anywhere.  So the question we should be asking is “How can we engage our boys in a life where video games exist?”

One of the common questions I hear from parents who have a son who could be categorized as having Peter Pan Syndrome (young men who refuse to grow up) is, “Are video games really that bad?”

gamer_xboxI’m sure we have all read articles that say it either way.  That violent video games create violent kids, or that video games turn your brain to mush.  On the other side there are many who say that video games are great for your kids and can actually make them smarter.  Question is, are we looking at it in the right way? Should we start from the beginning and change our original question or should it remain the same?

“Are Video Games Really That Bad?”

We all know that playing video games for the majority of each day is not good for any one’s health.  Video games are usually a sedentary activity.  This could lead to one being neglectful towards ones physical needs such as proper nutrition and exercise.  There’s also the neglect of physical appearance and hygiene that accompanies. The possibility of pizza boxes and empty Mountain Dew bottles littering the floor becomes a real concern. These are some of the obvious results of someone who is playing video games excessively. So, what is too much?

The fact of the matter is, if someone is playing video games every day for the majority of that day, it’s apparent something’s wrong. When you see the signs, like those mentioned above, they are addicted, plain and simple. And let’s be real, it’s hard to break an addiction.  The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as, “a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences”.  The substance in this case is video games. The first step in treating any addiction is to have the addict recognize that they’re an addict and that’s not easy. To do that parents must first confront the issue head on by addressing it with their child and that’s not easy for parents.  high_stakes_pokerMany parents don’t know how to confront the issue and decide to take a step back and make it a “non-issue” in hopes their child will eventually grow out of it.  That approach is like high-stakes poker, the risks are huge and your odds of winning are minuscule.  If you want to help your child overcome their video game addiction, you must first understand why they turn to video games in the first place.

Why Does My Child Turn to Video Games?

The Week published an article called The psychology of video game addiction written by Jack Flanagan that I highly recommend you read.  This article explores the reasons behind the addiction itself. A recent 2013 survey asking over 1,600 participants ‘what they got out of gaming’ gives us a rare glimpse as to the real reasons why gamers (studies indicate this group mostly comprise of young white males) choose to play video games obsessively.  Of all the reasons given in the survey, the no.1 reason was ‘Escapism’. So what is Ecapism? Merriam-Webster defines it as: an activity or form of entertainment that allows people to forget about the real problems of life. Convenient isn’t it? And let’s be honest, who hasn’t felt the yearning to escape from the pressures and problems of life sometimes? We all have, but gamers might be at more risk.

…players who are trying to “escape” themselves through fantasy immersion or role-play seem to be at enhanced risk. It seems likely that using video games to escape problems may lead to a vicious cycle.  -Hilgard

But gamers are not the only escape artists out there and escapism is not strictly video-game centric according to Merriam-Webster, but rather any “activity or entertainment” that allows people to forget about their problems. Under this rationale, pornography, sex, gambling, alcohol, drugs, along with a host of other potentially destructive activities fall into this same category. Can “gaming” really be placed in the same realm as drugs and alcohol? I mean, how bad can it really be? Well, according to a report by the BBC news in 2010, gaming really can be that bad. The news report covers the blatant neglect of a new born baby in South Korea who died from malnutrition. The cause? Both parents were game-addicts who ultimately chose video-games over their daughter.



Flanagan, J. (2014, February 6). The Psychology of Video Game Addiction. The Week.

Hilgard, J., Christopher, E., & Bartholow, B. (2013). Individual differences in motives, preferences, and pathology in video games: The gaming attitudes, motives, and experiences scales (GAMES). Frontiers in Psychology, 4(00608).

Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. (2014). The Benefits of Playing Video Games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78.




About The Author

Brook Price dedicated himself to helping others early in his life. He grew up in Sunny Orange County California, then joined the Marine Corps at the age of 21 serving five and half years as a helicopter crew chief and then as chief accountant. His journey with this type of work began when he volunteered as a Young Marines Instructor during his time in the Marines, helping kids get off the street, improve their lives and develop as a leader. After his tour Brook left the Marines to pursue a career in experiential therapy by attending Southern Utah University where he majored in outdoor recreation with a minor in psychology.

Brook has seventeen years experience working for a variety of different therapeutic and transitional programs across the nation. His thirst for knowledge drove him to learn and study successful therapeutic models and programs across the country, most notably Outward Bound. Brook has experience working with therapeutic, residential, military, wilderness and transitional programs for adults and adolescents.