Computer games have become an insidious and addictive pastime for many young people. Kids, teens and adults have increasingly struggled to detach from reality through absorption into an online world of fantasy, warfare or artificial competition.
A recent ABC Catalyst program identified the triple whammy of power, pleasure and pain which draws the gamer into the addictive cycle. Being able to control one’s environment can be lucrative for young children, whilst rewarding them intermittently to keep them both inquisitive and interested. The fear (or ‘pain’) of losing scores, levels or other advantages then keeps them playing. These traits then continue into more complex games where covenants or guilds may enhance the social interaction. Experts have identified some disturbing similarities between gaming of the video kind and gaming of the gambling kind.
Adults may well need intervention, given the number of twenty-somethings still spending inordinate numbers of hours sacrificing real friendships for cyberspace, but their greater social and psychological development (and sometimes their busyness) often reduces the risk.
For parents of the 8% or so kids for whom this becomes pathological or for any child or teen who is too distracted by gaming (and other web pursuits) there are strategies to break the cycle. Some include:
- Get the computer into a public place and in a position where the screen is visible so that allegations of homework completion can’t cover for extreme distractions.
- Spot-check for homework completion and other legitimate pursuits for accountability.
- Restrict usage for online leisure pursuits with consequences for violation.
- Demand passwords and online standards at the earliest stages of computer use.
- Scrutinise friendships and intervene where excessive gaming friendships develop.
- Encourage alternative pursuits and early bedtimes and invest debrief and affirmation time into the child’s (or teen’s) day to maximise the positive input into their world.
- Get family and professional help where moodiness and sleeplessness is resulting from overuse.