Wasif asks: I’m 15 years old and my dad is making a huge deal about me playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. He even took it away after just a couple of weeks of playing it. I honestly (and i’m not leaving out any details) do not understand why. … Now that it’s gone, I’ve asked my dad for it several times and he tells me that these games are addictive and nothing more than mindless killing. I know this is because my dad is a psychiatrist and he deals with people who have addictions to this everyday. He sees people who are addicted to this game and believes that I am one of them, when I certainly am not. Can someone please help me with my dilemma?
Note: I edited this message down to focus on the key points.
All right, first of all I’m not qualified to go head to head with your dad given that he’s a Psychiatrist. If this is his opinion and he isn’t going to budge, then I’m not sure I can sway him. I don’t deal with raw data, I’m only barely interested in the studies and I advise based on the fact that I’m a life long gamer and I’ve worked with children, and I’ve devoted 6 years to studying these topics and talking to parents all over the country.
In my defense, I am endorsed by the National PTA and the American Library Association. Both don’t have any problems with my philosophy and have been comfortable with my stance. Further let me add that I do consult with two practicing PhD Psychologists and one Psychiatrist. One of the Psychologists also specializes in addiction and I grant that these two fields are different. All are relatively young, which means they believe less in the established theory. So you’ve got that versus your father’s expert experience.
So, let me address your father. Doctor. I very respectably disagree with your premise. First of all, I believe the APA has concluded that games are not addictive. In fact, from what I hear the new school of thought is that addiction doesn’t result from video games, the Internet and possibly other things because the root of the problem is in the person’s personality. People who I’ve met who claim an addiction to video games are also people who tend to have a problem with reality. Like books, TV, movies, sex and drugs like cannibis are now thought, by some in his profession, to be simply the symptom, or the way the addiction manifests. Its not that a person is obsessed with gaming, so much as its a person who is avoiding reality, stress or boredom. I believe that video game addicts 20 years ago would be addicted to VHS movies. Ten years before that it might be Rock n’ Roll and back in the 50′s it was comic books. Dr. Fredrick Wertham, a notorious psychiatrist, opined in his book “Seduction of the Innocent” that comics were leading to juvenile delinquency. I don’t know how many people believe this today but it’s worth noting that the good doctor redacted most of his theory before his death and… well… when’s the last time you heard comics blamed for societies ills. Video games, being new and outside the experience of most professionals and parents, leads to misunderstandings.
I mean in the 18th century the Waltz was blamed for causing women to be depraved and I’m convinced that after the first caveman made the first violent cave painting – someone said “think of the children!”
So, I don’t believe, and neither do my advisors, that video games are any more dangerous than any other media. I’ll also add that kids who play games for the gore and violence are rare and probably should be watched. Most kids play gory and violent games for the same reason people see horror movies and ride rollercoasters. To me, saying that a violent game will make you kill in real life – or even become callous – is the same as suggesting that I a love of rollercoasters will lead to reckless driving. The experience is the controlled fear. To put it simply, a child doesn’t think KILL KILL KILL so much as he thinks SURVIVE. These games are skill challenges only they create the illusion of realism and they actually do challenge in a way that playing Cops and Robbers doesn’t. The violence and gore make it seem more real, which ratchets up the tension and scariness. It makes it all more thrilling.
Look at Paintball. Paintball players don’t honestly want to hurt people, they want to win the match and not get shot. It’s about competition, not killing. Despite the “guns,” the military accoutrements and the seemingly violent nature of the game, it’s hard to argue that people play Paintball to be violent. That’s just not how the game is played.
That said I understand why some parents don’t like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 or 2 because there are real wars going on and the realism players crave scares people who don’t crave the challenge of surviving in a simulation of war. It’s difficult to understand for some. One way to help is, a movie goer watches a James Bond film for escapism and thrills. A gamer looks at the movie and thinks “I want to do that.” Do they want to put their lives at risk? No, no more than the actors in the movie want to really be shot and killed. But pretending to be James Bond in a game? Yeah, sounds fun!
All that said…
Your father has the final say. Maybe I’ve swayed him or maybe not. The fact is, he has every right to take the game from you. In 3 years? Not so much maybe. After you move out? Not at all. But I don’t believe for a second that the game is going to turn you into a zombie or a killer – or even that you’ll become obsessed. And the only reason you might become addicted is if you already have some “Real world” problems that need escaping from. Again, anyone with perspective on life with ambition is not going to be sucked into a simulation. The addiction comes from people who are trying to escape their lives in some way. And as I said, that can manifest in lots of ways.
I also suggest your father read GRAND THEFT CHILDHOOD (written by two PhDs) and maybe Stephen Johnson’s EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU. I think, again with respect, that your father’s view isn’t on the cutting edge and as young gamers become parents, all these video game issues will become less serious. Does your dad think movies are addictive? How about books? In my less that perfect childhood I read a lot of books. Lots of hours of the day, but just because they were books nobody accused me of being addicted. I was encouraged. If I’d chosen TV, my mom would have had similar fears your dad has.
Again, this is your dad’s call and you should respect his decision. Maybe have him read this – and if he wants to refute it I will publish whatever he wants to say – and see if maybe he’ll take a softer stance. CODMW2 is a very good game. Well made, great storylines and, yeah, lots of simulated violence to challenge the player. I personally don’t have a problem with a 15 year old playing personally but if video games were the scourge some believe….
Then why is the crime rate down in the 30 years since gaming was invented? I’m not saying games lowered the murder rate, but they certainly didn’t increase it. Something like 85% of young adults play games, so where’s the huge epidemic?
Anyway, good luck Wasif. I encourage your dad to read this and respect that he has a 15-year old son who has the good judgment and thoughtfulness to craft this letter, and try and persuade you, rather than defy you. Seems to me, you’ve got a good kid there. But I’ll defer to your opinion because you are the dad and I’d never want to undermine a father’s judgment, even if I disagree with it.
Thanks for the letter.