Friday, January 04, 2008

Teenage Zombies: Video Games have Sucked the Life out of my Kids

Teenage Zombies
Video games have sucked the life out of my kids.

The Wallstreet Journal
Friday, January 4, 2008 12:01 a.m. EST

My new year's resolution is to get my two teenage sons back. They've been abducted--by the cult of Nintendo. I'm convinced that video games are Japan's stealth strategy to turn our kids' brains into silly putty as payback for dropping the big one on Hiroshima.

The trouble began last summer when my sons started spending virtually every unsupervised hour camped out in front of the computer screen engaged in multiplayer role games like World of Warcraft and Counterstrike. At the start of this craze, I wrote it off as merely a normal phase of adolescence. I was confident that, at 14 and 16, they would soon be more interested in chasing real-life girls than virtual video hoodlums.

Boy, was I wrong. Their compulsion became steadily more destructive. They grew increasingly withdrawn, walking around like the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead." Unless I pried them (forcibly) from the computer, they would spend five or six hours at a time absorbed in these online fantasy worlds. My wife tried to calm me down by observing that "at least they're not out having sex or doing drugs." But how would that be any worse?

Both are decent athletes, but their muscles began to atrophy right before our very eyes; their skin tone paled from lack of sunlight. Their idea of playing sports these days is inserting Madden football or the NBA slam-dunk game into our Xbox.

We recently considered purchasing the new Nintendo Wii, because at least its games--simulated bowling, snow boarding, guitar playing and motorcycling--require physical activity. Nintendo even advertises this product as good exercise for kids, and I have colleagues who swear that they get a great workout from Wii boxing and skiing. Alas, a new study from the British Health Journal suggest that Wii is no substitute for the real and vigorous outdoor exercise that adolescent boys need.

My wife and I aren't entirely inept parents--our 6-year-old seems fairly well-adjusted anyway. Back in October we established for the older boys strict screen-time limits. It was then that we discovered the true extent of their addiction. They ranted and raved and cursed and even threw things--almost as if demons had taken possession of them. These are classic withdrawal symptoms; they craved a fix. When we installed parental controls on the computer, our boys scoffed. It took them about 15 minutes to disable them. We've become so desperate that we may have to get rid of the computers entirely, though that may hamper their school work.

It turns out that we're not alone in our predicament. A parent down the street confided to us that his 12-year-old son was so obsessed with video games that he wouldn't take even a three-minute break from gaming to go to the bathroom--with unfortunate results. The other day we saw a kid at church, in a semi-trance, going down the aisle to Holy Communion while clicking on a hand-held Game Boy. Talk about worshiping a false god.

This summer the American Medical Association's annual conference debated a proposal to declare excessive video gaming a "formal disorder" in the category of other addictions like alcohol, drugs and gambling. One study released at the AMA conference found that many kids who spend a disproportionate amount of time playing games "achieve more control and success of their social relationships in the virtual reality realm than in real relationships."

I'm not one to blame every human frailty on some faddish psychiatric disorder. But I'm persuaded that computer games are the new crack cocaine. The testimonials from parents of online gamers are horrific: kids not taking showers, not eating or sleeping, falling behind in school. Some parents are forced to send their kids to therapeutic boarding schools, which charge up to $5,000 a month, to combat the gaming addiction.

The war lords of the gaming industry tout research on the positive attributes of gaming--and admittedly there are some. One study published this year in Psychological Science finds that gaming improves eyesight. A famous 2004 study by researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, found that video games improve manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination: "Doctors who spend at least 3 hours a week playing video games," the researchers reported, "made about 37% fewer mistakes in laproscopic surgery." Fine. I'll give my sons the joysticks back when they become orthopedic surgeons.

In the meantime, what is to be done? I'm not suggesting making the games illegal--we don't need a multibillion-dollar black market in video games. But I am pleading that parents take this social problem seriously and intervene, as my wife and I wish we had done much earlier.

November sales for the Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, and the games that go with them, were up a gaudy 52% over last year. In my neck of the woods, Wii's were such hot sellers that they weren't available in the stores at any price. I'm proud to report that we rejected our youngest son's pleas for a PlayStation for Christmas. He pouts that we're the meanest parents in the world. Someday he'll thank us. A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.

Mr. Moore is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.


Heliodora said...

This is why we don't have any gaming systems in our house. Every once in a while, we tolerate a game or two on the computer, but not for long. The change in the kids' behavior is noticeable after only a couple sessions. This just seems to be one of those things that is nearly impossible to enjoy moderately.

Anonymous said...

There's always something, isn't there? There's always that one thing that can look so vile one day, and then decades later is simply part of life. Video games. Television. Radio. Non-religious paintings. They are all the same thing, the same "tools of the devil", and yet we never learn; none of them are harmful.

To heliodora: Yes, children will react to anything they only get on occasion. If, for instance, a child saw a television only on occasion, they would be mesmerized by the television DURING those occasions. It's one of the gifts children possess that should (yet never does) baffle adults, that ability to focus on a rare treat.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is the first paragraph of Mr. Moore's article very...stereotypical? It certainly seems offensive and thoughtless.

MomToCherubs said...

AMEN !! We have a Game Cube and a new Wii, however the games are used for a while (maybe 2 weeks at a time), and then are put away (completely disconnected) for a month or two (or more, esp in summer when OUTSIDE is improtant). We were concerned about just this same thing happening. I am often curious though - why do boys seem to be more "at risk" than girls (or atleast it is in our house) for this video / TV / electronic media fixation ?? TV is an obsession as well for our boys, so we limit it pretty severely as well.

A Game Boy in church ?? IN line for Communion ?? Goodness - how sad !!

Praying for your family -- and for a VICTORY !!

God Bless.

Thomas Shawn said...

Hmmm.. good to know that Mr. Moore is a Roman Catholic, I watch him all the time on CNBC's Larry Kudlow show.

Heliodora said...


Any good thing can become a tool of the devil. Some things are more easily transformed than others, and some things are not good to begin with.

The behavior I was speaking of was more along the lines of the withdrawal symptoms described in the article. We've observed that children's behavior becomes more animalistic and that they forget all charity towards each other.

That shouldn't be so surprising. Science has shown that video games and television actually change the brain structure of children, at the expense of their ability to think and interact with others. See the book "Endangered Minds" by Dr. Jane M. Healy.

A passerby said...

Time management is the hardest thing for teens. Hopefully they'll find a way to manage their "addiction" while doing well with the rest of their activities.

I've been playing video games since I was five and I managed to graduate from college...haha. So there's hope!

Anonymous said...

Man, I have been playing video games for a really long time, is my brain screwed up? I doubt it i mean i managed to graduate from highschool, with honours, and have been accepted to university. Bottom line, I don't play much any more what with having to work and a lot of guitar. I agree that it just seems that everyone needs something to whine about I mean c'mon if you notice such a big change in your kids than yes limit it but really just because your children have a problem doesn't mean that everybody's do

Anonymous said...

dude get them in to paint ball. it's funner than a video game and lets them get exersize. by uncles did that with my cousine who played world of war for 16 hours i day now hes got tons of friends and not sit there in front of a tv wasting his life.

Anonymous said...

My son is turning 15 this week and he has been addicted to video games for the last 10 years! He stays in his room ALL day and refuses to shower, use the toilet and even skips school to play. I am worried that his health is suffering. He doesn't eat well, his hygene is awful, he has very few friends, I can't walk into his room half because of the stench and the other half because there are piles of junk everywhere!! He has a bad cold now and is often sick. If you can help me help my son I'd be forever in your debt. He needs to get motivated, clean and well.

Worried said...

I decided to research this very question and came upon this article. My wife and I have anguished over this very issue with each of our sons.
Now, I don't blame it all on the gaming. It was my wife and I who allowed them to play. We are the ones who allowed them to have their own Xbox's in their rooms and computers.
On the bright side, they (one 16 and one 12) are both honor students and active in band.
But, what I have noticed over time is this general lack of enthusiasm for anything other than gaming. I sometimes feel they keep their grades up and do what is needed just to ensure they can get their fix.
When my 12 year old is playing Call to Duty, the passion I hear coming from his room is astounding. Yet, when he goes to play soccer (which he used to love), he is basically content to sit on the bench and let others play.
I am very convinced that we are losing our children to electronics. My 16 year old is more hooked on the social networking than gaming. But, I see it as electronic cocaine just like the author stated.
We are discussing taking the electronics away for a 30 day period just to see what would happen.