Friday, January 04, 2008
Teenage Zombies: Video Games have Sucked the Life out of my Kids
Video games have sucked the life out of my kids.
BY STEPHEN MOORE
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 They grew increasingly withdrawn, walking around like the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead."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.