Video Games Kill and Addiction

Here is a story of how a video game led to death…

A few years ago, there was a young 28 year old Korean guy named Lee who loved to play video games. His favorite was Starcraft, an online strategy game. In fact he played it so often that he started neglecting his real life responsibilities. He started showing up late to work, leaving early, not paying his bills and time with his girlfriend. As the wins in Starcraft started piling up, his real life soon resembled a series of losses. He was fired from his job and his girlfriend left him. He was really down, but lucky for his brain, it had figured out what to do in a situation such as this. Instead of waiting to feel different and trying to get a new job and win back his woman his brain had learned, that the solution to feeling down is to simply play more Starcraft. Beating another player somewhere in the world just felt oh so good. A few months later, on a rainy day, he slipped into his favorite internet cafe. He didn’t know it then but he would soon lose at the game of life. He sat down and started to play. For 50 hours straight he kept┬ádiverting the pain of losing his job and his woman until, he suddenly dropped dead. Yes, he fell right of his chair and died. Or maybe he died and then fell off his chair. We don’t know. On August 5th, 2005, Lee would become famous, not for winning a Starcraft tournament, but for losing his life because of a video game.

in 2009 a 3 month old child was the one who suffered from gaming addiction. No she did not choke on a keyboard key or get strangled by the mouse cord, but her parents were both addicted to playing an online game. They played Prius Online, it’s one where you are a character in a virtual world, with virtual money, objectives and even a family. Worst of all they were rearing a virtual child in the game while neglecting to feed their own child. The poor little girl ended up dying of starvation.

So why is it that video games can be so addicting? How can it be that someone would choose to engage in this activity while at the same time neglecting their own life or that of their child?

To explain why this is, lets go back a few million years. When our animal ancestors roamed the prairies they had to survive. A few ways they did so was to find food, find shelter and learn to protect themselves and avoid danger. Later on they discovered fire and figured out how to make weapons. Hunting was invented and the boys who could shoot better were able to survive better.

Does this sound like some of the video games we see today? Fortnite, one of the most successful games ever is tapping into this primal survival instinct of shooting something. Minecraft is another major success, what do you do in that game? It’s all about gathering resources at first, avoiding danger, finding shelter and eventually building shelter, hunting and so on. No wonder kids are drawn to these games but this just explains why these games are fun to play, but why the addiction? Why neglect your own reality?

The addiction arises when one wants to escape one’s own reality. Back to the prairie, when your great great great… grandpa heard a lion roar, his brain learned to quickly take action to help protect him and his own. Lucky for you his brain was fairly sharp and was able to devise a plan to stay safe. You see, the homo sapiens that were able to cope with stress in a way to survive better, did just that, they survived. Coping with hunger, they hunted, coping with thirst they found a waterhole and so on. So what happens in addiction? This coping mechanism gets hijacked by the drug or the behavior. When a child is under stress, say their parents are fighting or yelling or bombs are being dropped around their house AND they have access to something that provides immediate pleasure, say a phone with Minecraft on it, they will play this game in order to escape the stress of their reality. Their brain then learns, “hey, that felt great, no worries about mom and dad and the bombs anymore, just stare at that phone thing and all is good.” So a few years go by and now the child is a teenager and guess what they love to do? You got it, play video games, and whenever life gets tough, their brain knows an immediate solution, how nice, thank you brain. So Mr Lee loses his job, his girlfriend and he ends up escaping this stressful reality by playing Starcraft non stop.

This happens in all addictions. You can replace the above story with “alcohol, tobacco, sex, meth, heroin, gambling, working out.” Whenever the brain encounters a psychoactive substance during a time of intense stress, it will learn this behavior to help cope with future stress.

So now you have it, video games can kill you.

If you find that in response to stress, you resort to playing video games, maybe you should start telling your brain something else. “No brain, I’m gonna deal with the stress first and as a reward of dealing with the stress I will give you a little dopamine dump by shooting up some zombies, ok? Deal.”

Another question arises, if people can blur their reality with that of a video game, is it possible for video games to lead to mass shootings? I would be very careful to make this assumption. It may simply be our brains under stress of hearing about mass shooting to want to find relief in naming a scapegoat. We tend to try and put the blame on something or someone to help make us feel better, and as we just learned, this is a very slippery slope. After all, South Korea is 4th highest consumer in video games worldwide (per newzoo.com) yet isn’t even on the list of top mass shooting countries (per worldpopulationreview.com). In fact, when looking at these lists there is no correlation between video games sold and mass shooting numbers. I would wager that mass shootings has more to do with unresolved childhood trauma. The famous ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) studies have shown a direct correlation between childhood trauma and depression, obesity, addiction, diabetes and many more chronic conditions. Maybe that is where we should place our focus.

Thanks for reading,

Dr Z.

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