A lot has been written about computer game violence this week because of the much-awaited launch of “Grand Theft Auto IV”, with dire warnings about turning our kids into killers. On cue – there was a stabbing in a queue to buy the game in Croydon – there see, goes to prove it!!
But regardless of content, the most immediate worry is why are these games so addicitive, drawing in just as many adults as children to play for hours on end, daily.
The reason is simple – they are designed to be addictive. Level after level they must be conquered, mounting greater competitive challenges. The worlds are infinite and can be explored without a blistered foot in sight. Players can do and be whoever they want and meet other gamers online without accountability.
In other words they represent a freedom we never get in real life, fulfilling our instinct for uninhibited and competitive behaviour, without any social constraints..
This is known as “process addiction” – following a habit that provides immediate gratification through disinhibited behaviour releasing dopamine in the brain – hey that feels good.
Process addiction is defined as: Addiction to certain mood-altering behaviors, such as eating disorders, gambling, sexual activity, overwork, and shopping.
Watch a person immersed Grand Theft Auto and you are watching someone anaesthetising themselves from the pressure of real life and escaping into another world. It’s the nature of these games that they do this. That means by their very nature they are compulsive.
What we stand to lose are some of the hard-fought-for pleasures of real life: a real adventure, a real relationship.
As a parent of teenagers who love their computer games, I am more concerned about this lack of real life quality time than from the violence which I do feel they leave behind when they put their XBox controller down.