Why Video Games Can be Harmful

There could be a hidden menace out there. It poses in the guise of a friend, or at least a harmless whisperer promising entertainment. It’s of a dual nature. On the one hand, it is Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. On the other hand, should it consume, it becomes Sauron, the Dark Lord. Such gifts can often be of this dual nature, the hidden menace. They feel good but can sap you of your drive and prevent your True Glory.

In our own contemporary culture, one of these marvelous gifts is the medium of the video game. Before my criticism and why I think they can easily be harmful, I must balance the essay out with the good aspects of video gaming culture. GamerGate showed the grit and bravery that the gaming community is truly capable of, as it was they, not anyone in a more “respectable” subculture, that were the first to stand up to the “social justice” hegemon. During that battle, I met some great people in that community, including several developers aghast at the SJW infiltration of their industry. These people were the first to take a stand.

Yet the “gamer” life, unless you actively work in the industry, isn’t something I’d envision as being a worthy one. I used to play a lot of video games when I was a kid and into my mid-teens, but by the latter stages of my teenage life I’d stopped getting new ones for the most part. While I was nowhere near on the right track at that time, given how much of it I wasted, I at least didn’t have one more excuse to waste time.

Starcraft epic video games
Starcraft was a big favorite of mine.

I’d advise against spending much time on the entertainment industry in general unless your livelihood is somehow connected to it or you want lessons on power, marketing, and influence, but video games are in a certain regard more deceptively malicious than other avenues of entertainment.

This is because video games are uniquely interactive. When watching a movie or TV show, you are passive. You wait for the information to bore through your eyes and ears and make its way to your brain. It requires no action on your part. With video games on the other hand, you are engaging in action. You’re in control. You’re part of the experience.

Sound good? That’s where the danger actually lies. Obviously, when you’re taking an action, it’s in the pursuit of some end. When you achieve that end, you get a rush of dopamine. In a way, we’re all drug addicts, because we do things for dopamine rushes. That’s the feeling of power and accomplishment that comes – in varying degrees – when we achieve something we think is meaningful.

At the behest of a friend, I started to get into a very old game I used to play, Diablo II, once again. I had a good time. It’s fun to wander through the large maps in the game, get stronger, kill monsters, and ultimately get the best stuff that you want to get.

But I was also wasting a lot of time. It was time I could have spent on perhaps more boring things, but things that would ultimately benefit me, whereas playing Diablo II was entertaining and gave me a quick dopamine hit but didn’t benefit me at all.

Your name won’t be remembered by playing a game all day, let’s just put it that way.

Video games have the ability to be so harmful because they give you the feeling that you’re accomplishing something, when in fact, you aren’t accomplishing anything. You are, quite literally, living in a virtual reality. You’re getting dopamine alright, but it’s based on nothing. Worst of all, since we’re all drug addicts, by getting the feelings of accomplishing things in video games and the resulting dopamine that goes with them, you’ll go back to playing those games instead of doing things in the real world. That’s why video games are so addictive.

This is all a matter of choice of course. But, if you find yourself wasting too much time playing video games, or if you simply want to enjoy them without getting sucked in too deep, here’s what I’d suggest:

  1. Try to stay away from RPGs and MMORPG video games like Diablo II, World of Warcraft, and so on. These games can be particularly nefarious because the nature of building up a character – of watching him grow stronger and wealthier, is particularly addictive. You’re especially prone to thinking you’ve accomplished something in this scenario and getting a bad dopamine hit because you identify with the character. As you created it, it is an extension of you.
  2. If playing these kinds of video games, have a strict time limit of a couple of hours at most. Again however, this can be exceedingly difficult. I willingly violated it without question because I was so immersed in the game. Primal, lower brain factors are always going to be more powerful than logical ones like a self-imposed time limit. Hence my general advice in staying away from this genre.
  3. RTS and shooting games aren’t quite as addictive, though you’ll still need to be careful. They’re more conducive to allowing the player to be satisfied with playing them only once in a while.
  4. The best way to avoid any video game addiction is to not play them, but you don’t need to take such an extreme route to enjoy them and still have a productive life.

And that’s about it. Many younger guys aren’t really aware as to the hidden dangers of these games. That’s in part because the phrase “hidden dangers” in video games is still associated with the likes of Jack Thompson claiming they can cause violence (a claim for which there is no evidence), and more recently, the Anita Sarkeesians of the world claiming they can cause sexism and misogyny (another claim for which there is no evidence). They absolutely can sap your drive, however.

Ultimately the choice is up to you with what you want to do. I just warn the really young guys in particular, guys that are in their late teens and early twenties who should learn from my example and use those years to start building skills and engaging in works toward their vision (and if you don’t have such a vision, you’ll receive a guide which might help you if you sign up for my email list). By focusing on building those skills and moving every day toward a vision, they would have a great head start. Playing games won’t get you that head start unless you plan on working in the industry or plan to use the game to build community, which could be an excellent, overlooked way of doing so. I’ll have to come back to that topic later.

Speaking of that… Ghost in the Shell: First Assault comes out this year. I’m gonna have to check that one out. Hope to see you there!

Ghost in the Shell: First Assault epic