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One Of Many Things I Know

I recently came across a little movie online entitled “The Only Thing I Know”. Put together by animator Brian Schmoyer, it suggests that video games are a waste of your life, and almost suggesting that video games are some evil substance that needs to be wiped out.

OK, that’s an exaggeration of the guy’s message, and he does at least acknowledge his opinion is likely to be unpopular and accepts general criticism. But something about it just bugged me about it. So because of that, I figured it would be appropriate to offer my own stance on the “video games are a waste of time” argument.

I agree with Schmoyer in the sense that video games are entertainment, nothing more. But so are so many other things. Entertainment in general is a time sink, that’s a fact I’m willing to agree with. But here’s my counter-argument:

Entertainment is important.

It’s amazing how many people say that you need to work hard, make something of yourself, do something important, and never once do these people stop to unwind. Entertainment helps provide that method of unwinding. Video games are just the latest in a long line of “time-wasting” entertainment activities humanity has created to distract itself from some of the hardships. This doesn’t make them bad or worthless.

If Schmoyer’s argument is that we should stop playing video games because there are more important things to be doing, then should we also renounce the entire last century of great film, centuries of literature, the plays of Shakespeare, the classical arts of ballet and opera, classical compositions of the likes of Mozart or Beethoven, even all the way back to the Greek tragedies?

All of the above are time-sinks, just like video games. They were all created to entertain, to thrill, to provide a form of escapism. Schmoyer talks about trading in real life for experiences that aren’t real, but surely watching some people standing on a stage pretending to be people that don’t exist is the same principle? That’s been socially acceptable for centuries, though!

The important point that seems to be missing from Schmoyer’s argument is that of moderation. Yes, video games can be addictive and can eat up hours of your time, but this doesn’t mean that everybody who ever plays a video game wastes their life.

I play video games. I also am an aspiring writer (hence the blog), I enjoy films (hence the other blog), I love to travel when I get the chance, I am attempting to learn the keyboard, I enjoy cooking, I exercise regularly, and I like to think I have a good deal of intelligence and a decent sense of humour.

The difference between my life and Schmoyer’s life that was apparently “ruined” by video games is that in his life, he put video games before everything else, whereas in my life, and in many other healthy gamers’ lives, games are merely a patch woven into the intricate tapestry of their lives. I’m the sort of gamer who will sit down and play around on something for an hour or two when I’ve not got much else on my plate, but if my to-do list is colossal, the consoles are silenced.

What Schmoyer describes is video game addiction, which is a genuine issue, and though he seems to have overcome it, it seems as if he fails to recognise the issues underlying it, and so cannot truly say he’s gotten better. He’s avoiding the issue by cutting games out of his life, instead of facing up to the fact that something is wrong and he needs to cut back and make a few changes in his life.

His insistence that playing video games is what made his depressed, lonely and overweight reminded me of a quote from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (or also the movie starring John Cusack):

‘Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?’

Obviously the quote is about music, not video games, but the point still stands. The question here still stands. Was it the excessive video game playing that made him lonely and depressed, or was he so lonely and depressed anyway that he found it easy to be drawn to playing video games for hours just to escape from the real world for a while?

As I stated, video game addiction is genuine problem, in much the same way that alcoholism is. A video game addict approaches games in the same way an alcoholic does with whiskey – a way to escape the real world instead of facing up to their own issues. I’m not belittling anyone has this problem, of course, I’m merely pointing out that there is more to this than just “video games are bad.”

Instead of making a film attacking video games and claiming they ruined his life, it might have been better for him to see a professional counsellor and talk through some of his underlying issues. He needed to really ask himself why his marriage failed, too; why did he put video games before his wife? Plus, I feel he needs to ask himself, if video games weren’t around, would he have just replaced them with something else, like hours of mind-numbing reality TV?

He’s very right in pointing out that no one should ever put games before their real lives, and I would say lay off them entirely if you have more important things to get on with, but I would argue that with about a million other potential distractions too (hell, as I write this I’ve got a self-imposed non research-related Internet ban going on!).

More does need to be done to combat crippling video game addiction, but blaming video games is not the way forward.

– L.Haydn Price

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