The highly-anticipated Xbox 360 game Gears of War 2 will hit retail stores tomorrow, and many, like Best Buy and Future Shop, plan to open their doors at midnight tonight to accommodate anxious gamers. The majority of people in line will likely be males in their teens, 20s and even 30s. And a large percentage of them probably plan to stay up all night to delve right into the intricacies of the game, and play with others around the world.
Of course Gears of War 2 is only one of the two big stories surrounding the gaming industry these days; the other is the unfortunate news of the missing (and possible death of) Barrie, ON teen Brandon Crisp, who ran away from home on Thanksgiving after his parents took away his Xbox. Apparently Crisp was addicted to the game Call of Duty 4, playing for hours and hours on end, often until 4 a.m.
Naturally, the news has given anti-gaming activists plenty of ammunition to fuel their campaigns against violent and addictive video games that have the potential to overtake one's life. But is it the gaming industry's fault that kids, and even adults, can get addicted to the content, leading to social, health, and even fatal consequences?
I've covered the issue of video games and the perceived negative impact on children several times in this blog. Back in June 2007, I discussed the AMA's push to make video game addiction a psychiatric disorder. Is this a legitimate claim, or are we just looking to lay blame? If it can indeed be considered an addiction, what causes it? Every psychiatric disorder, after all, is caused by something.
It's hard to imagine that a harmful addiction to a video game occurs simply because the game is just so darned good. If a game is good, if you find it hard to put down, that's a good thing. But like anything else, it's also important to know when to put that game down and move on to something else. Sure, sometimes you might end up playing until the wee hours of the morning. Just like I will often pick up a good book with the intention of reading just a couple chapters, and next thing I know, I'm reaching the final pages. Or just like you might go to grab one potato chip from the bag and end up licking your fingers from the last few crumbs at the bottom of the bag a half hour later. The issue isn't the game, just like it isn't the book or the potato chip maker. It's you, and how you react to the situation at hand. We're all responsible for our own actions.
On the flip side, however, unlike paperback books, video games contain a lot of extra stimulants to get one going: visual cues, fantastic audio, and even interaction with others through headsets or on-screen text. Let's face it. Any gamer knows that it can be tough to put the controller down when you know you're one level away from completion; or your favourite ally has just logged on. But again, is this the video game maker's fault, or the player's?
Bottom line: everyone has hobbies. Everyone has interests. But it's important to recognize when something is negatively impacting your life, and the people around you. This principles holds true across anything, not just video games. We should be able to enjoy games and the amazing virtual stories they tell, without losing touch with true reality.
With that said, good luck to all the gamers that are planning to stand in line all night for a first copy of Gears of War 2!