Playing Games In a Way That's Healthy

Wow. The internet has been making it difficult to form a Weekly Link Round Up as of late. Oh well. Let's talk about some real, helpful ways to provide adequate video game screen time for children and adults, without it becoming a concern.

In another rash of news stories, more "experts," reporters, and even one of the prince's on England think that video game playtime needs to be limited, or outright banned in the case of Fortnite. Why? Because it's Generation X-Y-Z-Millenials burden to bear. Those who came before us were chastised by watching too much television, listening to rap music, going to the movies, or reading books. It's the entertainment medium that other generations will mock and try to regulate as those before did to them.

Sensationalism aside, the vast majority of us know that there is nothing wrong with playing a video game. Most people, adults and children, place limits on themselves so as not to let gaming interfere with their daily life/work/school obligations. We know when to stop. Unfortunately some researchers and reporters usually don't focus on the hundreds of millions of us that are capable of playing games without it turning into an addiction. That's not interesting news. They need to pay attention to the one adult or one child who is on a game 24/7.

We know that's not healthy. We know that child or adult needs more than "a few set boundaries." At that point, that person has a serious medical or mental concern that should be treated. Gamers of all types are aware of this. Some are not, which is why we have random quotes from Prince Harry about banning Fortnite.

There is nothing inherently wrong with playing a video game. Much like television, movies, or a book, they allow us to escape the real world for a moment. Some of us use it as a way to relax and de-stress. Others like the challenges the games present. And some of the best stories of recent years have been created through video games, providing a new means of narrative that one can't access in a book. Video games can be fun, helpful, and completely fine. Yes, people should set limits so as not to over-indulge like with anything in life. Too much candy, too much beef, too much vegetables, too much movies, too much of "insert your item here" can be bad. Limit your play time to 1-2 hours every other day. Or if you can only really game once a week, a 4-5 hour session is fine as long as it doesn't interrupt your life outside of the console.

As a child, my parents set a hard limit on playing games: homework and chores came first. Video games were only allowed for roughly an hour after our work was done, and we maintained a strict bedtime. There were consequences if we didn't listen (and yes parents, you need to stress and follow-through on those warnings) that ranged from no television to being grounded. I wanted to play Dragon Quest VIII. I listened to my parents.

Having those guidelines can be healthy. For kids it can help them develop an understanding of responsibilities, negative actions leading to consequences, rewarding positive behavior, and teaching them how to manage their time for when they become an adult. Those good habits, when developed at a young age, will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

If you find yourself spending more time on video games than normal, examine your current living situation. Are you having troubles at work/school? Is there extra stress in your life? Are you going through a rough patch with a relationship/family? We use video games as a means of escape, which can also be a crutch to helping us get through the bad times. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, in moderation. But we should also have an active understanding that if we're relying too much on video games, of television, or books, to tune out the world, we should find out why. Seek help. Ask a doctor. Go to a therapist (this isn't the 1960's. You won't be chastised by asking for mental help. Everyone should go to therapy). Talk to those who want to help and understand you. We need to examine the causes to understand why we're playing more video games, instead of assuming that all gamers have an addictive personality.

Speaking of which yes, some people are addicts by nature. But it's not because of video games. They could become addicted to gambling, art, science, nature, drugs, television - there area myriad of ways one can be an addict. They're only considered "bad" if society has labeled it as such. Not all gamers are addicts. But some of them are. Know the signs. Seek help from a reputable source like a hospital or a therapist (please be careful with addiction clinics - a number of them are scams). The addict may have to go cold turkey on video games, and that's fine. For some people that's the best way to curb their habit. For others, they learn to moderate. Those with addictive personalities need to do what works for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Another mental health check: is playing a certain online game making you unhappy? Step away and take a break. It's okay to do that. With the varying toxic levels of games, sometimes walking into a chat room can be a disaster. If chat, voice, or any communication is pulling at your mental health, hide the chat windows. Disable voice options. Do what you need to do to make the game enjoyable and safe for you. If that means stepping away, do it. Video games should not be played at the risk of your health.

Setting up good gaming habits and enjoying your play time is great! We shouldn't admonish games for the few people have not been able to control themselves. Unfortunately until the next big, new entertainment medium comes along, we're not going to see any changes in the dialogue from the news. So be smart. Be safe. If you feel something is off about when and why you play video games, it's okay to stop and get guidance from a therapist or psychiatrist. What's happening in the video game world can wait while you focus on getting your reality back in order.

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