Video games: Family fun or path to loneliness?

I am lying on the roof of a shoddy shot-up building with my sniper trying to stay below the radar. Bullets are whizzing by and bombs going off everywhere. I’m waiting patiently for my next victims when suddenly I see three men running towards my building. Without a moment’s hesitation, I aim through my scope to get a good shot at them before anyone else notices them. They are mine for the taking. My goal is to kill as many people as I can.

Video games can be the source of tension between
parent-child relationships.

As I fire my shots, I feel a bullet whiz right past my ear. Someone has discovered my hiding spot. I quickly look around to see where the bullets are coming from. But it’s already too late.

Game over.

This is what it’s like to play Call of Duty 4: Modern Warefare. But besides racking up points by killing everyone, the game offers many other options. Missions can include defending headquarters, planting explosives at the enemy’s base, or simply arriving at a designated area.

This is the game 15-year-old Brandon Crisp loved to play. He got into a fight with his parents after his father took away his Xbox on Oct. 13. Brandon ran away from home and was missing for about three weeks – until his body was found in a wooded area a few miles from his home in Barrie, Ontario.

In a world where technology is an intrinsic part of everyday life, children have been dedicating more and more of their time on the Internet and playing videogames. And as seen in Brandon’s case, video games can have an impact on parent-child relationships.

Louise Nadeau, from Universite de Montreal’s Department of Psychology, is now studying the behaviours of Internet dependency.

“I’m at the department of psychology and our research team is looking at treatment effectiveness and issues around addictions,” she says.

According to Nadeau, the health authority has had the impression that Internet dependencies are increasing in Quebec.

But could video games be considered an addiction?

“In science you can’t say that. There are lots of documentation and papers written about that,” she says. “Certainly we as an institution, I as a person living in the community and my colleagues and friends have seen people that were behind the screen for two years stop eating, stop having any kind of social investment and feeling that unless they’re playing these games, their life is incomplete.

“So yes, I guess I would define that as a problem.”

But this is not the case for every child and certainly does not cause tension in every family.

Rondi Chan, 18, has been playing videogames ever since he was 12. Although he used to play a few hours everyday, and on several occasions playing up to nine hours in one day, he now plays video games only once a week.

“I don’t play everyday now, usually only on Saturdays,” he says.

Rondi says he would much rather go out with his friends, especially since he recently got his driver’s licence.

May Chan, Rondi’s mother, says she is not a big fan of video games but she does not mind them as much anymore as Rondi has significantly cut down the time he spends playing

However, May said only about a year ago when Rondi was still spending most of his time playing video games, it did take a toll on their relationship.

“They used more time to play games. On holidays, they don’t want to go out with us, they just want to stay at home to play the game, so the relationship was not close,” she says.

Besides the parent-child relationship, May says she also saw its effect on Rondi’s socializing skills.

“They use so much time on the computer, it’s not good because maybe when they talk face to face they have nothing to talk [about],” she says. “They just know to type the words on the computer, you know, no need to speak.”

May says she tried various methods, such as setting a schedule and limiting the time that he was allowed to spend playing everyday, and sometimes shutting off his computer.

“I fixed the time for him, sometimes it worked. Maybe he is too old now,” she says. “And sometimes they have to use the computer to do their homework, so I don’t know if they are using the computer to do homework or playing online games, it’s so hard to control.”

On the other hand, Kerwin Chan, Rondi’s father, says he does not feel as strongly about video games.

“I don’t really care, I don’t mind if they play or not, it depends on their interest,” he says. “If they don’t spend too much time on it to play games and they can study, it’s OK.”

Kerwin says he thinks there are some advantages to video games.

“It’s good for the child to train their brains; it makes their brains think faster. It trains them to think,” he says.

Now that Rondi has a more balanced lifestyle, both May and Kerwin have come to a compromise, and occasionally even play video games with him. They both agree it helps them bond with their child.

Nadeau says there are several criteria that could be used to classify something as an addiction.

“When you would like to control the behaviour and stop and you can’t, the sense of loss of control over the behaviours, that is, controls you, and health problems. These come with problems associated [with addiction],” she says. “But the two big things are problems associated with a problem and to control it and of course withdrawal when they’re not playing.”

According to Nadeau, taking away all this technology from children is not the way to go. She says as with any type of addiction, the solution is not to take away the problem.

“We’re in a situation where we need to develop self-regulation. There’s more calories and more food around than we can eat in one day, so yes, we are struggling with some major problems of obesity, but the answer can’t be to stop eating, we need to eat, so we need to learn how to make choices,” she says. “We can’t move from technology, it’s there and we need to learn to deal with it.”