When computer games take up too much time

LAST week I touched on the phenomenon of computer games, and how it can provide us with a simulated version of happiness; power, freedom, reward, accomplishment and the process of growth towards achieving challenges.

As with anything in this world, there is the question of: When is enough? What does balance look like?

There are many parents who become frustrated with kids who seem to continually play computer games.

But there are also kids who get frustrated with their parents' playing of games, and computer games' widows who wonder where their partners went.

Many games have a kind of time dilation effect to them.

You can play it for what seems like 15 minutes, and several hours have gone by.

The continual stimulation of action and reward can become so engrossing and so engaging that, even with the best of intentions, vast amounts of time can be gobbled up.

Now the question then is, when this occurs, what isn't getting done.

If you live by yourself, then you may just be neglecting your chores, and maybe you can live with that if the dishes go unwashed for an extra day or two.

If you are living with other people, particularly if they are in a relationship with you, then you may be seriously letting them down.

And this is just the requirements of keeping a home running. What about the impact of severed or broken down communication? 

X Box computer games.
X Box computer games.

It can be supremely frustrating to be trying to talk to someone whose attention is compellingly drawn to the little character on the screen battling the monsters.

A real one-sided conversation before giving up in frustration, and sometimes the gamer may barely notice. Ooh, look, I've just gone up a level.

Now kind people, with poor boundaries, may let you get away with this, by doing things for you.

They may do your share of the washing up and putting out the garbage, and whatever other tasks you had to do around the house, and they may even do it because they love and care for you.

But be warned, this can become a dangerous roller-coaster emotional journey for these people.

Because over time frustration and resentment will begin to build up.

This build-up of resentment happens slowly at first. Gently and subtly masked with a sense that they are doing you a favour, and aren't they nice and good and kind.

They can demonstrate how much they love you by cleaning up your mess for you.

But over time it starts to become a routine chore. At this point they will probably numb out to even thinking or feeling about what they are doing, only that this is what they have to do.

A kind of automatic obligation. It feels like being taken for granted.

A screenshot from Halo 3.
A screenshot from Halo 3.

Then things will start to get serious when the little voice inside them starts to grow from a squeak to a roar which says "what about me!", "why do I have to do it all", and "when did this happen".

Now some people will ask themselves the question "how did this happen" and look at themselves with some shame.

This can be a critical moment as to how they respond to this shame.

Unhealthy shame, they may say to themselves or believe that they are "not good enough" and excuse themselves from changing their behaviour.

Or they may rage out, with what will look like an unexpected, out-of-the-blue explosion of frustration: expect yelling and possibly even power cables being yanked.

In healthy shame they may take a deep breath and address the matter in a way that their partner, child, loved one, or flatmate can actually focus on them.

Acknowledge the pleasure that the game can bring, but address the other practical and relationship matters that have been neglected.

The gamer may come out of this world, bleary-eyed and blinking, wondering what all the fuss is about, but when things are clearly addressed, when the enabler to the gamer is able to clearly and consistently stand their ground, things can start to change.

And while this has been an analogy of computer gaming; how similar is this situation to when people have addictive behaviour to drinking, drugs, gambling, poker machines and so on.

As in the game of life, time to take things to the next level.

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