There appears to be increased alarm about young males becoming obsessed with playing video games. The concern may be approaching epidemic proportions as there are now counselors and psychologists identified as experts who treat video game obsession or addiction. Undoubtedly, anyone playing video games seven or eight hours per day is likely to be in avoidance of real life. But why such an avoidance? There are two questions which may help to better our understanding of the unbridled appeal of virtual reality.
The first question is: Who is indulging in virtual reality? The second question is: What is the alleged benefit or payoff attained by developing a kinship with an electronic screen? It seems rather rare to hear of a female getting lost in virtual reality. I’m sure some do, it’s just not commonplace. Consequently, we can ask what draws males to play the games? One consideration is that there are very few socially condoned outlets for males to feel and express their aggression. Other than Martial Arts and some sports, males are encouraged to inhibit aggressive tendencies. Often, such encouragement leads either to excessive passivity or violence. Video games allow males to feel aggressive, play aggressively and with a little luck, experience the thrill of victory.
Males need opportunity to express aggression competitively without bringing harm to themselves or others. Martial Arts as part of required primary school as well as high school curriculum could be extremely beneficial. Such opportunities need to exist for men as well. Corporations could Martial Arts classes where males learn to express as well as contain aggression. The key is to encourage males to express combative energy non-violently and not be isolated in front of a screen, as well expressing an art form only for defensive purposes.
Let’s look at the second question about what’s gained in spending hours in virtual reality. We’ve offered one response, which is males get to feel and express aggression in some relatively acceptable manner. There is, however, a much larger payoff. Our social institutions: schools, churches and a wide range of other organizations initiate males into a delusional ideology. This misapprehension has to do with the deeply misleading messages we offer males about the nature of life.
We tell them that if they acquire the right education, the appropriate job and financial investments, right spouse and neighborhood, then life will be understandable, secure and predictable. Of course, it doesn’t take much life experience for males to figure out that the formula isn’t working. Illness, loss of a loved one, academic failure, some natural disaster, war, failure to find that right person, often have a young male concluding he isn’t getting life right.
Most males will not pause and ask whether the understanding of life they were given might be a bit skewed. No, they likely will turn against themselves with harsh allegations of not having what it takes to succeed, to be a real man. And then, the invitations from the virtual world come. Sniper Elite, Resident Evil, Conan Exiles and Dark Souls III: and The Ringed City, just to name a few, offer a male moments or hours of redemption. They get to feel their aggression, enhance their competency for destruction and elicit a power over life and death, with no outside interference from anyone. They created a world where the formula for success is clear and applicable.
As long as the cultural mandate regarding the possibility of living life on your own terms remains alive and well, young males will seek to create a world which they can control. One definition of the word virtual is “imitation”. We’re quick to judge the video game world as an imitation and not real life. However, many adults are not living life on life’s terms, which translates into a mysterious and insecure journey. Adults acculturated to be good consumers also live in an imitation of real life. Water-front property, European vacations, new automobiles, a gated community and the latest fashions will offer some small measure of comfort but will not help us to deal with life’s unpredictability and challenges.
We need to get honest with ourselves and with our young ones about our attempts to imitate life by making desired acquisitions and by professing some ideology that allegedly will transcend life’s demands. We need to stop suggesting to boys that life’s dominance can be overcome and reassure them that the important task in life is to learn to live life on life’s terms. Occasionally, with hard work, help from our friends and a little luck, things will go our way. The key is to remain vigilant about the many seductions suggesting that life will somehow cooperate with our wishes. There is no getting a mysterious and insecure journey right. There is only being willing to stay close to the question: What is life asking of me? Living from that question moves us in the direction of authentic living, with a diminished need to imitate real life.