A few weeks ago ABC’s Four Corners, a bastion of legitimate investigative TV journalism, put a call out for people to take a survey about playing videogames. Specifically, it was framed around a call for people who play games “too much” or know people who do.

The games industry and its fans reacted… as expected. We’ve heard all this before. Many times. And when the callout is specifically framed to ask for people who are or have been addicted to games, you will find plenty of people ready to talk.

The videogames industry has problems aplenty when it comes to the relationship between games and fans. And my experience is that parents who also play games take these potential problems far more seriously than parents who don’t.

Those non-gaming parents love to posture about how their kids are ‘addicted’ to games. And “how do I bloody well get them to stop playing all the time”. But when you start explaining what your approach is with setting boundaries and discussing things with your kids, they glaze over and stop listening.

They just want to whinge. They don’t want to actually care.

So we end up in this repetitive loop of addiction rhetoric. It’s the easy angle. If someone loves to play games and loves to do it as their primary pastime they must be ‘addicted’. Because if you don’t play games too you just don’t understand how it could be so fun to sit forward and engage with these virtual worlds and competitive environments compared to sitting back and falling asleep in front of a TV show.

Must be addiction. It can’t be that it’s just amazing fun and that it could fulfil you to make this your chosen hobby.

But if we move deeper than this surface layer of ‘games are addictive’ we can examine where the problems in the industry really lie.

Like other real addictions, the act of disappearing into an addictive focus could be a symptom of other problems in life.

Or the thing someone is ‘addicted’ to may well not be the game you see someone playing but instead the human community on the other side of the screen. A community that may be giving someone a sense of belonging they weren’t finding offline. A community that could be leading them to cult-like acceptance of racist, misogynistic, homophobic bullshit and the rejection of their wider friends and family in favour of these screen warriors who give you a greater sense of belonging.

There are AMAZING online gaming communities that lift each other up. In the context of these family fears of game addiction, the trick is to be engaging with family about not just the games they play but who they spend time with online and the kinds of friendships they are forming there. I’ve had my own hard conversations with my son when I noticed they had a friend online who was using horrible racist language. We discussed what was happening and found it was best to cut that person out of their gaming life.

Communication is unfailingly the solution to keeping someone on the right path to building great relationships with games. To know how to stay focused on all the benefits and values they can get from loving games, and where the pitfalls lie and how to avoid them.

Those who just keep using the ‘addiction’ reference point need help seeing where the nuance lies.

They wouldn’t call a young adult addicted to football, even if that person trained six nights a week with their local team. But that six nights a week might also be forming some toxic relationships with people who want to go out drinking every weekend and pick fights outside pubs.

The good / bad can be caused by the people you surround yourself with, not the activity itself. And this area of toxicity is one that I feel the games industry hasn’t done nearly enough to get a handle on.

If this was something Four Corners could reveal to more families out there? It would be a great service to the community. I hope we can nudge their investigation a little deeper than the same old addiction rhetoric into something with real value.

I think games have been a tremendous benefit to many people during 2020, helping people stay connected while separated physically.

I’d encourage anyone to take the Four Corners survey and fight against the framing to speak to the reality you see in your own home and amongst your own friends. Don’t be a dick, just engage with the discussion and help them see the wider aspects of how games fit into life.

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