Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Gaming Parents

Mark J. Kline | 3 Feb 2011 15:00
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Dr Mark,

My husband and I grew up with video games. It was alright until both of us needed to grow up for real. He joined the air force, and we had a baby. Suddenly, it felt like I was grown and he was still addicted to gaming. He doesn't game all day, but if he doesn't get 5 hours or more of gaming per day he has fits, throws tantrums, and gets restless. It is absolutely like an addict seeking a high when he hasn't played a video game. It has affected our marriage and I feel helpless in seeking a regular doctor's advice.

I love video games too, but I got myself out of addiction and I don't need to play like he does, which is good with all I have to do. How do I help him?

Your question comes at a time when a spate of books have been published that raise questions about how involvement with technology, including gaming, affects our ability to have real life relationships with each other. I'm particularly interested in reading Sherry Turkle's new book Alone Together, in which she raises serious questions about how technology-mediated relating affects the brain and the richness and depth of our connections with each other.

Most of my colleagues would agree that rampant and ubiquitous technology use has changed the way families feel. It is not uncommon for an evening in the Dr. Mark household to involve five people interacting with five different forms of technology, some interactional, like gaming or Facebook, but none involving actual communication with each other. I have a remarkable relative with great ideas for clever games that actually make us play with each other, and when she visits, we have fun together, but it's certainly hard to sustain that level of involvement on a daily basis.

We have talked a lot in this forum about achieving balance between gaming and the rest of life, and many of you have firmly asserted that this is possible--it's often a matter of managing the hobby so school, work and other family obligations are met. I have truly known adolescents and young adults that find a way to function pretty well with five hours of gaming a day. This doesn't mean that they couldn't be more productive, better rested, or more engaged with the real world if they didn't do this--it just means they have found a way to make it work.

So what happens when they grow up? And nothing says growing up more dramatically than getting married and having a child. Marriages require love, attention, work and commitment. Babies need virtually 24 hour attention and care, and these demands only change in form as your children get older. For a generation weaned on gaming, the compromises and sacrifices of family life may feel particularly daunting--not that they weren't daunting to previous generations. Committed gaming presents a particular challenge for marriage and family. You have a constantly accessible way of disengaging that provides an endless source of pleasure, stimulation, and satisfaction. If you grew up with gaming, you are used to having fun this way and your brain may actually have become attuned to it. In this particular case, gaming clearly wasn't an obstacle to the two of you coming together--it may have actually helped the process.

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