Each week in Play in Process, Richard Clark shares what he’s been playing and why it matters.
Those who play videogames are used to defending their hobby of choice, but maybe it’s time to take a step back and get honest about its dangers.
The question of how long is too long to play videogames has been discussed by many with a kind of flippant subjectivity. As long as we’re taking care of our responsibilities, as long as we have a life, as long as we don’t ignore our family, as long as we don’t turn out like one of those kids in Taiwan who dies while playing, we’re just having fun.
By the grace of God, we’re not dying off from playing videogames, but a recent article at Eurogamer by Simon Parkin has shined a sobering light on the factors that led to many of the videogame related deaths you may have heard about in the past. It’s the only piece I’ve seen that treats the subject with the care and nuance it deserves. You need to read the whole thing.
Parkin investigates the conditions in the internet cafes where these deaths often happen, the culture that these gamers exist in, and the medical conditions that result from playing games for a significant amount of time.
The medical information is fascinating, and has significant relevance for anyone that plays videogames in their spare time:
Video games can generate a great deal of tension in the human body. The player’s blood pressure and heart rate rise. If this excessive tension is maintained for more then ten hours, it can result in cardiac arrhythmia and sympathetic-parasympathetic imbalance, also called acute autonomic dysfunction.
It’s not just that playing videogames for more than ten hours can kill you. After all, I would suspect that few of you reading this blog play for that long. More noteworthy is the fact that the act of playing videogames for any amount of time can “generate a great deal of tension,” which can result in actual physiological affects. It seems increasingly clear: for the most part, videogames aren’t a way to relax. They are, in fact, taxing. Just as someone can work too hard, someone can play too hard.
This knowledge should have implications on the way we play. Marathon gaming sessions may seem like a perfectly reasonable way to blow off steam after a long work-week, but this information challenges that notion. We would do well to thoughtfully reconsider our gaming habits. One thing that strikes me as noteworthy is that videogames seem to provide the kind of physiological stress that a sport might, without any of the health benefits. Gaming is a sedentary activity, providing no benefit to the body that is reasonable. As long as we’re pushing the limits of moderation, we’re pushing the limits of what we are able to call profitable.
We’ve all had that experience of playing games late into the night and feeling exhausted. It’s time we own up to the reality and its implicit dangers: playing games is hard work with no physical reward. For the most part, it’s not relaxing. Game-time probably isn’t best thought of as a significant block of time when we eat pizza and drink Mountain Dew, only getting up to use the bathroom. We have to be purposeful in making it one of many different activities in our day. Our lives need balance, and videogames can be part of that balance, but not all of it.
It’s been said many times: videogames are a new medium. This newness means we have very little knowledge about what that medium does to us as we play it. There was a time when play meant physical activity, going outside, socializing with friends. Now, it’s something different, for better or worse. There is a case to be made for games as art, and as a beneficial way to spend our time. As time goes by, we’ll start to see more and more evidence of the benefits and dangers of playing them, and as we start to learn these truths, it’s up to us to correct our behavior accordingly, not to react with knee-jerk defensiveness.