The crack cocaine of the electronic world

REV. RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

A couple of years ago, a few days before Christmas, a man showed up at the parish with a brand new Xbox video game system.

He had bought it as a gift and wanted me to pass it on anonymously to a family in need. He thought that poor kids should have nice gifts too. His generosity put me in a difficult position, because I think video games are bad for kids. I found a family for the gift, and assuaged my conscience with the fact that video games are not intrinsically evil. But they are close.

If that sounds like the zealotry of a convert, it is. I learned the truth about video games the hard way, and so this is the lesson I offer for free: Don’t play video games. Don’t own them. And for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t buy them for your children.

I grew up in the days when video games meant Atari’s Pong and, later, the sophistication of Pac-Man. We had a home computer when I was in elementary school, ahead of the trends, but my parents were smart enough not to buy us even those rudimentary games. My mother, whose principal goal in bringing up her children was not to affirm our self-esteem, was fond of telling us that only unintelligent children got bored. Our house had books and toys and siblings, and we had our imaginations — my mother thought that more than sufficient for any child to amuse himself. Television, let alone video games, wasn’t necessary.

But then I went off on my own to Queen’s University, and in my second year I discovered Tetris — a video game that consists of fitting descending geometric shapes into a rectangular cavity without leaving gaps. That’s it. But it was enough. It would not be fair to blame my second-year troubles — my worst academic performance in 12 years of post-secondary education — on Tetris alone, but it was a contributing factor. My capacity to waste time with Tetris was prodigious; how many hours were lost is unknown.

There was a turning point. One day — several months too late — I deleted the program from the hard drive. For younger readers, I should explain that this was before the Internet, so downloads were not available; if it wasn’t in your machine, you didn’t have access to it. So Tetris was gone. Life improved immediately.


Video games have some kind of addictive allure that means any number of hours is not enough. It is always possible to play again — to rise to that “next level” which somehow acquires near-mystical importance. They are the crack cocaine of the electronic world.


Since that hard-disk-deleting day back in 1991, I have never played another video game. It’s too dangerous. Video games take what is most precious — time and thought. And they are making kids fat.

Video games are like a black hole into which time disappears. Students today often confess to wasting a couple of hours a day on them. Corporate Canada likely loses whole weeks of productive work to those who are playing games at work. Video games have some kind of addictive allure that means any number of hours is not enough. It is always possible to play again — to rise to that “next level” which somehow acquires near-mystical importance. They are the crack cocaine of the electronic world.

We are told that childhood obesity is on the rise partly because no one seems to walk to school anymore, and no one seems to run around the neighbourhood. Schools in Ontario now mandate 20 minutes of physical activity a day. We used to call that recess. So where are all the kids? Indoors playing video games.

Video entertainment is by nature passive. No matter how energetically a child works the controls, all the images and scenarios are provided for him. The elaborate imaginary situations children can create for themselves are literally flattened by the avalanche of images coming their way.

Did I mention that far too many video games celebrate graphic violence, multifarious delinquency and borderline pornography? I don’t have to. Tetris had none of that, and it was deadly enough.

This Christmas, do the poor kids of all economic levels a favour: Don’t buy them video games.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "The crack cocaine of the electronic world." National Post, (Canada) December 13, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post



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