Video Games Are Great and Dangerous

A wag I know one described the characteristic masculine and feminine addictions on the internet as:

Men play video games to pretend to be good at doing things. Women use social media to pretend to have friends.

I’m going to leave the second half of that alone, but the first half is interesting. Video games, at least for males, are great and dangerous for really the same reason: they have a much lower effort-to-reward ratio than real life does.

I should clarify that by “real life” I mean skills that still work when the electricity is out. For example, lifting heavy things, carving wood, playing a piano, flying a kite, boxing, riding a bicycle (fast), shooting a bow and arrow, building a miniature ship inside of a bottle, dancing, building a fire from gathered wood and starting it, etc. All of these skills, and many, many more, take a very long time to get good at, typically with a long time at the beginning which has little result besides besides frustration.

In video games, by contrast, one can typically learn the relevant skills to get some rewards within an hour, and often within a few minutes. It is true that they will sometimes have skills which are difficult to master, but even those tend to only require hundreds of hours to master, not tens of thousands, and they almost never involve enduring physical pain along the way.

All this is correct for video games for their intended purpose: relaxation. Video games, used well, are fun. They are a restorative to a weary soul who has been ground down by the trials and tribulations of doing real things, in situations and environments which were not designed to be enjoyable. The quick fun and easy rewards help one to remember the slow enjoyment and eventual rewards of good work in the real world.

The problem is something that really is more dangerous to young men—it is possible to become so used to the ease and comfort of video games that the difficulty of real life becomes insurmountable. Without the rewards of accomplishment coming on the schedule a young video game player has been trained to expect them, he may face crushing disappointment. Instead of being a restorative to a fallen creature in a fallen world, enabling him to face the world in which he lives, it may be an impediment which makes it harder for him to do real things.

As in all things, the trick is to use things in the right way and to avoid their pitfalls.

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