Gamers, addiction, success, hysteria

Indo col 61:

It has been a tough week for us nerds, thanks to those backstabbers at the World Health Organisation. We always felt safe in the knowledge that, as the WHO are a body made up of scientists, that they were geeks like us. So, you would assume that if they were going to start labelling various fun pastimes as addictions, they would stick it to the jocks by coming up with ‘sports addiction’. It makes sense: Who hasn’t been at an underage football game and seen some absolute headbager on the sidelines screaming death threats at the referee, or who doesn’t know someone who has used up all their annual leave to watch every second of the World Cup. But no, apparently sports addiction is not a thing. Instead, the WHO went after eSports instead, by taking aim at that most defenseless of targets – gamers.

With their pasty flesh, atrophied muscles, headset indentation on their skull and general inability to function in the real world, the hardcore gamer is largely nocturnal creature. Lurking about the house after everyone has gone to bed, subsisting on a diet of corn snacks and Monster energy drinks, they spend almost all of their lives in what they call the BattleForce Nerve Centre, AKA their bedroom. They don’t know how to talk about important real world events – like how this heatwave is actually quite unpleasant, or how Nadine Coyle says the word ‘flour’ – but prefer to scream death threats and satanic incantations into a microphone at a 13 year old in Brazil. The serious gamer was already a tragic creature, and now, thanks to the WHO, they are an addict too. How pathetic. Except obviously, this isn’t what gamers are like at all, as it is instead a lazy, ignorant stereotype. The age when we could claim the gamer as some socially maladjusted weirdo is long gone, as Anna Malmhake shows.

Malmhake has had a glittering career. Working with world-conquering brands like Coca Cola and Absolut, the Swede also spent five years as CEO of Irish Distillers Limited from 2011 to 2016 as the firm – and the Irish whiskey category which it dominated – shifted into hyperspeed, before returning to Absolut as CEO. Malmhake also happens to be a devout gamer. In a post on her LinkedIn in 2016 she detailed her love of video games and how they influenced her work life, specifically the lessons she learned from gaming – teamwork from WoW, conquering fear from Destiny, and forward planning from Civilisation.  

In her final lesson from gaming, she delivers this message: “Lesson from any game where people can work out that you are a woman and there is a competitive element: the men who don’t like seeing women around are in 100% of the cases the underperformers. When playing online games, I early on realised there is a tiny but vocal group of guys out there, who can be incredibly intense in their negativity towards female players. After a while, I started realising a pattern – none of these guys were good players. On the ranking lists, they would be below average…And you know what? In the world of business, I find the same pattern to be true.”

For every scare story about children playing Fortnite for seven hours a day, there are many, many stories of brilliant, successful people who play video games for hours a day and still excel professionally and personally. The WHO’s declaration of a ‘gaming disorder’ begs the question – is there anything that we can’t we be addicted to? Their list of symptoms is like a template for any kind of obsessive behaviour – impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration), increased priority given to gaming, continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences. You can take those three examples and stick almost anything in instead of gaming – food, sex, the GAA, exercise, hopscotch, books, painting, being alone, being with others, religion, saving, spending. Where do passion and enthusiasm end and obsession begin?

It would appear that the WHO is reacting to some genuine concerns and a lot of parental hysteria over what are becoming relatively normal activities for children – firing up a console and losing yourself in a digital wonderland. As long as children have some balance to their pastimes – a balance that it is up to their parents to help them achieve – video games pose no greater threat to their minds than repeatedly reading Lord Of The Rings did to mine. That said, there is the cautionary tale of British comedian Tim Vine, who read the Lord Of The Rings so much that he ended up mumbling about orcs and trolls all night. Apparently he was Tolkien in his sleep.  

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