Monday, March 14, 2016

Unplug Your Head

by H. Linn Murphy

A boy (I'll call him Eric) goes home from school every day and flies to the computer to do video games. If his mother lets him, he's on that computer either playing his own games, or watching other people play games, talking to his friends while they play games, or watching cartoons based on games. He has hard wired himself to seek that entertainment to the exclusion of homework, chores, Eagle Project, stake dances, Family Home Evening, family outings, family performances, fire sides, or church work.

And he's supported and encouraged in this by his father (I'll call him Jack), who is doing much the same thing when he goes home from work. From Eric's earliest moments, he's seen his father come in the door and run straight to the computer. Often Jack will keep the computer on the table clear through dinner. He allows Eric to shrug off his mom's pleas to do chores until after he's done with that particular scenario, which can last another hour or so. Jack's wife (Maggie) wants to say something, but she gets shot down whenever she opens her mouth. If she does, she's nagging. Maggie is at the end of her soap-on-a-rope.

The times when Jack has chosen to go and do something other than that with Eric are minimal (other than Mutual or Scout Camp). Eric has never been enthusiastically encouraged by his father to play a sport, work on Scouting, or even make great grades. They do play D&D--another fighting game.

It's my premise that these games are re-wiring their minds. Jack's wife has noticed that the two are less able to connect mentally to a conversation which is not game-related. They have trouble discussing anything emotional, spiritual, or deep. They are less apt to have ambitions beyond killing the next monster. They choose more and more often to game, rather than to do anything with a present human.

Studies have been done involving a dog and a bell and food. When the scientist feeds the dog, he rings a bell. Soon the dog begins to salivate at merely the sound of the bell. People are much the same way. It's fairly easy to train them if you give them the right stimulation.

Other studies have been done on rats. The rats are given something good to eat if they ring a bell. Then the scientist administers a mild shock. If the rat has been trained long enough, he'll take the shock with the reward. Then the reward is made smaller and smaller, with the shock either staying the same or growing more intense. The rat has been trained that good things come with that shock, so they'll go for it, even when the return is smaller than the shock value. The rat will go willingly to its death avidly hitting that stimulation button.

It's the same with video gaming, I feel. Jack will hit that button even if Maggie  has begged him for a date for weeks. The entertainment value is simply not enough, now, to get him out of that chair. As a result of this on a large scale, they haven't had an adult dance in their ward/stake in years. I personally have been on ward and stake councils and asked about a dance or a track meet or a service day and the answer is always the same. No one will come.

It is said that in the last days Men's hearts will fail them. I agree. It's already happening. Divorce is sky-rocketing. Fragmented families are everywhere. Why? Part of the reason is media. We are losing our ability to communicate in a meaningful, face-to-face conversation. I have been to many church dances as a chaperone. Me and my husband will be the only couple on the dance floor. The kids will be clumped around the edges texting their friends--who might be ten feet away.

How are marriages supposed to be intimate if the people involved can't even strike up a conversation about something on the surface like grades or the grocery list, let alone something spiritual or deep? They become incapable of concentrating, of caring and of dragging up the interest in connecting with a human. How are our children supposed to learn these critical skills of coping, togetherness, intimacy, and real caring if they've only been taught to chop people's arms off and hop over the body in their quest for the next zombie?

This is an important conversation to have at the beginning of your marriage. You have to know if he's going to cave when the going gets tough, and hit that pleasure button over and over again (or you, for that matter). I'm not certain how one addresses this problem years into it. I'm still working on that myself.

About fifteen years ago I played an online game. I even coded for it, enjoying the creative process. I spent countless hours both constructing the game, and playing. It was a multi-user dimension text-based game much like the video games. One day I looked up after playing all night, only to find the sun coming up. I couldn't believe it. Then my daughters got up, and I realised I had paid for my hours of entertainment with their baby minutes. I'd been so busy pushing the button that I'd traded away those precious first smiles and many of their baby coos. I got off and didn't get on for some three weeks. When I did so, my fifty-five level elf lord had been erased from the game and all of those countless hours of work and play had been lost. And who cared? Not a single soul. I had nothing to show for it. Nothing but regret.

Unplug your head. Go outside. Notice the green trees and that there are animals out there. Take your spouse on a walk or a run or to a dance or to the store or on a hike or camping. Let her (or him) know that she's/he's more important than a tiny little collection of pixels. Because after it's all said and done, you may win that video game, but who cares?

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