Gaming Disorder, Media Addiction and Toxic Fandoms
I was a kid raised largely by television and media icons that didn’t quite exist. I remember days long-spent in front of a television, learning my morals from the likes of Mr. Rogers, He-Man, and the Transformers. My sense of humor evolved from being a young man watching The Muppets, and was taught the importance of family from the Seavers, the Winslows, the Conners, and the Tanners. By the time I got home from school, the TV got flipped on and I lost myself in the worlds of after-school cartoons, mostly boring news programs and the nightly sitcoms. I spent, on average, eight hours a day watching television.
As a young adult in 2003, I permanently severed my lifeline to the world of television in favor of getting lost in the world of video games. By 2005, I was spending an equal amount of time sunk into World of Warcraft, on top of balancing a full-time job and a nominal social life. I had the good fortune to actually have an active social life, but sometimes even that suffered if I felt the urge to tackle an instance or power-level a new character.
I eventually grew out of it. These days, I’m lucky to get eight hours of free time in a week to play video games. To sink myself in a new PlayStation 4 or Steam title is a rare treat that I get to take advantage of. However, I still feel the alluring pull of video games.
So when the World Health Organization recently announced the classification of Gaming Disorder, I was unsurprised. I’ve known people that have quit their jobs in anticipation of the release date of a new game. For years there have been stories of gamers foresaking their most vital of needs in favor of executing just one more Zerg Rush. And certainly people will call in sick in order to binge watch a TV Series, or skip school to read an exciting novel. Weeaboos also exist.
People have been escaping into stories for years to unhealthy extremes. But few forms of storytelling share the interactive nature of video games. From Starcraft to Warcraft to Minecraft, video games offer the escapist an experience unlike any other medium.
So what role, if any, does the storyteller have in this form media addiction disorder? Many storytellers can barely manage their own fandoms, which has result in everything from fans of a cartoon series nearly bullying another to suicide over her fanart depictions of characters, to critics and fans of hit TV Shows being stalked by other fans for not giving the proper respect to their fantasy character relationships. So how can the storyteller be expected to, or take steps to, ensure individuals do not become so hopelessly wrapped up in their creations that it causes them and those around them to suffer?
It still bears consideration that perhaps it shouldn’t be up to the storyteller to limit their creations from being too addictive. As far as I know, there is no working scale for how addictive a game is, nor do we yet know what should be done for games and other media that are deemed too addictive. The argument could be made that we, as storytellers, should be sympathetic to the effect our creations wreak upon the world.
But the truth is, I think, that we don’t have any say on how people are affected by our stories. Nor should we. Perhaps it is up to the individual to learn personal responsibility to escape into fantasy worlds in moderation, and perhaps it is best left to the psychologists studying the topic to declare just how much is too much.
Some would prefer to throw out the baby with the bathwater in this regard. Some hardliners believe that if a game can be addictive, then it will be addictive. However, the positive benefits of gaming, I believe, far outweigh the negative.