What’s Real?

One of the latest signs of the decay of our civilization is not the widespread playing of video games, as such, but last year’s mega-competition in Seoul, Korea which was viewed online by 27 million people worldwide involving teams of players engaged in the complex, and violent, game of “League of Legends.”  The winners take home a large, garish trophy and $1 million in American dollars. This year’s finals are scheduled for “several cities” in Europe in October and the number of viewers is expected to be even higher.

It’s not enough that we know the watching of violent games tends to leave an impression on young minds that imitate what they see. It is not enough that we know the games engage only half the brain and leave the other half — the analytical half — undeveloped, thus shrinking language skills and making thought difficult at best. It is not enough to know that the games can (and do) become addictive. It is not enough to know that the young begin to develop a weak “reality principle,” as Freud called it, an awareness of what is real and what is not, and can become lost in a make-believe world.

Now the games have become organized to the point that there is large-scale competition for the first prize that will encourage the kids to spend even more time on the games than they already do. What we have here is the combination of two negative influences, playing electronic games and the measuring of success in dollars and cents. These trends are already in place in this culture, to be sure, but now that the games involve huge amounts of money, are watched streaming on computers around the world, and are being covered on such TV networks as ESPN, the trends will almost assuredly become unstoppable.

Indeed, John Anderson, one of the senior talking heads on ESPN recently commented on the League of Legends competition semi-finals (which was carried on ESPN3 and outdrew several major sporting events in this country). He started out by saying that he had been encouraging his son to put away the gaming devices, read a book or go outside, ride his bike, climb a tree, or even open a lemonade stand. But now he is “reconsidering his parenting skills” in light of the amounts of money involved in winning these games. To which I simply say, don’t do it John. You have the right idea and should not give in to the forces of temptation that will almost certainly lead your son into a dead-end. There’s not much future in store for someone whose only skill is manipulating a toggle switch — except, perhaps, as an operator of heavy machinery or, worse yet, drones designed to kill and maim the “enemy” as identified by his superiors, i.e., to follow orders and do what he is told. The games when played blindly will lead to real blindness to the world.

John’s instincts were sound. His son should read a book or go outside and play. Be a young man and grow in mind and body. Don’t become a slave to greed and ignorant of what is going on around him. A weak reality principle, as Freud would say, makes us susceptible to delusions and imaginings that take us further and further away from those around us and the things that are truly important in a good life. It also makes us more prone to violence.

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9 thoughts on “What’s Real?

  1. Hugh, thanks for this.

    This spring I wrote something about the Minnesota townteam baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Reed Lovsness, who also pitched in the Pirates’ organization in the 1950s. Your blog reminded of something Reed — who just passed away at the age of 90 — said about his childhood on the farm. He did not have video games, of course, and didn’t have much at all. Except for an imagination he paired with hard, athletic work:

    “I never owned a bicycle [as a young boy],” he said. “I put up a square [target] on our machine shed and threw and threw and threw, day after day. I was pretending that I was in the big leagues, and I was pitching seven innings.”

    It’s these words — “threw and threw and threw, day after day” — that represents something we’ve really lost.

    It has significant ripple effects, I think: a factor in childhood obesity, a surrendering of a freer childhood to the over-organized youth sports organizations which in turn feeds the destructive big-college sports machines. Probably plays into the loss of critical thinking that often affects our schools: so many studies talk about the importance of reading by or to by young kids on brain development. I’ve got to think that having room to let imaginations run also is important. While the creators of video games may have an incredible amount of imagination, I am not sure the same is true of the kids who play the games — where everything is programmed/scripted, and games can be mastered by sheer rote, not critical thinking. (Not to mention that playing video games is not quite the same as outdoor physical activity.)

    • Indeed. You are spot on: the development of imagination along with the other mental skills is of central importance — in morality, for example, it plays a central role. If we cannot imagine another’s pain it is much easier to inflict it on him. And I appreciate the determination Lovsness showed. There’s little of that among the young in our age of entitlement. Just ask and it will be delivered to you — like Pizza.

  2. Good points. I am proud of my youngest son who left behind his computer with his games when he headed back to college. He said they have been a distraction and he needed to buckle down more this semester. My oldest son also gave his sister going off to college – don’t do like I did and get out of your room, advice from of us he did not follow too much. The games were too enticing.

  3. Hugh, I was thinking some more about your post. When I was a boy, I had my own versions of a make-up world. As I practiced basketball, I was playing end of game NBA championship fantasies as I made the winning shot. Practicing golf, it was the winning putt at the US Open, etc. I also had these board games, one for football and one for baseball, where I conducted fantasy leagues. So, I guess I am also guilty of fantasy games. Yet, I guess the key was I would always prefer to play the real games outside. BTG

    • The kind of fantasy you mention is a good thing, healthy because it stimulates the imagination. The kind of fantasy, as I understand it, that the game players play — perhaps because it takes up so much of their time — tends to loosen their grip on what is real and what is not.

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