If a kid says he or she wants to be a professional athlete or a Broadway performer, the adults in their life will most likely tell them to start practicing. Put in the hours, master the craft and absorb all the knowledge you can. It’s a cutthroat world and if you want to compete with the best, you’ve got to work your ass off and keep your eyes on the prize, right? A local news station in Iowa recently asked the question, can the same be said for a kid who wants to work in the video game industry?
Finding A Calling Through Call of Duty
The story focuses on 14-year-old Mikey Borgalia who lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Mikey justifies his gaming habit by saying he wants to be an actual video game designer. He’s just doing a little, okay, a lot of, research and his mother Carla is totally on board with it. She argues that if he wanted to be professionally involved with any other “sport,” he’d be encouraged to play as much as possible. Mikey plays video games about three to four hours a day, which isn’t that much if the kid’s trying to get his 10,000 hours in on this skill. Let’s say he gets out of school at 3, starts playing around 3:30 and wraps up in time for dinner at 7. Nobody would question this if it was football practice or violin lessons.
I kind of see the mother’s point of view. She describes listening to her son talk “for hours” about gaming; it’s clear he’s passionate about the subject. Would you stop a kid from talking passionately about space exploration or politics? Probably not. You’d pat him on the head and say, “Maybe you’ll be an astronaut or our next senator some day!” I say senator because we need to cut the crap with telling every kid they can be president.
Honing a Skill or Hoarding a Destructive Habit?
But does being skilled at operating the game as a user really correlate to the expertise required to program the actual games? Shouldn’t he be taking software development classes at a local community college or starting a technology club at school? I think his head is in the right place (as right as it can be when you’re 14) but who knows if being able to master Call of Duty Black Ops Zombie will actually help him one day land a job programming for the newest version of Call of Duty.
Is it research or is it addiction? According to Dr. Doug Gentile from Iowa State University, who has studied addiction as it pertains to gaming since 1999, only 8.5% of the kids who play video games in the country can be considered “addicted.” It might sound like a small percentage but the number comes out to about three million. But what distresses experts on the subject the most is the the depression excessive playing can cause. They believe the negative psychological ramifications, particularly the stress induced as someone gets more and more invested in a game’s storyline, can be permanent. Some even think video game addiction can be a complete detriment to social and academic development. Looks like Mikey’s chosen passion could be stifling many other areas of his life, in ways he or his mother might not even be able to foresee or comprehend.
Not Enough Medical Support…Yet
The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, or DSM-5, casually known as the “psychologist’s bible,” finally included Internet Gaming Disorder in the appendix of its most recent edition. The keyword there is “appendix.” Internet Gaming Disorder is defined as “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder.” Part of the issue, according to Dr. Gentile, is that people still look at gaming addiction as a moral failing as opposed to a disease, like they did with alcoholism in the 1960s. In the same way that people with drinking problems used to be seen as lacking self-control, now those unable to stop playing video games are regarded similarly. Parents are blamed too. Research on chronic video game usage is not as extensive as that about drug or alcohol abuse but more people are coming around to equating it with the disease model. With that in mind, perhaps the notion of treating it as a legit addiction will become easier for people to grasp.
Too Soon to Tell?
I think it’s hard for anyone to declare their desired profession with complete certainty at the age of 14 but I also don’t fault a child who finds a palpable escape from reality when they haven’t found their footing in any other extracurricular activity or have severe social anxiety. Of course he or she will then find solace in playing video games constantly.
Mikey from the news story could meet a girl he likes next month or decide to design a smart phone app within the year and maybe then Call of Duty will seem like child’s play. If the passion is not causing severe destruction or unmanageability in other areas of a kid’s life, I don’t think it needs to be shot down.