Throughout my childhood video games were a part of my family life from roughly around the age of 10-ish. It was a babysitter for me and my sister; we were put in front of a Play Station 1 and a fighting game. It was what my dad did after work and later on I started to get interested, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, to gain his attention and approval.
Later on it continued as a slow eroding of the relationship I had with myself which then eroded the relationships I had with my family and extended family such as work colleagues. At some point it felt like my sister and I spoke a foreign language talking about video games that my parents knew nothing about. Today I experience a similar thing speaking to some young lads I know, when speaking about their favorite video games. It can be very separating between those in the know and those who aren’t in the know. In these conversations there is a lack of connection being to being as the connection is being made on an action and activity that isn’t shared by the two parties.
There were times when my mum would want to talk to me and I’d give her this look that said “Can’t you see I am clearly not interested in talking right now?” or it would be verbally communicated with short, sharp answers that killed the conversation quickly. Today I have also experienced being on the other side of these conversations. In that moment there is no connection person to person and certainly no sense of family between the two of us in that moment.
When any relationship is based on actions, behaviours, ideologies/beliefs having to be mutually engaged in and agreed this is not a true connection or relationship.
Nor is this what true family is.
The focus and hooking energy that comes with video gaming that can be all consuming to those with other priorities (work, family tasks etc.) can be a tricky one to understand. The concept of “Just pause it/turn it off” or the internet crashing can be no big deal but for those in the hook of video games it can be a trigger for anxiety and melt downs. I remember completely losing it when the internet plug was pulled during a raid. I felt as if I had lost everything because in that moment the game was my everything, I couldn’t see in that time those around me as support.
On another aspect of video games in family life it can be a great way to hide ourselves away and tuck ourselves into a corner, ignoring the tension of dynamics between those within the same household. It can also be a way of tucking others away into a corner to relieve the tension we are feeling from possible overwhelm from other parts of life or from that relationship.
Both of these can be active and feeding it and passive in allowing video gaming to continue over long periods while saying nothing. Video games are like sugar and there is a wanting of more and more. This doesn’t heal the dynamics within families but instead buries that tension and breeds resentment and hurt.
Avoiding relationship tensions avoids being aware of our part, our responsibility, of the part that causes/caused the dynamic/issue/hurt in the first place. Having a relationship based on avoiding each other is not what true family is.
The style of play and emotions/reactions that video games can influence on kids and adults can also have an impact on family life. Stories of Wii remotes going through TV’s in fits of rage or computer screens being smashed is a very explosive event within the home. Children throwing tantrums and demanding screen time or threatening a tantrum to get the screen to make them quite in the mall. These behaviours have an impact on family life as well.
Over the last 10 years or so I’ve been learning more and more what it means to be in a family and the responsibility that comes with relationships. When there is a highly stimulating, highly hooking and addictive activity such as video gaming it can have a very destabilizing effect on a household and wider family (I include my work colleagues into my family for example as more often than not I see them more than blood relatives).
Some ways I started to address this was over time allowing myself to feel the tension when it came to having conversations with another, mainly my mum. So I started to put myself somewhere in the game where I wouldn’t die (because there was no pause button) close my laptop screen and actually pay attention to her or turn away from the screen so I couldn’t see what was going on, this eased the tension as I wasn’t putting out the nasty “Go away I want to game” vibes. This in itself showed me that there’s a value in being with people rather than trying to get them to go away and leave me alone and that the video game was not the be all and end all.
Actually getting up off the computer when it was time for dinner made family life far simpler, less tension and people would want to be with me more and I with them.
Family isn’t about blood or solely the people we live with under the same roof, it isn’t a license to ignore, disconnect from each other or exclude others based on shared behaviours or not. Reducing family to a picture of blood or shared activities/interests reduces our view on who is actually a part of our family which is far greater than blood relatives or our groups founded on a shared interest.
Our relationships and families deserve certain activities and qualities that support and foster and teach love, decency and respect for one another. And from my experience video gaming does not bring this into family life.