By AUDREY GRAYSON, ABC News Medical Unit
I have a dark secret from my past. It involves a phase in my life which I am not proud to admit that I went through.
From the age of about 12 to 16, I was a gamer. Not just any gamer, either. I was completely consumed.
The first thing I did when I woke up was run upstairs, turn on the computer, and try to play as many games as I could before I had to get ready for school. The first thing I did after school was run upstairs, turn on the computer and play games until the early hours of the morning. Then I woke up at 6 a.m. the next day and did it all over again.
Surprisingly, my grades in school didn’t suffer at all from my addiction. But the countless hours sitting in front of the computer screen, eyes glazed and palms sweating, did take a toll on one significant aspect of my life: my social life.
So it came as no surprise to me whatsoever that researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, found that video games are bad for college students’ relationships.
Researchers surveyed 813 undergraduates at the university and found that most associations with gaming were negative. Those who played video games more frequently reported a lower quality relationship with both friends and family members. Moreover, women who played video games more frequently reported a lower self-image.
More video game use was also linked to higher rates of drug and alcohol use. And the more time a person spent playing the games, the higher the risk was for negative outcomes.
But which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Did I turn to computer games because I was friendless, lonely and unhappy, or did I become friendless, lonely and unhappy because of the computer games?
“We should be cautious about how we interpret these findings,” said lead study author Laura Walker, assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. “It’s important to recognize that these are correlations… we’re not saying that video game use causes these negative outcomes.”
But Scott Rigby, the president of Immersyve Inc., a player-experience research firm, explained the ease with which one might “crowd out” real life obligations and experiences by becoming over-involved in a virtual world.
“The thing about video games is when you’re sitting in a virtual world, you’re not in the real world,” Rigby said. “And video games are particularly good for satisfying a lot of our human needs – real life often doesn’t give us that same kind of constant feedback, that thrill of victory every few seconds.”
“It makes sense that some people may crowd out real life experiences and become out of balance with other things in their life, work or relationships,” he added.
However, Rigby stressed that it is impossible to confirm whether there is a causal relationship between gaming and negative outcomes.
“We do think that at a certain point people have to have the time available in order to fill it with the game, but we also think that sometimes games are much denser in terms of satisfaction, so even if your life is full of hobbies and activities, you could start crowding out real life obligations with game time,” Rigby explained.
And looking back at the “gaming phase” of my life now, I can see much more clearly why I became so obsessed: I was an outcast. My social calendar was one big empty hole, so I filled it to the rim with computer games. The real trick is digging yourself out of that hole and coming back into the real world again.