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Living in a 'Playstation Nation'

By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director

CBN.com - It is late on the Friday night before Thanksgiving and there is a line forming at the local Best Buy.  Comprised of teens, twenty-somethings, and a smattering of weary parents scattered in between, each person’s hope is to secure the latest in video gaming technology.

Even though the store will not open for several more hours and the temperature has dipped below freezing, these ardent, mostly male “gamers” don’t seem to care.  They are content to swap stories of Tomb Raider, Madden Football, and the legend of Zelda.

Seth is one of these people.  The 16 year old honors student has convinced his parents to let him stand in line all night in the cold in hopes of purchasing what he covets … a Playstation 3.  He just has to have it and nothing will stand in his way.

Seth came away empty handed in his pursuit for a video game system but fortunately he was not shot waiting in line like another young man was in a neighboring community.

It all seems sort of radical doesn’t it?  Parents letting teenagers stand outside all night so they can be the first to own a game at the risk of being shot at.  But the sad reality is that there is more to the aforementioned story than meets the eye.  Seth must have this new gaming system because he and a nation of others like him are addicted to video games.

“Research shows that video games are a very real, compulsory addictive process,” explains Kurt Bruner, who with his wife Olivia, have written a new book called Playstation Nation, from Center Street Books.  “It is not like television or sports or anything else where you can spend a lot of time, maybe too much time.  It is just not a time waster.  There is an actual physiological, chemically based addictive process occurring in the brain.”

The Bruners have first hand experience with video games.  Three years ago, they discovered their son was clearly addicted to what some experts refer to as the “digital drug”.  They found he was isolating himself, playing video games for hours on end.  He was losing interest in activities that he used to love like playing basketball.  All he ever talked about was strategizing ways to get to the next level of his game. 

The Bruners were concerned.  But unlike other parents who just resign themselves to fate, they began to research the problem.  What they found was startling.

According to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people are exposed to eight and a half hours of media content on a daily basis, with the highest increase coming in the area of video games.  Also, more than 80 percent of children have at least one video game console at home – over half of these are in a child’s bedroom.

Finally, the Culture and Family Institute reports the deadliest school shooting in history resulted from a student mimicking the shooter from a video game he had been playing.

“Video games are so prevalent in our culture,” says Olivia Bruner.  “I think parents almost resign themselves to the fact that their kids will have or play video games somewhere else.”

“A common mistake we make with video games is that we use it as a reward system, adds Kurt Bruner.  “Many parents say that they will use it to get their kids to do their homework.  That is actually part of the problem that feeds the addiction.  You are feeding the process of habituation to the point where kids are associating good or doing anything else based on a reward system derived from video game use.”

With research pointing to the fact most video games trigger physiological reactions in the brain similar to substance abuse; it is easy for Christians to conclude they are immoral.  The Bruners believe video games are not immoral at all.  Instead, they think they represent a profoundly spiritual issue.

“Video games are spiritual in the sense that it overtakes as Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians,” offers Kurt Bruner.  “He said all things are lawful for me but not all things are good for me.  All things are lawful but I will not be mastered by anything.  Parents need to understand how all consuming video game addiction becomes.”

If video games are so addicting, why then are so many Christian companies jumping into the fray with faith based video game alternatives?

According to BattleCry.com, Christian games promote Christian values, leaving parents worry-free about questionable content. Ralph Bagley, a Christian developer and CEO of N-Lightning Software, states, “The secular industry is trying to be more shocking ... and we want to show that games can be inspired by more than just violence and lust.”

But are they addicting?

“There are two categories for the discussion, explains Kurt Bruner.  “One is content of games.  I can see the motivation and why companies are producing alternative content video games to provide something other than the more wretched content you find in the secular market.  Our concern is not the content of games but the addictive nature of them.  If you are going to be addicted to a game you can be just as addicted to a Christian game as you can to a secular one.  For example, you can get just as addicted to the wine of the Eucharist as you can to wine from the bar.  It is still alcohol.”

For many parents this Christmas season, there is a debate raging over whether to acquiesce to a child’s wish or to simply forego the notion of purchasing video games/systems altogether.  Some will cite financial constraints as their rationale for not becoming part of the Playstation nation while still others will purchase the systems vowing to screen all game content and to limit their children’s play time.

But who is right and who is wrong?

Says Kurt Bruner, “The best advice we can give is the risk of addiction is virtually nil if you don’t own it in your home and your child simply plays it when he goes to a friend’s house.  When it is in the home it is constantly calling.”

“If you do want to own one, treat it like any other board game,” suggests Olivia Bruner.  “What I mean by that is keeping it in the closet and get it out once a month and say we are going to play whatever game it is as a family.  Play it for an hour and then put it away.”

To Purchase Playstation Nation

Please visit Center Street Books

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