Gaming Addiction May Go Up During the COVID-19 Crisis

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By Desmond Brown

It is a confusing and strange time we find ourselves in. COVID-19 has essentially put a pause on all of our regular activities and pastimes, pushing everyone to use the internet. Whether it’s using Zoom everyday like us college kids or binge-watching shows on Netflix, everyone is using the internet for something. However, the most significant users of internet bandwidth at the moment are gamers, and that could be a concern for parents.

With millions of kids staying at home with no clear indication of when they will return to in-person classes, many parents are struggling to keep their kids from playing games all day, every day during this crisis. Gaming addiction, which has been recently confirmed as a mental disorder by the DSM-5, has been the subject of extensive discussions by those in both the medical field and the gaming industry. We all know it is essential that kids and teens take adequate breaks when playing games. But it’s also essential to look for signs of dependence on video gaming, as opposed to real-world relationships or interactions.

A recent article from the Bloomberg news service warns people about the uptick in gaming addiction. Experts say every risk factor for gaming addiction is on the rise. And many call-in centers have seen a rise in calls, including an increase in gaming addiction patients by psychiatrists. It’s created a real problem for health officials, but right now, combating COVID-19 is the bigger issue. But many expect a big wave in gaming addiction as this carries on.

The American Addictions Centers website lists a set of behaviors to be on the lookout for if you are concerned about gaming addiction. They include:

  • Poor performance in school, work, and other responsibilities.
  • Neglect of other hobbies or friendships
  • Ignoring basic hygiene
  • Irritable mood when not playing or forced to stop
  • Playing games with increased intensity or length to reach enjoyment
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when the game is removed; sleeplessness, loss of appetite, emotional

I offer these up as helpful suggestions to all of you parents out there. But, honestly, I don’t think gaming is as addicting as people make it out to be. When I play, I do find it hard to break away from at times, but only because I’m so engaged in what I’m. But I think gaming is a great pastime. There are countless games and storylines to play through. For many, gaming acts as a way to escape. Whether winning a battle royale or goofing around online with some friends, gaming can be useful in a variety of ways.

For your children, I think they act as something to focus on while they’re sitting around the house. That’s not to say they should sit in bed and play games all day. But gaming can be mentally stimulating. The “Independent,” a British newspaper, recently cited a study of 1,000 gamers.  It showed that most people who play games report they feel gaming helps them relieve stress, make friends, and help them have a feeling of accomplishment.

Now, you can argue that relationships made in games or online cannot rival the ones made outside. However, connecting with friends, whether indoors or outside, is still engagement. It still allows one to have a sense of social interactivity.

Given the circumstances that COVID-19 has placed under, I feel that having a connection with friends online through gaming is a benefit and not a detriment.

But – do be careful. If the medical community it right, some will fall victim to the disorder of gaming addiction. You do want to keep your kid safe.

For more information about gaming addiction:

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/video-gaming-addiction

To read more on the studies referenced in this story, visit these links:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-07/video-game-addiction-poised-to-spread-during-coronavirus-lockdown

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/video-games-stress-playing-strategy-key-gamers-study-a8202541.html

Other blogs we’ve written on gaming:

Parents: Gaming is all over America

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By Desmond Brown

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) recently released a study on the nature of gaming in America. I’ll say upfront, the ESA is an association made up of the biggest gaming companies and therefore has an interest in portraying the gaming industry in a positive light. With that said, it is probably not surprising that they found that Americans of all ages and all races play video games.

What I found surprising in their report was that most gamers are not just the stereotypical teenage or college boy lying on a couch. It turns out many Gen X’ers (ages 35-45) and Baby Boomers (ages 55-64) play. Many of these having been playing for years or even decades.

What I also found interesting was the information about parents and their child gamers. ESA says that 87% of American parents are aware of the ESRB ratings. I recently wrote a blog post explaining the Entertainment Rating System Board. The Board’s rankings are supposed to help parents decide if a game is too mature for their kid. ESA says that most parents believe the ratings are accurate and that they regularly use these ratings.

The ESA also found that 50% of the surveyed parents limited the time their child could play video or computer games. This was a greater percentage of parents than those who limited their kid’s time browsing the Internet, streaming TV shows, using social media, or watching TV. I found this a bit surprising. However, I think the ESA might be trying to make parents feel safer about gaming. In another area of the report I did see that 9 of the top 20 best-selling games in 2018 were rated “mature.” Maybe the ESA knows parents are worried about the content of video games.  And maybe parents do have a reason to be concerned. “Mature” rated games are very, very popular, even though they are only 9% of all of the games released or available in 2018.

An encouraging statistic I thought was that 57% of parents report playing games with their kids at least once a week. Also, 74% believe video games can be educational. These are healthy numbers in my opinion, and I agree that playing games with your kids is great. I wrote a blog on that a few weeks back. Games can be educational and it is awesome when parents play with their kids.

Another statistic that stood out for me was that 75% of American households have at least one gamer in them. That tells me that gaming is very widespread and we should be paying attention to how parents are coping with child gamers. It doesn’t look like that stat is going to go down anytime soon.

Gaming is now mainstream and the report confirms that gamers come from all age groups. The ESA found that while 21% of gamers are under the age of 18 and 40% of gamers are between the ages of 18-35. This second cohort is the largest group and also the audience that buys the most hardware and software. Gamers between the ages of 36-49 make up 18% and the 50+ age group makes up 21%. Note, the age brackets are not equal – the second group spans a 17-year age range while the third only an 11-yr age range. Not sure why the ESA broke the data down that way, but it does say that less than a quarter of all gamers are high schoolers or younger.

While the ESA did break down the type of game each of the older three age brackets purchased or played, for some reason they did not do it for the under 18 category. This seems like a suspicious omission to me. In another part of the report they say that 26.9% of all games sold are “action” games, and another 20.9% are “shooter”. It stands to reason many of these players must be from the under 18 age bracket. And I’ve already mentioned that 9 of the top 20 games are rated “mature” by the ESRB. I’ll have to leave it to you parents about whether you are concerned by these stats.

What I am glad about is that there is some data about the diversity of American gaming. It’s a huge phenomenon and one that I participate in heavily. I hope that we can all navigate the growing popularity of gaming, including parents and their children. Gaming is going to be around for a long time, and though the ESA is clearly an industry support group, it’s statistics have to be considered when deciding how to react to the new gaming culture.

Links:

For more information about the study, visit this link:  https://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019-Essential-Facts-About-the-Computer-and-Video-Game-Industry.pdf

For a more in-depth breakdown, this site has an extensive amount of statistics on different aspects in gaming but you’ll need to set up an account to view the charts: https://www.statista.com/topics/3070/us-gamers/

Real Gambling Inside Your Kid’s Video Game

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By Desmond Brown

A while ago, I posted a blog about how the ESRB can help you make better decisions about games your kids. However, I failed to look into how they actually rate their games. It turns out, the ESRB does not actually play the games. Instead they watch a trailer of the game produced by the video game maker. Per the ESRB’s official page, it must be “a video showing typical gameplay, missions, and cutscenes, including the most ‘extreme’ content. Unplayable content (i.e., ‘locked out’), if it is pertinent to a rating, must also be disclosed.”

Why is this important?

Because I think, based on the ESRB’s own review procedures, developers might slide features like gambling and pay-to-win loot boxes past the reviewers’ eyes. I’m not saying every game developer does this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.

I think it’s a problem when raters don’t actually play the game. Recently, some games have been called out for having predatory practices towards a younger audience. NBA 2K20 revealed gambling style mini-game complete with roulette and slot machines to win certain items in-game through a trailer prior to release. 

This game was rated E for Everyone. 

If children play this game and have access to a credit card, they can spend real-world money to gamble for items with in-game currency. While this may come down to a parent’s decision, I wanted to bring this to your attention. You may want to be even more careful about what games your kid plays than just relying on the ESRB rating. 

Personally,I don’t think gambling should be allowed at all. It has no place in a game that allows real-world money to be used. And I think any game that is rated “E for Everyone” should not require parental oversight. 

If you would like to read more about how the ESRB reviews their games you can read their FAQ page here: https://www.esrb.org/faqs/#do-esrb-raters-play-the-games-they-rate

For a more in-depth look at why loot boxes are so addicting, check out this video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu6pXCxiRxU

Links:

The New Switch = Your Kid Gaming Everywhere!

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By Desmond Brown

Parents, have you ever thought “Well, at least they’re not gaming here in the (car, restaurant, doctor’s office, bathroom, …)!”

Kiss that thought good bye. Maybe you’ve heard of or have a Nintendo Switch. It’s built to be portable, but mostly people still hook it to their TVs. However, Nintendo is about to release its Nintendo Lite. It cost $100 less, and it’s really meant to be portable. It doesn’t hook to your TV and it maintain’s its high graphic quality on the go.

But now you’re thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Mario Bros.? Zelda? Donkey King?”

Nintendo has that game?

But did hear? Nintendo is growing up. Yes, that’s right. Nintendo now has games on the Switch like Batman, L. A. Noire, Doom and Skyrim. All dark cop or monster type games. And they even have South Park: The Fractured But Whole.  Want your kid walking around Wendy’s repeating lines from that TV show?

Of course, you don’t have to buy those games for them. But see our other gaming blogs to learn how easy it is for kids to get games.

The New Switch Lite

So how does the Switch Lite differ from the regular Switch? As well as being smaller, it is lighter, has a more traditional directional pad, has a slightly longer battery life, and does not have the HD rumble or IR features. It will come in new shades of yellow, grey, and turquoise. The Switch does use cartridges but it can also download games straight onto the system from the Nintendo E-shop.   The Lite will be available worldwide September 20th this year.

The New Nintendo Switch coming out Sept. 20th, 2019

It’s important to recognize that these systems have far higher fidelity graphics than even a decade ago. You’ll want to set up the parental controls on your child’s Switch in order to limit what your child is able to play or see.

And remember, the trend of high-quality 3D games being played on the go is not going to stop – it is only going to grow.

Useful Links:

You can see more Switch details here.

If you want to explore what’s available, you can find games for the Switch on these sites:

https://www.nintendo.com/games/switch/

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=switch+games&rh=p_89%3ANintendo&dc&encoding=UTF8%3F&qid=1562883628&rnid=2528832011&ref=sr_nr_p_89_1

Where is your kid purchasing their video games?

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By Desmond Brown

You may know that video game consoles are not the only machines that games can be played on. PCs and Mac computers can also play many of the same games available on PlayStation or Xbox. However, the most popular places to buy games for computers are not the typical places that you might know. Over the past decade, gamers like myself have purchased thousands, if not millions of games through the online game distribution service known as Steam. Steam is owned by video game publisher and developer Valve and is the primary source of game purchases for the PC or Mac.

When I was 12 years old, I would chat with friends on Steam’s voice chat system late into the night. I had my own account and my parents had no idea what Steam was. I asked for gift cards and bought games to play with my friends. This included mature games that I would have had to show ID for if I were buying it at GameStop. So, this is something you’re going to have to look out for.

Steam is not only home to AAA (big budget and marketed video games like Call of Duty or Madden) but also independent video games – indies for short. Indie games are usually made by smaller, lesser-known developers They like having full control over their games and don’t have any need for a big publisher if they sell directly on Steam.   Steam is popular because it has a wide variety of game types. Some of these are exclusively sold on Steam. But through just Steam these developers can reach thousands and thousands of players.

screen grab of a page from the Steam store
Screen grab of a page from the Steam store

Steam and “indie” games

However, if you purchase an indie game, there is a risk. These games can be crass, crude, or a variety of other things not appropriate for a pre-teen/teen. However, indie games can also be some of the most creative and imaginative games on the market. I think you’ll have to do some research on each game before you decide if you want your kid to purchase. Though not all of these games show up on the ESRB rating system (see our blog about that system here), Steam does have it’s own rating system.  It requires extensive vetting of both the game itself and the intentions of the developer.  This means each developer has to explain the type of content that the game will contain.  Steam/Valve then places a specific age rating on the game when it releases. Steam restricts access to these games by asking the user to verify their age.  Truthfully, it’s not too hard to lie at this step. (Though I’ve read that Steam will track if the user is under 18 and will block any further attempts at accessing games of that nature. I don’t know how it does this.)

Screen grab of Steam age verifier
Screen grab of Steam age verifier

Family-friendly Steam(?)

As I mentioned, Steam has chat functions, friend lists and other social functions that can connect users worldwide. However, these options do not have explicit parental controls. Even on games with age restrictions, these functions might still work.

Thankfully, Steam does have a parental control you can put on your account called “Family View”. There are step-by-step guides for parents to follow when accessing this feature. From Family View, parents can set parameters for the content their child can access. This includes specific items like gore or violence, games with chat functionality, profile pages, access to the game catalog, and much more. You can even use the Family Game Library to restrict access to specific games for your kid to play on that account. Each of these features is PIN protected.

Screen grab of Steam "Family View"
Screen grab of Steam “Family View”

The Epic game store

Steam is not the only place PC and Mac games are distributed. Last year, Fortnite developer Epic Games created the Epic Games Store, a platform similar to Steam but without a lot of the social media and chatting features that Steam possesses.

The reason I even bring up the Epic Games Store is that if your tween plays Fortnite on a computer, they already have the store installed as well. Epic included the store with the launcher for the game.

Screen grab of the Epic game store
Screen grab of the Epic game store

 The Epic Games Store has no parental controls whatsoever. There is no way to keep your kid from accessing a mature game. However, there is a significant difference in the availability of games on the platform. There are less than a hundred games up for purchase on the Epic Games Store and many of those are still not available to play yet. However, Epic has offers for free games twice a month, giving access to potentially inappropriate games at no cost to your pre-teen/teen.

Also, every game on the platform has an ESRB classification. This means Epic doesn’t have a rating system…yet. In order to protect your kid from playing a game you feel inappropriate, it is best to view more information about the game yourself like you would if they were buying it in a store.

So, my recommendation is to get the “Family View” account set up before you let your kid get on Steam, do not give them gift cards or a credit card to make their own purchases (you should purchase each game individually), and monitor their use of the social media functions of Steam. If they are purchasing through Epic there are not as many indie or mature games (yet), but you will still want to monitor every purchase.

If you do all of this, you should be good. And, hopefully, you’ll join in on the games. Video game playing can be a great way to bond with your kid. But more on that another day.

Here are some useful links:

Steam information:
https://store.steampowered.com/

“Family View” on Steam: https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=5149-EOPC-9918

Epic game store: : https://epicgames.helpshift.com/a/epic-games-store-and-launcher/

Read out review of the ESRB system: http://www.decodingtodaysyouth.com/do-you-understand-the-esrb-video-game-rating-system/