Hi, I’m Nathan and I’m a gamer. But is this really such a bad thing?
I am many things. I’m a husband, a dad and Salvation Army officer. I grew up playing sports in the USA. I went to church every Sunday. I specialised in performing arts, such as music, acting and public speaking.
I also love gaming. Or, since the recent classification from the World Health Organisation that states gaming disorder as an official addictive behaviour, I should state it this way:
Hi, I’m Nathan and I’m a gamer. I was bought a Sega Genesis when I was 10 years old, and I have been playing games ever since.
I have heard a lot of fear around gaming. Some of this fear is justified. Some of it is not. Some of the things we fear we shouldn’t. Some of the things we embrace we should fear. Gaming does have addictive qualities, but it can also be used to promote growth and discipleship.
TASK AND REWARD
You see, gaming is enjoyable because it is rewarding. Games are designed to give you small incentives to perform tasks. Most tasks present a challenge. Conquering the challenge is rewarding in itself, but you also get a floating thing that pops out of a little box. There is a cool sound and a satisfying visual, and your game character gets stronger. Yay! I feel good right now just talking about it.
This is what is so addictive about gaming: task and reward, task and reward. It actually triggers chemicals in our body. Our brain gets a hit of ‘feel good’ juice. We’re physically designed to pursue that feeling. It’s the same juice that gets released when we get a Facebook notification about someone liking our last post. It’s the same feeling we get from a gentle kiss on the cheek from our crush. Our bodies are designed to pursue rewards for the tasks that we perform. This is a survival instinct.
So, knowing that God designed us this way, what can we do about these video games enslaving the minds of our children and our teenagers, and our 40-year-old sons who still live in our basements playing games and eating all our chips?
EMBRACING THE QUEST
Well, we can embrace what the gaming industry has pointed out to us. Personally, I have chosen to apply the ‘task and reward’ concept to people that I work with.
My boys love gaming. We play Halo together as a family. I’m the best (obviously). Josiah (9) usually comes in second. Noah (7) and Naomi (34) usually fight it out for last place … not that anyone is keeping track … on a chart … on the wall … and a trophy on the bookshelf. Anyway ...
What I do is apply the ‘task and reward’ concept to everything that I’m trying to teach my kids. I give them a task and provide immediate feedback on their accomplishments. I encourage them. I treat life like it is a game. I am a quest giver. They come to me to pick up a quest. They come back to me to tell me when it is done. I give them a reward.
I don’t tell them all the things they did wrong—which is what so what much of our society does. I don’t tell them all the ways they could have done it better. I simply present the same quest the next day, with possibly more information to help them improve. Or, I ask them how they intend to go about completing the task, and if they believe there was anything they learned from the previous day—task and reward. Reflect, task and reward.
I learned from gaming that if you give a human the same task every day, they will instinctively find more productive, efficient ways to accomplish that task. This works with my kids.
I run a kid’s self-defense class. I run it like they are a group of kids in a video game. Each week they have individual quests, and a group quest. Individual quests are done by each person for individual rewards. Group quests are tasks that can only be accomplished by the entire group working together. I learned this method from video games.
Last week, eight children found a way to cross an entire room without touching the floor using only two small couch cushions. They all had to gain an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They all had to work together.
I also run a tabletop role-playing game, known more popularly as ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, for a group of eight teenagers who were known as the ‘gamer kids’ at their local high school. Over the last few months they have learned valuable lessons in creating a culture of decision-making.
When we first started playing, no one wanted to make a decision. When someone did make a decision, everyone else would tell them why it was a bad decision. This created a culture where no one would decide anything.
After a while, I pointed out that every time someone made a decision things turned out okay. It either worked, or they learned a valuable lesson from their decision. I also pointed out that every time they argued about what they should do, and everyone refused to make a decision, something in the game punished them for it. Through gaming, they’ve learned some valuable lessons about how to reflect and create a decision-making culture.
Last week, I heard from a counsellor at their school that this group of gamer kids have become leaders in their school because of their ability to make decisions and promote a culture where others are safe to do the same.
The gaming industry has mastered the ‘task and reward’ instinct in all humans. We can either fear it, or learn from it.