Life is Tactile
Life – is tactile. Life – is not escaping into the pretend world of gaming or the alternate realities of the themed entertainment realm. Sure, these distractions are both nice and necessary now and then. Still, far too many people have sacrificed who they are, have lost their identity to the make-believe and non-tactile fantasy worlds of immersive and electronic alternate realities. But how does this make us better human beings?
In a recent article, USA TODAY cited several sources, including the entertainment software association [1, 2], providing data that supports the overwhelming and astounding reach of the multibillion-dollar video gaming industry into our daily lives.
Number of Americans Who Play Video Games (Entertainment Software
Note: The 2019 survey counted only adult players, while the 2020 and 2021
surveys counted those 18+ and 18 and under. (See full article HERE.)
The numbers are astounding! While the statistics cited include information indicating 76% of all U.S. children (under 18) are players, perhaps even more concerning is that more than half of all players spend more than seven hours a week gaming, immersed in these alternate realities. For the developing brain, this kind of exposure may have unintended effects.
I am always astounded to walk into the family living room and, on occasion, find four young adults (my children and their cousins) absolutely glued to the giant television screen hanging on the wall, seemingly oblivious to the fact that an actual living, breathing human being had just entered the room. They do not acknowledge my gestures or greetings; they can't! They are completely absorbed, and I can't help but think it would be the perfect time for a thief to come in and rob the house blind! A thief in the night cometh… No! Not anymore! No need to worry about 'the night'!
The human brain is a complex organ controlling thought, memory, emotion, touch, vision, motor skills, and every other process that regulates our body. Our brains continue to form and develop through the age of 26. Repeated and ongoing exposure to the same experience informs emotional memory, and these exposures, if traumatic, are often attributed as a root cause of PTSD. While not suggesting that video games cause PTSD, research does support the abusive and addictive nature of too much immersive gaming exposure [3, 4]. While it may be a stress reliever for some, it consumes and takes over the lives of others.
Wondering About Anger
Have you stopped and wondered why so many people seem to be so angry these days? Have you thought you don't remember it being like this before the pandemic? Anger itself is not a mental health disorder, but it can indicate the presence of several mental health conditions such as alcoholism, depression, OCD, ADHD, ODD, and Bipolar. It is important to recognize that you never experience anger without first experiencing some other more fundamental feeling. That is, you don't get angry without a much deeper thought experience. Ultimately, anger is the outward manifestation of fear – conscious and unconscious.
Considering the number of angry people we have all likely encountered (or been) lately, it is reasonable to wonder where all this fear is coming from – and why? Many readers may jump to an obvious conclusion, but no – Covid is just a trigger. Covid is not a cause. Covid cannot directly 'cause' us to be angry. How we react to things, people, and places is within our control, and Covid, as irritating as the mandates and the virus itself has become, cannot physically cause anger. The circumstances associated with Covid cause us to have certain thoughts, which influence our feelings, resulting in particular emotions. It is our thoughts that cause our feelings and emotions, and anger is an emotion.
In my last article (An 'Insecure Me' – My Week With Rona), I suggested that the prevalence of mental health issues emerging right now is nothing new. They've always been there; these issues are all just coming to the surface at once – millions of people coming face-to-face with themselves, forced to take the 'loneliest journey' from which, finally, there was no escape – nothing for us to hide behind! I also proposed that these issues are not new, and as a society, we have been regularly taking steps backward through the generations toward a steadily declining state of being. The overwhelming sense of entitlement has grown, and people are generally just not nice to each other anymore!
Let me elaborate further.
A Look Back – But Not Too Far
I was raised in the openness of the country and in suburbia on the outskirts of a major city. This experience taught me to appreciate the challenges, difficulties, and numerous rewards and benefits of each different way of life. There were four channels on the television, we were not wealthy, so if I couldn't build a facsimile of it for myself, many of the playthings that my friends had, I didn't have them! (Although this was more prevalent in the setting of suburbia.) I grew up outside and honestly, hated being stuck indoors for too long on rainy days with 'nothing to do.' I could go on extolling the virtues of this but let's bypass that and get right to the point: I thought, saw, heard, felt, and smelled life around me. The experience of the five basic senses combined in a multitude of amalgamations (keeping it basic and not venturing into the neuroscience of the other proposed 22+ senses) provided – and still provides – for me an opportunity to experience emotions and develop thoughts that so many living so much of their lives in the realm of alternate realities (ARs) do not have.
Step into the AR realm with me for a second: no smell (ironic that is one of the leading edge challenges of alternate reality experience makers in creating an experience that is 'more real'), no touch, no pain, no pressure (emotional pressure, yes – but that is not what we are discussing here), C.G. sound, C.G. images – a limited environment that has been recreated to appear realistic according to the available technology of the time – tricking your brain into believing that you are seeing and hearing all the things that aren't really there.
But no authentic tactile experience! No opportunity for the brain to be exposed to legitimate input from all five senses and combine them in such a way as to create and file an 'experience' in our learned data memory bank. We sell ourselves short on our experiences of 'life.'
Granted, AR does have a purpose, providing safe environments in which to instruct pilots or for military applications (and such) where training may be simulated without the danger of loss of life. (Although this point is highly debated in discussions surrounding the motivation and training of school shooters.) It is interesting to note the direction of AR research as developers explore new ways to integrate tactile knowledge by incorporating mechanical elements such as gimbals and x/y-axis floors into the overall experience.
Life – is tactile! Experience provides emotional training. AR may help prepare us, but it only goes so far toward the real thing.
It's Our Fault!
The thoughts and emotions we generate by experiencing life through our combined five sensing organs are much more complete and fully developed than those we are 'taught' by simulated environments. It's not the fault of video games – it's not even the fault of AR developers! No, if anything, it's our fault – as parents!
But how? Why?
Maybe we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves… As a father, it was always my intent to provide a better life for my children than I had, never to have to experience the pain of wants and desire to the same extent that I did. We forget that these wants and desires are good teachers in themselves. If I had the means, I was determined to provide everything I could within reason for my kids, and hopefully, do an excellent job of educating them along the way by teaching them to appreciate it. In the end, the only thing I had to know and remember about being a parent was that I was my children's teacher, genetically and victually.
It's time to take stock of our past decisions as we project into the future we have made for ourselves. Inequality may be found within our society on many, many more levels than those defined simply by skin color, race, religion, or financial circumstance.
Where to From Here?
Some may read this and take from it arguments for or against capitalism, for or against socialism, for or against government regulation – none of which are intended. I hope, however, that the reader will think about what else they or their children might be able to do with those 7-plus hours a week – or even half of that time – that they currently devote to gaming or escape into AR.
I find irony in the fact that the 1950s through 1970s is the period that saw an exponential explosion of television throughout this country , a period that coincides with the emergence of the demographic cohort following the Silent Generation – the Baby Boomers. What if we, as parents, had devoted that time to developing financial literacy in ourselves and our children, or prehaps understanding more deeply the Constitution of the United States and the history and principles on which our country was founded, or anything else to better ourselves and our community? Or simply spending time with our kids as a family, sitting around the dinner table, with the television and radio (and cell phone) turned off, just catching up on the day's events and taking a genuine interest in each other's lives? How sure are you, or were you as a young adult that you would be OK in life? Perish the thought!
A Final Question
How much 'stuff' do you have in your life? Why do we have so many 'things'? How much clutter, or how many 'things' are there in your life that contribute in no way, shape, or form to achieving your own personal goals or contributing to the hopes you have for your children? In no time at all, any influence you may have had on their life or your own will be gone! Not 'pretend life' – real life! Let's not be slaves to our 'things,' let's not work for our 'things' – and think about the value that life as a tactile experience has for each and every one of us. If we don't, I am fairly confident that the issues we face now will continue to become more exaggerated.
Perhaps with a little attention to the things that are real, that matter, and a little less attention placed on things that aren't real, we stand a chance of becoming better able to cope. Better able to deal with reality, more accepting and understanding of others and their circumstances, and less angry – and need less mental health advice to help us figure out our issues.
This is called balance. How's yours?
1. Entertainment Software Association. [electronic] [cited 2022 February 13];
Informational (Gaming)]. Available from: https://www.theesa.com/.
2. Snider, M., Two-thirds of Americans, 227 million, play video games. For many games
were an escape, stress relief in pandemic, in USA TODAY. 2021, USA Today
3. Grossman, D., Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the
Psychology of Killing, ed. K. Paulsen and K. Miserany. 2016, New York, NY: Little,
Brown and Company.
4. Steffens, B., Addicted to Video Games. Addicted. 2019, San Diego, CA:
5. The History of Television (or, How Did This Get So Big?). [electronic] n.d. [cited
2022 February 13].