By Umm Muhammed Umar
Recently, I have been perturbed as I noticed my sons entertaining himself on his Xbox was beginning to disrupt my life. Last Sunday, I was unable to enjoy a summer’s day out as he was playing online with his friends. I didn’t want to leave him indoors alone and I wanted to spend time with him. So I waited, and we eventually left after 6 pm!! It was an enormous act of restraint on my part (which I probably would not have been able to exercise, were it anyone but him), not to throw a huge tantrum. Then, on Monday night, a school night, I couldn’t get my child to bed, until a game ended at 21H40. I was livid.
On Tuesday, a colleague posted an article on a workgroup, about Fortnite’s Black Hole, a development which occurred on Sunday night, and which continued through to Tuesday afternoon. This triggered some conversation on the group, with one colleague saying he had banned his son outright from playing Fortnite. Considering this prospect was both fascinating and totally terrifying to me. He explained it was all about parental control, and what withdrawal symptoms to expect (anger and aggression), and for how long to expect them. His advice was to just take the first step, and that Allah would help with the rest. I think I should add at this point that while I don’t believe my child is a game addict (yet! Allah forbid), his gaming has definitely begun affecting his life as well as the rest of our family’s. I began to wonder, since I’m also aware that some of his friends invite him to play even at midnight (which I’m pleased to say, he’s never accepted, whew!), exactly how many families in the Muslim community, are being affected by gaming, in our quest to give our children the best.
The World Health Organisation has recognised ‘Gaming Disorder’ as a ‘pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, manifested by impaired control over gaming, priority given to gaming to the extent that it takes precedence over other life interests, despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
Video game addiction seems to be becoming an increasing concern for parents, with games seemingly mostly targeted at children. Video games include computer games, console games, arcade machine games and cell phone amongst others. Parents are starting to wonder if video games are harmful, if they cause aggression, if they are addictive……...According to Elizabeth Hartney, in The Signs and Effects of Video Game Addiction, while research is inconclusive, there does appear to be evidence that video games can be harmful, can increase aggression, and can be addictive. However, Hartney says it’s not about the time spent gaming, but about the function, it is serving the individual. Video game playing, as a recreational activity, may not be harmful, nor indicate an addiction. When game playing is addictive, it takes over as the person’s main way of coping with life, with other important areas of life being neglected or disrupted as a result.
Importantly, video game addiction is seen most commonly in players of the multiplayer gaming universe, typically, in games such as Fortnite, where there are multiple players involved online. These games have huge appeal as they are interactive, and occur in real-time. Gaming addicts become preoccupied with game-playing, and it disrupts family and other areas of life (this I identify with!), such as school, work, and even marriages. People who are addicted to video games also have increased emotional difficulties, including increased depression and anxiety, and feel isolated socially. Yes, this is, indeed, cause for concern if you are a parent of a youngster. There is light at the end of the tunnel though: research indicates while some gamers feel unable to reduce the time they spend playing, others do not experience cravings if they are unable to play (my 12-year-old…whew!)
Games are designed using state-of-the-art behaviour psychology to keep the gamer hooked. Gamers become immersed in their online experiences, and it’s easy to play for hours and hours without even noticing how much time has gone by. One parent complained to me that once when he was attending a funeral, his son played for 12 hours straight, without eating, or even answering the call of nature. Needless to say, this was an eye-opener for him, and gaming has since been banished from his home. You can also see and measure your progress, resulting in a strong sense of gratification. Gamers also feel part of a community. All these factors spur a gamer to keep playing.
However, it’s important that the actual physical dangers are also noted by parents. Prolonged gaming stimulates the production of a high amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to the brain.
With the WHO citing more than two hours a day of gaming as one of the criteria for addiction, it becomes confusing as to whether our kids are addicted or not (weekends would definitely go over the two-hour red line, while weekdays might not even feature). Although it might be a relief to know that according to the WHO only 3 to 4 per cent of gamers actually are addicted, what does gaming mean for a Muslim, even minus the addiction aspect?
Radio Islam’s Maulana Junaid Jassat, advises, concerning gaming:
- Anything that distracts us from Faraaidh is haraam. Even if one does not miss one’s Faraaidh, if the activity distracts one from the remembrance of Allah Azza wa Jal, that activity becomes makruh.
- Anything one is addicted to falls into the category of haraam.
- Gaming is harmful to your mental and physical state. Physical signs linked to excessive video game playing include muscular stiffness in the shoulders, possibly caused by a tense posture or sleep deprivation, eye strain resulting in bloodshot, itchy or sore eyes. Wikipedia reads: One of the most common conditions related to excessive video game use is De Quervain's tendinosis, an inflammation of the tendons that connect the wrist to the thumb. More informally called “gamer's thumb,” the injury is caused by the rapid, repetitive thumb movement associated with electronic gameplay. Mental health is also affected by excessive gaming. Research shows addiction to video games can contribute to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem in gamers. Depression and anxiety were particularly prominent among the gamers examined, predominantly among adults. The constant stimulation to one’s brain during prolonged gaming causes excessive dopamine levels. Having too much dopamine in the wrong place can make you psychotic.
- One’s social life becomes impacted on. Children do not want to visit even family. Not even their cousins. For them, this is too boring, compared to the kick of online gaming.
- Your resources are spent extravagantly. Purchasing a skin for an online character could well cost the amount it takes to clothe a needy person. And skins are not the only thing that kids are tempted to purchase in games. There’s A LOT in a game that keeps the image of a gamer racy and keeps the game competitive. The games themselves are very pricey. The high-speed internet connection one needs to play online is costly on its own.
- The images displayed in games are also unsavoury. Many of the images are the type we would normally place a hand over our children’s eyes to prevent them from seeing, were they, real-life people. Apparently, animated barely clad characters don’t count as being scandalous.
- Real-life bullying in school has been known to take place when players are on opposite teams in a game.
- Lastly, conspiracy theory has it that most games have hidden satanic imagery. Personally, I have seen lots of outright demonic images in games, let alone hidden. This normalises such imagery to our children, gradually removing the natural aversion one would feel
The pertinent question is whether we have the sheer guts it would take to unstick our precious offspring from the screens we have bought for them (oh, the impending riot envisaged……) and, who are these devices ultimately serving? To go straight to the kill, do we actually want to create the time to spend with our beloved children, and invest the kind of time it would take to fully put them on a path to success, both in this world and the next? Or is it simply convenient for us to have them ‘safely’ ensconced in our homes, gaming away, and as for the consequences……..well, we can cross that shaky bridge when we come to it...