For the first time in U.S. history, holiday season video game sales will surpass $13.4 billion in 2021. Video games are practically everywhere in American life. So, the reaction to recent remarks by U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley about video games surprised me.
Though Sen. Hawley’s statements were multifaceted, one of his core assertions — “Spending your time on video games …. is not good for you” — unleashed a firestorm of criticism. He was attacked by a chorus of commentators, ranging from avid gamers to some on the political left. But for unbiased observers who may be asking if video games really are a problem, let’s look at some statistics.
The top 10 best-selling games for September 2021 (the most recent data as of writing this) are: “Madden 22,” “FIFA 22,” “NBA 22,” “Tales of Arise,” “Diablo II,” “Deathloop,” “CoD: Cold War,” “Ghost of Tsushima,” “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and “Life is Strange: True Colors.”
Out of the measurable playtime of these games, it takes an average of 24 hours to “beat” a game (aka — complete all main objectives). For comparison, the original “Donkey Kong” (the game mentioned by Axios reporter Mike Allen in response to Hawley) takes about 22 minutes to beat.
Undeniably, video games are getting longer and more “escapist” (doing something in the virtual realm which could be done partially, if not fully, in reality). The epitome of video game “escapism” is sports games. And what do ya know, the top three best-selling games are about real-life sports! How far has America fallen from spontaneously breaking out into games with a stick and ball to games with a joystick and potato chips?
The other seven top 10 games are mainly single player/co-op action games, the second-best example of escapism. They’re the type of games which aim to hook you, and make you play them for hours at a time (even to the detriment of your mental and physical health).
What’s more, average time of gaming sessions is on the rise. One third of all respondents to a 2021 State of Online Gaming survey said their gaming sessions lasted five hours or more. Half of the survey’s respondents said they play video games during work hours, too. In fact, 14% of respondents play video games at work daily.
When I worked at the U.S. Capitol in 2019, every day without fail, I saw straight-outta-college interns playing the game 2048 during work hours on your hard-earned tax-dollar-bought computers. So, it’s not much of a stretch to say Sen. Hawley probably sees this type of stuff, too.
Further validating Sen. Hawley’s claims, the age group with the highest average video game playtime is 26-45 years old, who play an average of nine hours per week — over 30 minutes more than the next closest group. People in this age range should be in the most productive period of their life. Instead, it’s increasingly being used for more leisure and escapism.
Another harmful aspect is the average financial cost of these games. Just eyeballing the top 10 games, you’re looking at shelling out about $50-$60 per game. For comparison, the average movie is two hours long, and the average ticket costs $9.16. Would you be willing to spend $60 to go see a movie? Financial stewardship is an important component of mental health (in fact, financial stress is the number one cause of overall stress).
So, ultimately, why is all this a problem? The answer — emotional depression. Many gamers have a condition called alexithymia, which is the inability to determine one’s inner emotional state. Men are especially susceptible to this. Essentially, this condition develops after one suppresses their emotions too much for too long (such as through playing video games). This can lead to someone feeling disconnected from themselves — the ultimate fulfillment of escapism. Alexithymia leads to uncontrollable mood swings that gamers oftentimes believe can only be cured by one thing — more video games. Thus begins the destructive feedback loop.
The problem is so pervasive that the American Psychological Association has even coined a new term to identify the unique adverse mental health effects of video games — Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD). Combine this with the financial stress purchasing video games can bring, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Unfortunately, there is also an unquantifiable aspect to this topic — the lack of fulfillment in people’s lives that some gamers may be trying to address. In this sense, video game addiction can be compared to an unmeasurable religiousness.
As an avid gamer, I can say that I have fought these demons of this addiction, too. For those without a meta-physical purpose beyond pleasure in the moment, falling full fledge into video game addiction can be a real risk. For me, my Christian faith helps give me purpose beyond the rush of a game. But whatever it is that gives your life purpose, Sen. Hawley’s admonitions are a timely and much needed warning for us all: We should focus on the things that really matter most in life — not games.
Jackson Cargill, from Harrah, is a sophomore political science major at Stanford University.