August 28, 2013 - As experts consider what impact violent video games may have had in the recent shooting death of an 87-year-old Louisiana woman by an 8-year-old gamer, Jon Richey of Independence Township sees plenty of problems associated with them.
Jon Richey plays a bowling game on the Wii with his daughter, Hannah. Video games with movement are a fun family activity, but even they can be taken too far, he said. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
Several clients of the Clarkston-base counselor are dealing with video game addiction, he said.
"It's similar to other types of addiction – it meets a perceived need," Richey said. "It's their escape, their companion, like alcohol for alcoholics."
Accomplishments they can't achieve at school, home, or athletic field can be conquered in video games, he said.
"They're successful, so they go back to it. But it's pseudo success," he said. "There's something in reality they don't like. The games help them feel in control."
Video games can be a fun family activity, but violence in video games is a concern, he said.
In games like "Call of Duty," players take on the role of a soldier in combat.
"At least in that game, they're playing the good guy, a war hero," Richey said. "In others, like 'Grand Theft Auto,' you play the criminal. That seems most dangerous."
The 8-year-old in the Louisiana case was playing one of the "Grand Theft Auto" games, according to news reports.
More research is needed on video game addiction and its connection to violence, unemployment, social isolation, and other issues, Richey said.
But even non-violent games can be a problem if the player spends too much time on them, he said.
"There's a fine line between harmless and harmful games – it's a gray area," he said.
He has seen an increase in the number of cases in recent years, he said.
"Often, video games aren't the issue, the issue is an unmet need," he said. "My job is to help find alternative ideas."
Serious cases include players who stay up all night, playing video games until 4-5 a.m., when they have a busy day ahead.
"Kids who are honor students in high school, but in college they're away from mom and dad and play too much Xbox," he said.
Online multiplayer games providing an immersive environment, such as "World of Warcraft," are a newer challenge, he said.
"You don't have to have a sleepover to play multiplayer – you can be online with 50 other people," he said.
One tip for parents is to set reasonable limits, he said.
"You need to set limits with kids," he said "Make it clear that during school year, homework comes first."
Signs of trouble include lack of sleep, falling grades in school, and more anger, he said.
"They need to find other ways to meet their needs," he said. "They're having a hard time getting all their needs met. Parents need help setting limits, finding alternative activities they would enjoy such as reading, hiking, camping, sports, biking, meeting with friends."
For more information, call 248-425-9138.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.