Salvo 10.12.2022 5 minutes

Extreme Gamers

Immersive war game in virtual reality with futuristic 3D-glasses

Excessive time spent playing computer games is certainly dangerous, just not in the way the Feds mean it.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently awarded $700,000 to researchers to study the link between gaming and extremism. As VICE first reported, the recipients of the generous grant include Middlebury Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC); Take This, a nonprofit that focuses on gaming and mental health; and Logically, a tech company that develops AI to combat misinformation.

But is there really a strong link between extremism and gaming? In short, absolutely not. Blaming video games for real-world violence is both lazy and illogical. The DHS, a federal executive department with a history of reckless spending, appears to be pouring taxpayer money down the drain.

In truth, video games pose a far more “benign” threat to the country in the form of addiction. Although gaming is not responsible for the creation of radical extremists, it’s certainly to blame for ruining the lives of millions of Americans.

As a member of the much-maligned Millennial generation, I grew up surrounded by video games. While many games in the early 00’s were absorbing, today’s immersive and aesthetically sophisticated games make their earlier iterations look like flip books in comparison. Today, the vast majority of gaming occurs online. Combine the compulsive qualities of the internet with the addictive qualities of video games, and you have a recipe for genuine disaster.

There are 330 million people in the United States. As many as 231 million of them are active gamers—yes, Words with Friends and Solitaire count—and anywhere between 3 million and 6.5 can be considered “disordered gamers,” according to Game Quitters, a support community for people struggling with video game addiction. Last year, the video game market was worth a measly $189 billion; by 2030, it’s expected to be worth $560 billion. Over the next decade, expect the number of disordered gamers to grow significantly.

A “disordered” gamer is like any other addict, desperately clinging to the very thing that is destroying his life.  According to a recent report by The Recovery Village, the rise in addiction can be linked to the rise in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and role-playing games (RPGs). 

Gaming can help build relationships, but it can just as easily destroy them. Like other powerful drugs, video games hijack our reward centers. Yes, video games are drugs. They affect the brain in the very same way as other addictive drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine.

During a rather interesting interview, which took place in September, Steven Bonnell, known online as Destiny, spoke frankly about the dangers posed by gaming. Bonnell, an American Internet personality and a pioneer of online streaming, discussed the magnetic pull of League of Legends, a team-based strategy game with 150 million registered players worldwide. Bonnell, a married man in his thirties, referred to the game as his “crack cocaine,” and the worst “career-destroying, life-destroying, relationship-destroying game” imaginable. League of Legends is just one of five million games in existence, many of which are as equally or even more addictive than the battle arena behemoth.

All of this brings us back to the link, or lack thereof, between gaming and extremism, and Homeland Security’s willingness to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable research endeavors. It is worth noting that while DHS purports to worry about gamers becoming violent extremists, the U.S. military actively recruits gamers online, and the hand-eye coordination of gaming has been identified as a valuable skill for drone pilots.

The gamer panic resembles the way the DHS and FBI are busy scaring Americans about the extremist threat supposedly posed by incels. This group of desperate, lonely men, we’re assured, are a physical threat to all citizens, especially American women                          

Like video games, incels are a threat —just not the kind of threat that you hear about in the news. As the researcher and essayist William Costello has noted, worldwide, since 2014, the incel “movement” has claimed the lives of just 60 people. This, in Costello’s own words, could be considered a “bad day in Afghanistan.” This is not to demean those who have lost their lives. It’s to offer some perspective. One man, a Canadian, is responsible for 11 of the 60 deaths.

Many incels are full of hate, but their hatred is largely reserved for online forums. Moreover, many of these disgruntled souls enjoy nothing more than wasting their lives away playing games online. In other words, they are too busy zoning out in virtual worlds to concern themselves with the real world. Like pornography, video games should be viewed, first and foremost, as a powerful sedative. They are designed to keep us sitting in one place for hours, days, months, and even years.

In the U.S., the average gamer now devotes 30 hours each month to online gaming. That’s 15 full days in a calendar year. That’s a lot of time spent doing nothing but sitting down, dissociating oneself from external realities. Remember, there may be as many as 231 million active gamers in the U.S., and the gaming market is experiencing exponential growth. Video games are changing the very fabric of American society—and not for the better. Instead of pumping money into researching the role video games play in extremism, how about pumping money into finding new ways of getting Americans to devote more time to more meaningful endeavors? Now, that’s a research proposal worth $700,000. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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