If I posed this question to a random group of people at say, a movie theatre, or in a grocery store, or on a train, the overwhelming answer would be yes. Work is stressful, they’d say, and video games relieve tension and provide a needed break. Or, work is boring, and video games provide a fun challenge. Or, everyone else does it, including my boss, so why shouldn’t I? Or, it’s fine as long as you don’t get caught.
One study shows that about one-fourth of all white collar employees admit to playing video games at work, and 35 percent of their bosses do the same. But another study says those estimates are low; fully 58 percent of employees claim to have caught their bosses playing on their computers, and 46 percent of employees have been caught as well. I wonder what the statistics would be for active LDS workers. Much lower, I would hope.
As Latter-day Saints, we try to live a higher law, and we hear lessons all the time about giving our employers an honest day’s work. We’re told to be on time, not to extend our breaks, not to bring home office supplies, not to leave early, and certainly not to waste time we’re being paid for. It’s a matter of integrity and ethics, of giving your best effort, and of doing so even when the boss isn’t looking.
But how many of us are sliding into the ways of the world, especially when it comes to the nearly private practice of upping our score on the latest video game? How many of us are playing at home for hours on end, when we should be devoting that time to family? How many teenagers got married in their twenties, and are still glued to their games in their thirties, as if adulthood had passed them by?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and if there’s a computer under there, I suppose this is actually possible), you’ve heard the alarming statistics about the addictive nature of pornography. But how many of us, while avoiding that obvious peril, have mentally decided that video games are far more innocent, and thus frequently indulge the urge to play them, with nary a concern about getting hooked? Are we like the beer-drinking alcoholics who think they’re okay because at least they’re not taking heroin?
I’m not saying video games are inherently evil, rot your brain, or are the scourge of modern society. They’re a fun form of recreation, and certain mentally challenging ones will even help stave off Alzheimer’s. It’s the amount of time we’re giving them that should worry us. Just as television has its benefits, watching it for six hours a day can do terrible harm. It isn’t just the lack of physical exercise couch potatoes experience, either. Too much TV is socially stunting. It requires no interaction with others, elicits no thought or creativity, and overexposes you to advertising messages which lead to overspending. Commercials are designed to blur the line between wants and needs, and those who watch excessive amounts of television also spend excessive amounts of money.
Video games, like TV addiction, can consume our lives. If left unchecked, both can take us from greater responsibilities, such as listening to the heartfelt concerns of your teenage daughter, laughing together with your spouse, helping a neighbor, studying scriptures, reading good books, volunteering in the community, researching family history, and on and on. They seem to sap our ambition, lulling us into a sedentary lifestyle and straight into one of the deadliest sins: Sloth.
Imagine an office worker leaping from his chair during a video game and shouting, “I have the most fantastic idea for this company!” Such insights, energy, and enthusiasm are never the byproduct of sitting in one’s chair and turning one’s mind over to the whims of a software designer. You may think you’re plugged in, but you are decidedly unplugged. And if you’re doing it when you’re being paid to do something else, you are dishonest as well.
If you’ve allowed gaming to occupy too great a chunk of your day, it won’t be easy to break the habit. You’ll be surprised how tempting it will be to dip back in, “just for a few minutes.” Your brain is accustomed to this electronic nap, and if you’ve allowed yourself to coast away from careers and relationships that require actual work, laziness will be enticing. But if you set goals and take it a few hours at a time, the rewards will be huge. You’ll be more productive at work, more popular at home, and more valuable as a person. Your self-esteem will rise as you realize you’re actually contributing something instead of clicking a mouse for hours on end. Family members will admire you again, and latent talents will blossom.
I’m not suggesting we all throw our computers away or resist the urge to play even five minutes of a game now and then. I’m saying let’s exercise some self-control and do this in moderation. Set a timer for half an hour if you must, and don’t go beyond it. Your life will swing back into balance, you’ll experience great thoughts now and then, and you’ll be giving your boss an honest day’s work. Best of all, you’ll come out of the fog and into a brightly lit life where the Savior and His teachings can cross your mind again, and occupy moments of uplifting meditation. You’ll get to know your family members better, and stop missing those sweet occasions when your toddler asks a precious question, or your pre-teen does something kind for his brother.
You don’t want your headstone, someday, to list your final video game scores, right? You’re so much more than that.
Perfect for Mother’s Day: Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES—THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores. See jonihilton.com for upcoming book signings.
Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the "As the Ward Turns" series, "The Ten-Cow Wives' Club," and "The Power of Prayer." Hilton is a frequent writer for "Music & The Spoken Word," many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.