Students and Video Game Addiction
December 13, 2012
Until the academic warning letter from my son’s college arrived home last December 23rd following his fall freshman term, he assured us that he was getting Bs in his classes. Confronted with this letter, he broke down in tears, admitted that he spent most of the last half of the semester playing an online computer game, and didn’t attend the final weeks of classes nor even sit for his exams. An activity that started out in high school for fun and as a coping strategy for stress had hijacked his brain, and he lost control. He was addicted – as are nearly 2 million other U.S. college students. And if the computer game industry continues to succeed in its marketing strategy to hook youth on their products, its market success will trigger bigger avalanches of academic warning letters every December -- unless college leaders take action to address this worsening epidemic. For the past six years as an administrator at a large community college, I’ve focused on developing workforce education programs that have helped hundreds of at-risk students succeed in college programs. However, as a parent of a game-addicted college student living away from home on a college campus, I felt powerless to help my son succeed in his own college launch. As a young adult, he’s responsible for his choices, and he chose games over college success. At the same time, the heart of addiction is a loss of control, and still-developing teenagers like my son are especially vulnerable to the instant gratification of games that can entrap them into addiction before they know what has hit them. My hope is that our family’s story can help the higher education family grapple with this epidemic, so that other parents’ sons and daughters don’t experience the calamitous crash that my son did at college. Excessive Gaming Linked to Lower Academic Performance
Because computer game-playing is legal, hidden away in dorm rooms, and doesn’t result in obvious impairments like drug or alcohol addiction, the problem has stayed under the radar. However, many studies have linked excessive computer game-playing to lower academic performance, as well as a variety of disorders often treated at campus health centers, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and social phobias. In one of the most authoritative studies, a longitudinal study of 3,000 third- through eighth-graders in Singapore, researchers from Iowa State University and elsewhere found 9 percent of gamers to be “pathological,” meaning that their gaming damaged multiple parts of their lives, including school performance.
Just like my son, they didn’t grow out of it on their own, either. Two years later, 84 percent of the pathological gamers in this study were still experiencing similar impacts, a finding that suggests that nearly 10 percent of first-year college students bring these pathologies to college with them. Students who reported pathological impacts played an average of 31 hours every week. Gaming within this subculture of students is so prevalent that my son convinced himself that 5-8 hours of daily gaming when he started college was normal. Once these students arrive on campus, freed from the constraints of high school attendance monitors and parental oversight, students are more likely to binge on gaming, with results that can be as traumatic as my son’s. In the 2011National Survey of Student Engagement, completed by 27,000 first-year students, over one-third of incoming males and nearly one-fourth of females reported playing computer games more than 16 hours per week. These students had lower SAT scores and lower high school grades, and completed fewer AP courses. So, they come to college less prepared to succeed, and are likely to fall further behind if their addiction takes root more deeply. An older 2003 study of college students by The Pew Internet and American Life Project confirmed this crowding out effect, with...
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