Online multiplayer gaming is popular across the world. But China is aiming to reduce its prevalence with a new policy limiting teenagers to no more than three hours a week spent on online gaming. As of Sept. 1, minors can only play online games from 8-9 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and public holidays.
While some parents in China applauded the policy, others have questioned how it will be enforced, and believe it’s overly strict.
Denver7 asked Colorado gamers and experts who study online gaming to weigh in on who should set limits, how much is too much, and if playing video games could actually be beneficial in some contexts.
At the University of Colorado-Boulder, esports is growing in popularity.
“Our esports teams are really about providing an opportunity for our students to compete and represent the school, and showcase their skills on a national scale,” said Joshua Sharpe, a junior business major, and director of esports at CU.
Colorado State University and the University of Denver also have esports teams, and some colleges even offer scholarships for players. But Nick Remple, who manages the recreational side of gaming for CU Boulder, admits that gaming can be a problem.
“I failed Calculus 2 twice because of gaming,” Remple said.
He called gaming addiction “scary.”
“It's so fun, it's such a different world, it's such an escape. But you have to eventually come back down to reality,” Remple said.
Denver clinical psychologist Nicole Cross said gaming addiction is similar to other behavioral addictions like gambling.
“We have endogenous chemicals that our brain releases when we're doing certain activities that are highly, highly rewarding,” Dr. Cross said.
Signs that someone is truly addicted to playing video games include withdrawal, tolerance, preoccupation, and continuing the behavior despite risks and losses of relationships or jobs. She said many video game companies structure their games to be more addictive, with rewards that encourage more playing.
“Not only do they know that these things are hyper-rewarding and can create dependence, I think often a company may intentionally enhance that effect or try to make that effect stronger,” Cross said.
Despite the fact that some games may encourage dependence, Metropolitan State University of Denver psychology professor Bethany Fleck Dillen believes it’s still up to parents to set limits for teenagers.
“I’m hesitant to say that companies should step in in that way, or that the government should step in in that way,” Fleck Dillen said.
Fleck Dillen said it's important to make sure gaming isn’t replacing other activities like physical exercise.
“We have to socialize our children so they are healthy and grow up and do the things that are beneficial for themselves and society,” she said.
But Arturo Cortez, a professor in the School of Education at CU Boulder, said some modern gamers are using online games in a more beneficial way.
For example, last year, during the George Floyd protests, players of the controversial game Grand Theft Auto online staged an in-game virtual protest. Cortez is working with Denver’s Youth Empowerment Broadcasting Organization (YEBO) to study how video games can be transformed to be more inclusive.
“What’s really intriguing to me about video game play is that people not only are re-imagining who they are as a citizen, but they're re-imagining what kind of society they want,” Cortez said.
There are also growing job opportunities in gaming. A recent study by GetCenturyLink found 241,000 Americans were working in the video game industry in 2021. Zoi Galarraga, a media relations specialist at GetCenturyLink, said jobs like programmers, data architects, as well as business and marketing jobs, can pay six figure salaries. Professional gaming is also growing.
“Even for professional gamers, who are not making quite the salaries of the wealthiest pro-gamers, the average annual salary is just under $49,000 (annually),” Galarraga said.
For student gamers like Joshua Sharpe and Nick Remple, the opportunities for college experiences and future careers are an exciting development. But they say they mostly play online multiplayer games to connect with friends.
“For me, it's really the social aspect, getting on with your friends and having a good time,” Remple said.
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