Online Games (Family Safety)
Online games are a form of video games, but with two important distinctions: 1. they are played over the Internet, and 2. they are played against (or with) other real people, rather than against (or with) computer-generated characters. Online games are becoming very popular, but there are some real dangers associated with them that require attention.
Computers provide an amazing ability to simulate reality. Some of these applications actually have real value to society, as evidenced by this statement from Elder Bednar: "We live at a time when technology can be used to replicate reality, to augment reality, and to create virtual reality. For example, a medical doctor can use software simulation to gain valuable experience performing a complicated surgical operation without ever putting a human patient at risk. A pilot in a flight simulator repeatedly can practice emergency landing procedures that could save many lives. And architects and engineers can use innovative technologies to model sophisticated design and construction methods that decrease the loss of human life and damage to buildings caused by earthquakes and other natural disasters."
There are several dangers to be aware of when participating in online games. They can be addicting, leading to wasted time and sins of omission, and they can enable inappropriate online relationships, leading to damaged relationships with the "real" people in our lives.
Consider the story of one wife who started playing chess online, and found that it had a profound effect on her "real" life and relationships. She relates it in this way: "Soon my drive to fuel my friendships became more important than my drive to play chess. The lives of my chess friends, with their problems and activities, became my life. What they were thinking, saying, and doing affected my moods and thoughts. When I wasn’t online, I was thinking of them and their lives. Many times I found myself depressed because of my emotional involvement. One relationship in particular was affecting my spiritual well-being. My religious discussions with one friend caused me to question the gospel. Not only were we playing chess and chatting, but we were corresponding daily through e-mail. We found it so easy to open up to each other online and in writing about our personal experiences and feelings even though we hadn’t actually met in person...My long hours at the computer and my online friendships were harming my relationship with my husband."
We also need to be careful about what online games we choose to participate in. Computers allow us to enter virtual worlds, and to experiment with things that we would never consider participating in otherwise. Elder Bednar warns: "a simulation or model can lead to spiritual impairment and danger if the fidelity is high and the purposes are bad—such as experimenting with actions contrary to God’s commandments or enticing us to think or do things we would not otherwise think or do 'because it is only a game.'"
Real damage can occur to our interpersonal relationships if we allow our virtual relationships to take precendence over our real life relationships. Consider the situation of Ric Hoogestraat, as related in the Wall Street Journal. Ric spends "six hours a night and often 14 hours at a stretch on weekends as Dutch Hoorenbeek, his six-foot-nine, muscular … cyber-self. The character looks like a younger, physically enhanced version of [Ric]. … [He] sits at his computer with the blinds drawn. … While his wife, Sue, watches television in the living room, Mr. Hoogestraat chats online with what appears on the screen to be a tall, slim redhead. He’s never met the woman outside of the computer world of Second Life, a well-chronicled digital fantasyland. … He’s never so much as spoken to her on the telephone. But their relationship has taken on curiously real dimensions. They own two dogs, pay a mortgage together and spend hours [in their cyberspace world] shopping at the mall and taking long motorcycle rides. … Their bond is so strong that three months ago, Mr. Hoogestraat asked Janet Spielman, the 38-year-old Canadian woman who controls the redhead, to become his virtual wife. The woman he’s legally wed to is not amused. ‘It’s really devastating,’ says Sue Hoogestraat, … who has been married to Mr. Hoogestraat for seven months.
Unfortunately, this is not a rare case. In a 2007 study, many players reported that the emotions they feel while playing an online game are very strong, to the extent that 8.7% of male and 23.2% of female players in a statistical study have had an online wedding. In a study by Zaheer Hussain and Mark D. Griffiths, it was found that just over one in five gamers (21%) said they preferred socializing online to offline.
Elder Bednar summed it up in this way: "Brothers and sisters, please understand. I am not suggesting all technology is inherently bad; it is not. Nor am I saying we should not use its many capabilities in appropriate ways to learn, to communicate, to lift and brighten lives, and to build and strengthen the Church; of course we should. But I am raising a warning voice that we should not squander and damage authentic relationships by obsessing over contrived ones."
Advice from Church leaders
- Elder L. Tom Perry: "“The Internet is a new source of information that offers tremendous opportunities as well as another potential—becoming addicted. … Worldly influences enter our homes in new shapes and forms to challenge our resolve to use our time wisely and for the Lord’s purposes.”
- Elder David A. Bednar: "A young man or woman may waste countless hours, postpone or forfeit vocational or academic achievement, and ultimately sacrifice cherished human relationships because of mind- and spirit-numbing video and online games. As the Lord declared, 'Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment … : Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known' (D&C 60:13)."
- Elder David A. Bednar: "If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state. And, if we let him, he can cunningly employ some aspects of modern technology to accomplish his purposes. Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience."
- David A. Bednar, “Things as They Really Are", Ensign, Jun 2010, 16–25
- Name withheld, "Tangled in the Web", Ensign, Aug 2001, 48–51
- Alexandra Alter, “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10, 2007, pp. W8, W1
- Yee, Nick (2006-08-29), "An Ethnography of MMORPG Weddings", The Daedalus Project. Retrieved 2007-05-16.
- Hussain, Zaheer (2008), Gender Swapping and Socializing in Cyberspace: An Exploratory Study
- L. Tom Perry, “A Year of Jubilee", Ensign, Nov 1999, 76
- Charles D. Knutson and Kyle K. Oswald, Just a Game?, Aug 2009, 46-51