Due to advances in technology, virtual games have become more and more popular. Many people prefer the digital aspects of their lives to physical ones. The problem begins when your online life starts to affect your real life, such as taking your time, money, and identity. We have seen a lot of tragedies related to online games like Blue whale. At least some of the parents are concerned about their kids playing virtual games. Have you ever wondered why these kids are so addicted to virtual games? Let’s have a look at the good, bad and ugly side of it.

Recently a parent brought their 13 year old boy to me for counselling. He had stolen Rs. 1.8 lack from his father’s account to buy arms and ammunitions for a virtual game. Reason?? Every day a group of friends play this game online and every day he loses. He was desperate to win and so he chose to buy more sophisticated missile which travel further than his friends. The next day he won against couple of his friends. No one knew how, however he was the star of the day. The next day he purchased a fleet of everything he could with his father’s credit card. Now this is a 13 year old boy’s intelligence to manipulate and get what he desired to.

Here is another scenario, when I was young I learned table tennis and was pretty good at it, or so I thought. Relocated from my hometown for my graduation I introduced this game to my new friends there. For sure I was the champion till one day my close friend started defeating me in every game. Naturally I was frustrated; I desperately wanted to win against him. There was no choice for me to buy a magical bat and my father never had a credit card. The only choice left was either give-it up or practice, work hard and challenge him.
Just compare the two scenarios. In the second scenario the only choice was, to put in a lot of hard work and in the second it was to win by cook or crook. Is it that technology has brought our children less hard working and lazy?

Take a look at another game. Farming online or virtual farming; sounds cool. You get a piece of land and some seeds free of cost when you register. Then on you have to plough the field, plant the seeds and so on. If you are successful you get virtual money by selling your harvest or you can spend real money and get virtual land and seeds. Reinvest on more land and there you go. You can’t be lazy here, because at midnight birds will come to destroy your corps, you have to be alert, wake up at midnight to fight these invaders. You have to wake very early, because your crops sprout early, you have to literally do a lot of hard work here. Unfortunately they have not seen a real farm land, unaware what happens in the real world.
More sophisticated online games are available where real money is involved as in team games where you bet for players, card game where you play against strangers, so on and on. Some make real money and some lose.

Let’s take a look at some advantages of both virtual games and real games.
Real games has more health benefits as it develop muscles, makes us sweat and improves respiration, doesn’t make our eye bleed, overall it keep us healthy and fit. It also allows interaction with teammates, even the interaction after the game allows a lot of interpersonal benefits. Brainstorming happens during the game which allows us to get more insight both in game and life. There are lot of shared emotions and it gives us a lot of sensory experience. It affects us psychologically as well as physically.

Virtual games are liked by people who like playing sports, however don’t want to sweat or doesn’t have enough time to spare. Improved concentrate is one main benefit. Another benefit is even the elderly or patients of low mobility can play, since the extent of body movement is not vigorous in most case. There is a very low tendency for people to get hurt while playing virtual sports. It is not affected by bad weather. You have so many options, a life full of infinite possibilities with everything at your control, even if you die you can come back to life, no one can bother you or hurt you. We can do dangerous things and experiment our fantasies.

Fundamentally, technology creates entertainment value; however you are not living in a virtual world. You live day to day life in the real world. The virtual world can never be better than the real one. For one, virtual sex will never be as good as sex in real life although it may give you some visual and auditory satisfaction, which is very limited.

You need to stay real with yourself. You need to face your reality and it is the life you are to live. Some of the psychological challenges we see are; mental health deprivation, unstable social life, depression, anxiety, and the fear to face the real world.

Once you come out of the virtual world you have to drive and you come across a traffic violator, all you can do is either ignore him or take the frustration on him. You just can’t shoot him down or violently bang on him like you just did virtually. Or say you wanted to take a break, say for example you want a cup of coffee. You press a button and you have it in the game, however in reality you have to literally make it to have it. That difference and disparity pertaining reality and virtual world is big.
The wired world is easy to be addicted to as well, where in you may need more of those ‘virtual reality drugs’ to remain happy. You then rely on it to escape the reality. Like drugs, where your synapses will not stop firing in the dopamine pathway, And with the incessant firing of nerve impulses in the pleasure pathway, less receptors will be present on the synapse. So in other words, you need more of those ‘virtual reality drugs’ to continue being happy.

It’s always been an interesting balancing act between science-fiction and true scientific advancement. In the battlefield you start to become the character and the character starts to become you. Virtual world is like wearing a mask to avoid social contact, because you are afraid of the world outside, afraid what others will think of you, afraid what will happen if you do initiate a real conversation with someone and it goes wrong. You’re afraid that they will ‘leave’ you because you’re socially incompetent. You just fear the real world and get into your shell, the cage created by you.

Oxford University Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has studied the impact of new technology on people has concerns related to the nature of technology today. She says that, for all of its appearance of freedom, technology puts you in a box, a very bright, shiny, and fun box to be sure, but a box nonetheless. You may think those menus on the systems give you options, but what they really do is, limits your choices that limit your thinking, imaginations, and creativity.

Baroness Greenfield said digital technologies had brought some amazing advances, such as finding information in just a few keystrokes, but she sounded a note of caution.
“As a neuroscientist I am very aware that the brain adapts to its environment – if you’re placed in an environment that encourages, say, a short attention span, which doesn’t encourage empathy or interpersonal communication, which is partially addictive or compulsive … all these things will inevitably shape who you are,” she said. (Extract from ABC News)

At an even deeper level, Dr. Greenfield also says that the substantial changes in our world that are driven by technology will not only affect our thinking and behaviour, but there will also be, as the emerging research is demonstrating, significant alterations in our brains. She cites, as an example, how dopamine, the influential neurochemical that is significantly impacted by technology, reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area most associated with so-called executive functioning including attention, self-control, abstract thinking, planning, decision making. The use of technology has also been shown to influence dopamine in the same way as do sex and gambling. (Jim Taylor; Psychology Today)

Virtual world will be fun and entertaining. It is not a strict no… no. You just need to know where the threshold is, the thin line between real life and virtual world.

Manoj Christopher

Director, Morpho Thinkers