Self-discipline in gaming: Curse you, Pac-Land!

Posted on May 3, 2014

When I was quite young I had a very formative experience that taught me a lot about gaming behaviour. It’s something that might help other gamers, or kids, or parents.

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The culprit for the loss of my childhood

At about the age of 8 I was training in Jishukan Jujitsu (a bit like Karate) with my brother, at St Jay’s Recreation Centre in Salisbury. In the lobby they had a few arcade machines, and if we got there a bit early we used to have a bit of a go for 20c each (it was those good old days). I remember they had Pac-Land, the platformer: it was the time when Pac Man (and his sidekick Ms. Pac Man) looked just about ready to take over the world.

Now I’ve got a somewhat addictive personality, and this applies to games too: sometimes I just find it a bit hard to stop and get back to real life. One evening I played longer than usual, and certainly longer than I should have, because I got late to training which earned me a stern and public rebuke from the sensei. My childlike brain didn’t realise that he obviously would have seen me there playing when he entered, just like anyone else.

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The martial rigour of this mini-Chad was no match for the temptations of Pac-Land

This telling-off from a respected superior was embarrassing and rather devastating at the time. It jarred me out of the selfish, private Pac-Land that I had been in and made me realise that my choices around playing video games had real consequences in the world around me. I learned then and there that a bit of balance was called for, and that I wouldn’t always have someone there to tell me when to stop doing this, and start doing that. The was the start of me regulating my own gaming behaviour.

It seems to me that many of the problems people (including young people) have with gaming and media more broadly result from a lack of the ability to self-regulate their own behaviour. Perhaps if we give children some choice – within reason, of course – about how they game and then highlight the consequences of those choices, they’ll grow up being able to handle the conflicting demands and priorities of modern life. Plus, sweets are sweeter in moderation anyway.


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