Video Games Are ‘Spiritual Opium’
The World Health Organization (who) estimates that every year 350,000 people around the world die from opioid use. Thirty percent of those deaths are from overdose. In 2019, 62 million people worldwide used some kind of opioid. This is a real epidemic.
However, there is an even more prolific epidemic going on inside millions of people’s homes: the video game “opioid” epidemic.
On August 2, Chinese state media said online gaming was “spiritual opium … that has grown into an industry worth hundreds of billions. … No industry, no sport, can be allowed to develop in a way that will destroy a generation.” Even Communist Chinese state media can see the massively destructive nature of the modern video game culture. It is derailing the lives of millions of people. Video games have been engineered to act like a drug to the brain, making people search for the next “high.”
This spiritual opium is dangerous to physical, mental and spiritual health, and even national security.
A Worldwide Epidemic
According to Statisa, there were 2.7 billion gamers worldwide in 2020. China leads the way with 743 million gamers. The United States has 277 million gamers, with the average spending 7 to 12 hours each week playing games.
The Telegraph’s Annabel Heseltine wrote in “‘Spiritual Opium’: Could Gaming Addiction Ruin a Generation?”: “In 2018, the World Health Organization classified ‘gaming disorder’ as an illness with, by their conservative estimate, some 86 million victims.”
The who defines “gaming disorder” as “a pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
This is describing an addiction. When someone’s behavior becomes subservient to satisfying the desire for that activity, it is an addiction. The who website says, “For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behavior pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
If 86 million people have been displaying this behavior for 12 months, how many more millions are destroying their lives but have not been diagnosed?
One of the most addictive video games is Fortnite with more than 250 million players worldwide. The game has made more than $5.5 billion annually and has prompted health experts, school principals and parents to warn about the addictive nature of the game. Trumpet executive editor Stephen Flurry wrote in “Video Game Addiction: A ‘Battle Royale’—for Your Mind”:
There is a reason why Fortnite is so addictive. Modern game designers study slot machines, which are designed to make gamblers keep coming back for just one more chance to win. This is called a variable reward system. Fortnite capitalizes on the human brain’s love of rewards and exploits the lack of self-control in adolescents, which makes them particularly susceptible to this reward system.
Video game developers are creating “virtual drugs” and targeting children, all to make a profit. Heseltine outlines the dangers video games pose to school-age children, writing:
From hailing the education potential of the Internet, schools are now warning that classroom iPads and online textbooks are normalizing the use of screens in a way which is potentially harmful to teenage brains. mri scans have found the part of the brain which controls compulsive behavior and decision-making tend to be less developed in teenagers who game for more than 10 hours a day. …
A survey by the charity ChildWise revealed schoolchildren now spend an average of six hours a day in front of screens, while a separate report suggested the figure for teenagers is closer to 10 hours, with 43 percent having Internet access in their bedrooms.
Children are being left unmonitored and unrestrained in their consumption of video games. School-age children have free access to the Internet behind a closed bedroom door, open access to any manner of media on the Internet. This leaves them vulnerable to strangers online via video game communities, forums and chat rooms, where kids are encouraged to run up bills on their parents’ credit cards. There is also the increasing problem of pedophiles and sexual predators using video game platforms to target children.
In 2019, the New York Times warned that video games and online chats are “hunting grounds” for perverts. In one specific example, a parent was horrified when she discovered her 13-year-old son was being exposed to child bestiality videos on his Discord server (a chat room you can use when online gaming). In this case, the 13-year-old was only allowed to play Minecraft and Fortnite in a room where he was monitored by his parents constantly. None of that stopped this teenager from being exposed to unspeakable filth.
All of this has gotten much worse since the coronavirus lockdowns have isolated children at home. Many parents were pressured to allow kids unrestricted access to video games and the Internet so their kids could have a social life. “Video games are one of the primary ways friends and family are staying connected through a difficult time,” said surveyor Mat Piscatella.
Novelist Abi Silver wrote: “The problem is that although a significant bank of research links high levels of online gaming with depression, social anxiety, suicidal tendencies and difficulties in holding down relationships, they are not joined up and rarely supported by public health initiatives.”
It also takes a toll on physical health. Heseltine outlined five ways video games affect physical health: shortsightedness, “gamer’s thumb,” less sleep, increased obesity and painful posture.
Another side effect from video game addiction is young people in the prime of life choosing to stay home and play video games instead of working. In the first quarter of 2021, the U.S. had 9 million open jobs with 10 million unemployed. No one is urgent to get a job. Could video game addiction have something to do with it?
During the covid pandemic, I was a manager at a distribution warehouse, and I personally saw this all the time. Young people would leave work early, or decide to take multiple days off, so they could go home and play video games. Even when they worked 10-hour shifts, they told me they would go home and play video games for hours, only getting a couple hours of sleep. When the Playstation 5 was released, we had to scramble and call emergency overtime because so many people were no-shows, all because they wanted to get their new console.
Despite the mountain of evidence showing how detrimental video games are to society, the industry has no intention of slowing down.
In 2020, the industry had a total revenue of $175 billion, an increase of 20 percent. Last year, the Trumpet reported that covid-19 was the main reason the industry is thriving. “There is a correlation between the increase in video game usage and the covid-19 pandemic,” we wrote. “Thirty-five percent of American gamers said ‘their current play time during covid-19 is higher than their play time from earlier this year.’”
These billions of dollars are not going to American and Japanese companies, but are actually flowing into China.
While the Chinese state media was correct in identifying video games as dangerous, the statement was actually propaganda doublespeak. While condemning the industry, China is actually the largest consumer and producer of video games in the world. This is partially due to its large population but is also a deliberate strategy to create a powerful propaganda tool.
John Mac Ghlionn wrote for American Conservative in “China Will Use Video Games to Mold Minds”:
After decades of American and Japanese dominance, China is on the rise. In a piece for cnbc, Sam Shead warns that “China’s influence is growing as its tech giants snap up gaming studios around the world.” With these acquisitions, and consequent Chinese influence, there is every reason to believe that “video games could look a little different in the coming years as a result.”
China is actually planning on using video games to inject propaganda into the minds of Westerners. Abishur Prakash, cofounder of the Center for Innovating the Future, said: “China has several ways it can take its ideals to the world through games, and build a new kind of global power.” Since China has the largest gaming market, more and more developers want to operate in China. But that comes with a price: To operate in China, they must partner with a local Chinese company, which has a say in the content of the games.
The Chinese firm Tencent, which has strong ties to the Chinese government, bought Riot Games for over $400 million in 2015. Riot made one of the biggest games of all time, League of Legends. Tencent has also invested and has bought out some of the largest developers in the world, including Activision Blizzard and Epic Games (who makes Fortnite). It has even bought out Discord, the communications platform. Not only can China control the content and narratives in the games, subtly injecting propaganda into the minds of billions, but they also have access to the personal data of millions of Americans.
This is a major national security threat. Jordan Schneider and David Aitel warned of this in a Wall Street Journal article:
Are Chinese video games really a threat to U.S. national security? Yes—China is already using games to spread its soft power and collect data on U.S. citizens, as the current administration has highlighted. More insidiously, Beijing’s access to millions of gamers’ computers gives its spies an unrivaled opportunity to use games to conduct intelligence operations.
This leaves Americans completely helpless to being exploited by the Chinese state. Schneider and Aitel explain:
The more direct national security threat is the access to data China has gained from millions of gaming installs. Data harvested from games could be exploited far more easily than TikTok data. In most cases, gamers playing online must provide their real names, payment information, dates of birth and locations, and they create constant voice samples using in-game chats. In the hands of a Chinese gaming company, it’s reasonable to assume that the data are being stored in China, perhaps in an Alibaba or Tencent cloud service, at the whim of an aggressive Chinese intelligence body.
What might Beijing’s Ministry of State Security do with video game data? Today, it takes only 10 minutes of audio to create a voice deepfake that might fool your friends and family. This is particularly concerning in light of the likely Chinese hack into the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 2018, which holds detailed personal information on everyone who has applied for government clearance. The Ministry of State Security could combine those two streams to cross-correlate government officials’ locations every time they play a video game.
Since all modern video games have anti-cheating software that runs undetected on your computer, the Chinese government could use that to access files on the host’s computer. Three quarters of Americans play video games and could have all their personal data stored on a database in China.
This virtual opioid is not only destroying our society, it is even undermining our national security.
However, the greatest damage it is doing is to spiritual health.
“Spiritual opium” is an apt description. Video games have become an idol to millions of people. They are consuming people’s minds so much they cannot focus on anything else. It is their god, to whom they give the prime of their energy, time and effort.
The real author of this epidemic is not the greedy developers or the Communist Chinese, but the spiritual adversary to all of mankind: Satan the devil. He wants our minds to be consumed by idols and by evil. He wants to destroy each person’s incredible human potential.
Perhaps you don’t think of a physical thing, like video games, as an idol. But in reality, we all have idols. Herbert W. Armstrong explained this beautifully in his autobiography:
Whoever you are, you have, or you have had, an idol. You have had another “god” before the true, living Almighty God. It might be your hobby or your habitual pastime. It might be your husband, or wife, or child or children. It might be your job. It might be your own vanity, or the lipstick you paint on, or your business or profession. Very often it is the opinion of your friends, your family, your group of social or business contacts.
Video games can be an idol. It can actually separate you from God, which is the worst possible consequence for anyone. The evidence shows how video game addiction leads to all sorts of other societal and family issues. It is literally unraveling families and filling young minds with a fantasy they worship, instead of seeking to have a relationship with God.
How can video game addiction be fixed? Many psychologists and therapists try to help millions of people a year overcome this addiction. But Mr. Armstrong provided the answer:
But whatever it is, that idol must first be crushed, smashed—it must be literally torn out of your mind, even though it hurts more than having all your teeth pulled out and perhaps a jawbone, too! I don’t believe that many people experience this painlessly. I don’t know of any anesthetic that will render it pleasurable. Usually it seems like something more excruciating than the agony of death by the cruelest torture.
Mr. Armstrong learned from harsh experience that idols have to be smashed and completely removed. Only then can an addiction, a problem, an idol, be conquered. It might be the most painful thing you do, but it can lead to fantastic, abundant living! Once an idol is smashed, it has to be replaced with something. Stephen Flurry wrote in “Video Game Addiction: A ‘Battle Royale’—for Your Mind”:
What will really make you happy? Serving. That requires human interaction. Develop deep and lasting friendships …. Learn to share yourself in human relationships. Share your warmth, your love, your plans, your interests, your dreams. Listen to others as they share these things too. Offer kindness and encouragement when others are down. You can never give away too much love!
This is how we can overcome and grow individually and as a nation. But this change must be accompanied by a change in how parents work with their children.
The video game epidemic is exposing the failure of parenting in our Western world. Mr. Flurry explained:
The designers of these programs aren’t the only ones to blame. The parents of tech-addicted children should have put restrictions on them to prevent them from becoming addicted in the first place. Whenever I read stories of children playing video games until 4 in the morning, I wonder, Why aren’t the parents making them go to bed?
Children want no limits. Even parents believe that limits are generally bad. But children without limits are miserable!
How many children, like the 13-year-old boy cited earlier, want help and desperately need protection, but are left to the mercy of this merciless industry? Parents who actually restrain their children, protect not only their kids but also their country.
There is so much more to life than living in video game fantasies and following the trends of society. God has an incredible potential planned for each and every person! It does take tough decisions, but it leads to real abundant life—more rewarding and adventurous than any video game could ever be! To learn about your potential, please read The Incredible Human Potential, by Herbert W. Armstrong.