A Simple Approach to Living With Less

The Great Video Game Detox Experiment

I have a love-hate relationship with video games. To be more precise, I love to hate video games.

I cannot stand the mind-numbing effect it has on my kids. I detest how turning on a game essentially means turning off your hearing to everything around you. I hate the time wasted. Video games are like mental clutter to me.

I have two boys, ages nine and eleven who absolutely live to play video games and this is not a good thing in my book. For the most part, they don’t understand my negative feelings towards video games.

Growing a Video Game Addiction

I don’t think I always hated video games so much. Like most issues that grow into problems, it started small and slowly built momentum. We didn’t adopt a minimalist mindset until we’d been married for many years so the issues weren’t always so obvious.

In our poor days as newlyweds, my husband and I used to play Tetris and other simple games for our date nights. Being married to a computer geek also meant he has a love of all things technology based. As the gaming systems advanced, so did our collection. Birthdays and Christmas were the perfect opportunities to add the newest gaming system and family members eagerly bought more games for the kids.

As our boys got older, it became a favorite pass time to play games with daddy. As time went by, they slowly transitioned to playing more games on their own. With a father who builds computers, there was eventually a computer for the kids with games on it as well.

Like many addictions, the easiest way to become addicted is to convince yourself you don’t have a problem and that you can handle things how they are.

Looking back, I can’t exactly pinpoint where things went wrong. But I do know if I had to do it over again, I would avoid video games completely.

The Wake-Up Call

I had grown increasingly unhappy with the issue of video games in our house. We have built in limits that our kids cannot play games before their day of homeschool and they only get a two hour window in the afternoon to play. If they took longer on their schoolwork, then they miss out on their play time. Sounds simple enough, right?

What we found was that although the chance to play games acted as a good motivator to finish up their lessons, it was their entire focus. They would get whiny if they missed out on their game time and they absolutely lived for weekends when no schoolwork stood in the way of their screen time.

The brainstorm for my Video Game Detox Experiment came the other day when my oldest son asked if they could have “a fun day.” I told him that we could have a fun day, but that didn’t mean they’d be having games all day. He replied,

“But having fun IS video games to us.”

Wow. In that moment, I saw how big of a problem we had and something had to change now.

Video Game Statistics

Here are some statistics on video games that I found. I was pretty shocked by many of them.

  • 72% of American households play computer or video games
  • 33% of gamers say that playing computer or video games is their favorite entertainment activity
  • Total Spent on Video Games for 2010: $25.1 BILLION

I was surprised by the average age of game players.

  • The average game player is 37 years old and has been playing games for 13 years.
  • 18% of gamers are under 18 yrs, 53% are 18-49yrs, and 29% are 50+ yrs

I believe much of this is because the habits that children are taught follow them into adulthood.

Many parents don’t see video game playing as a problem and actually see it as a positive experience:

  • 68% Believe game play provides mental stimulation or education
  • 54% Believe game play helps to connect with friends
  • 57% Believe game play helps the family spend time together

When you further consider the role that violent video games play, the research is even more disheartening. The top selling games each year are consistently the “Action” and “Shooter” games.

Violent video games are significantly associated with:

  • Increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect
  • Increased physiological arousal
  • Decreased pro-social (helping) behavior

High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to:

  • Delinquency
  • Fighting at school and during free play periods
  • Violent criminal behavior (e.g., self-reported assault, robbery)

I simply don’t want my family being any part of these kinds of statistics.

The Brainstorm

In the past we’d taken breaks from video games but it never seemed long enough to snap them out of their obsession.

So, I had the idea to take off an entire month from every kind of video game, computer game, portable gaming system, and even the little game apps on their iPods.

For the month of October our family will be video game free. I wasn’t met with as much resistance as I originally expected but I knew better than to say they’ll be gone for good.

After some time goes by, I plan to interview my boys on their thoughts about how the experiment is going. I’ll probably post an update here as well. I’m hopeful for big changes.

If you’d like to hear how the experiment goes, please consider signing up for updates. You can also follow me on Google+ or Twitter. Thanks so much for reading!

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Article originally published on 10/05/2011

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  1. You make some interesting points, but I personally don’t believe video games are bad. That being said… everybody will react differently to different stimulus.. whether it’s video games, alcohol, cake, stealing .. etc. I think in this day and age video gaming IS a healthy part of life when enjoyed in moderation.. like candy or hot dogs.

    We also home school and have used the whole “video games only when you’re done with your work” .. doesn’t work as well as I would like.. but we do so much other stuff as a family outdoor adventures, museums, etc… it’s not a huge issue.

    I think you have to do whats best for your family .. but don’t write off gaming as being uber-evil. There have been numerous studies showing that video games DO have benefits… and I’m sure there are studies about how violent games de-sensitize and destroy our brains !!

    You have to go with what works 🙂 Keep us updated on this .. very interesting.

    • Faith Janes says

      I am not saying that video games always bad. But I do think there are choices that are definitely better. We only have a certain about of time in a given day and I just question that video games are ever the best way to spend it.

      So we’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep you posted. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. My question is – is your husband doing this too? I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to initiate this at our house. Two of my 3 boys are totally addicted. My husband doesn’t play console or computer games much now but on his phone…oh boy. And we’re only a couple of months away from a new game releasing that I’m 99% certain will take most of his attention for several months…or longer.

    • Faith Janes says

      Yes, my husband is too. He’s gradually outgrown his own video game addiction. It was rough for a long time. It used to be his primary means of escape but I’m happy to say that it mainly behind us. Sometimes it’s a matter of filling the time with something else so it doesn’t seem so obvious that game time is missing. Last night we had a killer game of Uno and I was totally slaughtered. 🙂

  3. Dear Faith,

    I still remember the day back in 2005 when I lost the battle against video games. Our oldest was then 14 and my husband wanted to play video games with him. Enter the Xbox into my world and I’ve been fighting game addiction ever since. I struggle so much with this because a) this is the world these kids live in and, like it or not, familiarity with this games is part of their cultural literacy and b) I see how much they don’t do. It is so frustrating.

    I’ll be watching with interest how your experiment goes.

  4. I have two boys ages 7 and 9 that love their games. I find the games a powerful motivator for my two – losing all forms of games for 2-3 weeks is the consequence around here and it has seem to deter less than favorable behavior. What really bugs me is how aggressive and competitive my boys get playing even seemingly harmless games like mario kart. They become downright mean and I have broken up a wrestling match or two during gameplay. They do fine playing alone but when they play a two person game together watch out.

    Our Wii mysteriously unplugged itself from the flat screen and to plug it back in means taking the TV off the wall so that gaming console has been non-working for about 6 months or maybe longer now. The first few weeks the boys asked for it to be fixed but after awhile they quit asking. I think it’s like when we got rid of cable after awhile they got used to a new norm.

    It will be interesting to see how your experiment goes.


  5. We have unplugged the Wii our house until Dec. 1. We will re-evaluate then. The trick has been to fill that video game time with things we can do as a family & not have everyone off doing their own non-video game thing or tv programs.

  6. My kids played computer games when they were younger (they are all grown now) but it was typcially things like Rollercoaster Tycoon, Age of Empires or some horse game, or maybe Tetris. I do remember getting a little aggravated at how intense they would get when they got a new game (we never allowed any online games) but learned that if I left them alone for a week or so, the new wore off and they would slack off. We even bought a wii 3 years ago thinking it might be good for us to do something together, but that didn’t really take off.
    My husband has always loved games, but I think he also knows it is a problem for him. A few years ago when I started a new job and was working a lot of hours, hubby started playing something online. It went on for 2 months or so until we had some words about it. He has not played since.
    Oh, and as for me, I have never played many games, although I love Mahjong and can get hooked into playing for an hour or two, but not very often, once or twice a year.
    I think each family has to figure out what is best for them. What I have always said is that I would rather live life than play a game living someone else’s.
    Good luck, I’ll be interested to see how it goes for you!

  7. Hi, my name is Justin and I’m a video game “addict”. I was born in 1980 and my father recalls in 1982 watching me play Pong on our new Pong console. Growing up my mother also hated video games and tried varying strategies to get me to reduce my game hours. She would impose arbitrary game limits, conditions with schoolwork, conditions with “outside time”, game grounding, refusal to buy new games or consoles, etc. However, at the end of the day I would find a way to get my games. The point I’m trying to make with this is: Your children like what they like and you can’t stop that. Waging war on the things that they are passionate about will ultimately damage your relationship with them. Two things to try instead: 1. Constantly encourage them to try different things and do it WITH them! Hopefully, when they become bored with the video games (for me it began to flag somewhere around 22 but never fully died away) then they will utilize the memories of other experiences to develop new interests and pursuits. 2. Use their passion for games as a carrot to develop other beneficial skill sets. If you refuse to buy any gaming items for them, however, indicate that they are welcome to buy it for themselves by SAVING MONEY from their allowance by doing CHORES and making GOOD GRADES, getting a JOB, etc… then everyone can be happy!

    • Faith Janes says

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for sharing your story and experience with games. I certainly have no desire to impose arbitrary limits or try to make my kids like the same things I like. But I do believe it’s my responsibility as their parent to guide them. In the same way I don’t let them eat all the junk food they want, I’m not going to feed their addiction to video games.

      We’re going with the first approach you suggested actually. We’ve been playing lots of board games together, playing outside, and just spending a lot more time hanging out together. It’s really going great and my youngest son told me today he wants to add another week of no games. I’ll be doing an update post soon.

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. Thank you for writing that post I often feel the same myself and have personally seen a few people have their lives literally destroyed by video game addictions. A few years ago I took a month long fast from video games which helped me a lot and actually led to me to stop playing video games for a while although then they slowly started to creep into my life again. Even though it is not yet at the point where I would say that it is a problem at times I am concerned about the potential of it becoming one so upon reading your post you inspired me to take another month if not longer on a video game detox myself.

    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so happy to hear it’s inspiring you to examine the issue for yourself again. I’ve really been pleasantly surprised with how well it’s going. I’ve got a follow up post coming tomorrow where I interview my boys about how it’s going for them.

  9. Ross Greene says

    I was subjected to social media overload this weekend with 6 grandkids ranging in age from 6-13. I believe that gameboys, facebook, texting, video filming, etc., inhibit personal and verbal interaction. Further it exacerbates the already narcissistic trend of many adolescent youth today who can’t go 5 minutes with confirmation from their equally narcissistic friends that they are…OK! I tried to convey that until spending time helping to put together my 50th HS class reunion I maintained contact with 3-6 HS classmates…and College too.(OOPS…I just revealed that I’m an old fuddy duddy….GUILTY…sentence me to 10 minutes of reading adolescent facebook rants or 5 years in the electric chair….they are equal). How do we convince youth to maintain decorum in a catty and self absorbed world. Is this considered a rant?

    • Faith Janes says

      Rant away! I don’t think you’re alone in your feelings. Whether the topic is TV, video games, or social media there is this level of expectation that surrounds it all. Growing up I was considered strange by my friends that I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music and we didn’t have cable TV at home. Now, it’s considered strange if you don’t have Facebook, text constantly, have every video game system known to man….and oh yeah, it’s still strange if you don’t have TV. 🙂

      When is the down time? I’m more “connected” than I want to be sometimes since I make my living with a computer. But I’ve seen enough and my kids are old enough that I don’t want to continue with how things are or just assume things have to stay the same.

      So, call me crazy….weren’t all the great figures from history considered different and crazy too?

  10. Tracey Noelle says

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment and research. I am definately in a similar love-hate relationship with my boys and their games. My 8 year old would rather play video games than do anything else at all. If my older son doesn’t have a friend to go outside with, he’d rather be playing a video game as well. I agree that a minimum of a month is needed to make any kind of real difference. It will take that long to find new hobbies and develope a new habit. I don’t get much support on the video game front, either, for that matter.

  11. Where is the interview with your boys? I’m certain everyone who was following wants to know how it turned out. I don’t find anything about it…


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