The Generation Gap

In my last post on the Xbox Generation, I received this anonymous comment:

This is ridiculous. I think this post just shows a glaring generational barrier. You just don’t get it. People play Xbox. People play PC games. PlayStation. DS.

I think it is one of the follies and conceits of youth to assume that there is a generational barrier (“old people just don’t understand life!”) whenever someone older expresses concern about what the young are doing. What, older people didn’t have leisure activities when they were young? We didn’t have temptations, ways to waste away our lives and stunt our progress?

Look, video and computer games were not invented in the last five years. They been around for a couple decades, though they are much better now, of course. Television and movies have been around for decades. Game playing has been around for centuries. And so have addictions and vices of all kinds.

We have an Xbox. I enjoy some of the games on it. We’ve got Super Nintendo and had the original Nintendo and Play Station. We’ve long had computer games and all sorts of games in my family. I have kids who enjoy such games. And we’ve all learned that we need limits and controls. Strict limits to keep such things to a small corner of our lives.

As a former bishop, young men’s president, and friend and associate of many people, I have many years of experience watching people harm their lives in various ways. Games out of control have been a common theme. Smart, cool young men who spent their free time absorbed in video games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, poker, computer games, and Risk (one of my favorites when I was younger) seemed to harm themselves. These games were OK when they were for occasional social activities, but when it became their obsession, they missed out on so much of life. I’ve seen several people with great potential – almost always men – lose so much through their obsessions with games.

In the 1980s, I knew a Ph.D. student who become so obsessed with a stupid role playing game on a Vax computer that he spent too many of his hours in graduate school playing games rather than doing the computational modeling work his advisor thought he was doing. He ultimately lost his Ph.D. and lost a job he had accepted. I hope he has changed – people can change – but what a tragedy that was for him and his family.

I have seen similar patterns with other young men and adults who became too hooked on video and computer games. I’ve seen them drop out of school, neglect duties and responsibilities, fail in work, and become far less than they could be – and I’ve seen this over and over for years.

The abuses of some does not condemn games in general, just as the destruction caused by immorality does not condemn sex itself. But without controls, when something gets out of control or takes over too much of a persons life, harm follows – and video games seem especially adept at drawing people into spending – no, wasting – vast portions of their lives.

We older people, suffering from our generational blindness, see large portions of the younger generation unable to carry out a meaningful conversation, unable to pursue intelligent goals, unable to socialize and pursue marriage and career responsibilities, in part because they have become slaves to addictions that include the self-absorbed and often dark world of video games.

Enjoy them, but with caution and strict limits. Don’t let them become your life or your only form of recreation.

Back to the general issue of the alleged generation gap: the tendency of youth to immediately reject advice from the older generation, when it challenges the norms and favorite behaviors of the young, is akin to the tendency of the modern world to reject the advice of our old modern prophets and especially the advice from those especially ancient geezers in the scriptures. What could Mormon and Moroni know of our day? “How dare they criticize us – they know nothing of modern life and just don’t get it.” It’s a deadly form of pride, coupled with pride’s best friend, ignorance.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

11 thoughts on “The Generation Gap

  1. I read your post on Xbox games, and enjoyed the back-and-forth in the comments. Why you chose to single out Xbox as the generic reference to “video games” is beyond me when most of my friends play Playstation or computer games instead, but the general effect is the same.

    One point that I think you’re missing, however, is that a lot of times, these games are a social event. They’re a new forum of socialization previously (and currently) unrecognized as such.

    In the past decaed, games have shifted slowly from being the recourse of the individual playing alone in his room to a forum for discussion, debate, and yes, a lot of fun, with a lot of people partipating worldwide.

    Sure, there are dangers of getting too involved. There are dangers of leaving other, more important things aside in pursuit of a gaming goal. But I wouldn’t argue that games are any more dangerous than the copious amounts of television that people watch.

    At least games are often interactive or social these days. I’d much rather go on a date with a guy to play video games than to a movie — we’d have more fun, and I’d get to know him a lot better while playing with him than while sitting in a dark theater.

  2. Wow. You are still just showing you don’t get it. I mean, you want me to heed un-informed anedoctal advice like I heed the prophets? Should I scribble your post in the margins of my scriptures right next to the words of Moroni?

    You say young people can’t carry on a decent conversation, that we aren’t intelligent, that we lack social skills, and basicly, that because of video games and our slavery to them, we are all a bunch of bums who are completly incapable of being adults. Gee thanks.

    The previous commenter made some excellent points, namely that playing video games, XBOX inparticular, is usually a social activity. Blogging sure isn’t, and truthfully, sitting around reading scriptures or attending temple sessions sure ain’t going to land anyone a girlfriend/boyfriend either.

    The percentage of idiots who have no life because the are spending all their time playing WoW or Everquest is small. But, even in those games, you aren’t plalying solo. You are online with millions of other people from all over the world, playing coopertivly and making friends.

    Can you tell me what you think would be an appropriate activity for young adults to engage in? Should they all get together and pictionary instead? How is that different than getting together and playing Halo, or meeting online and playing Counterstrike or having a WoW instance? Its not. But, like most people your age, you just don’t understand technology and so think its something that should be shunned and feared instead of embraced. How is interactive entertainment worse than entertainment that is spoon-fed and requires no brain cells, like TV and movies? But you don’t hear any doomsday talk about young people spending too much time watching movies, nope, because you like movies. Your generation doesn’t play videogames, but, you do watch movies. So, you blame that which you don’t understand and don’t participate in for what you perceive to be huge glaring problems with our lives.

    Guess what, our generation was sick of the dissaproving you-aren’t-as-smart-as-us attitude in high school. We will write the programs that run your life, we will create the games that your kids and grandkids play, we will engineer the technology that your mind can’t even comprenhend, that will make this world a better place.

    But, in the mean time, please never try to say that those who don’t heed your (bad) advice of not heeding the scriptures, thats just rediculous. You really really aren’t that wise.

  3. I find two things very interesting. 1) That this negative banterist keeps posting anonymously instead of owning her comments. 2) The difference in the tones between this blog’s author and the annonymous writer. If the annonymous writer spent more time reading the scriptures, serving, and engaging socially, she would recognize her overall negativity and pride. All the blog’s author is saying is that there are better things to do with your time that spend countless hours playing video games. He could have said people waste their time doing thousands of other things, which we do, but because he targeted video games, the annonymous writer’s guitly conscious was struck and she felt compelled not only to defend herself but to put him down. Highly unnecessary. If you dont like what he has to say, dont read his blog!

  4. “That’s just anecdotal evidence” is a common way of dismissing someone else’s examples that back up their point.

  5. anon: I think that even when “we” (young people) don’t think that older people “get it”, we ought to heed and consider their council. With age comes experience and maturity, both of which you and I should value if we can gain more of it by learning from others. Jeff is an intelligent, restrained, and thoughtful Priesthood leader, and should be respected as such. I wish that you could reflect on your post a little more, reread it. As sick as one generation may be of the elders having a “you-aren’t-as-smart-as-us attitude” like you phrased it, imagine the older generations feelings towards youth who quickly dismiss any heartfelt advice and caution expressed towards them. I am afraid that you have some growing up to do before you can realize this.FYI, many see bold comments posted under anon instead of standing by a name as cowardice.

  6. Look, video and computer games were not invented in the last five years. They been around for a couple decades, though they are much better now, of course

    Untrue! Asteroids for the Atari 2600 is still the best game ever made!

  7. Anon, I did mention movies also in my list of the ways people have wasted time in the past. I’m OK with movies and games and do not shun either, but the point was losing balance and missing out on more important experiences by giving in to excess.

    I live with technology and use it. I have patents and publications on topics such as new uses of RFID (radiofrequency identification technology), virtual reality applications, and electrochromic graphics. The technologies you refer to and use are not all that new, frankly, just better developed than in the past.

    I am just amazed at the tendency of some young people to think that their use of someone else’s technology makes them smart and advanced. If you’re a programmer at Google or Sony or some radical startup changing the future of the Internet or gaming, I’m impressed. But for the thousands of kids who have become addicted to entertainment, whether it’s movies or RPGs or video games or any of the other technologies invented by members of the older generation, I would suggest that you make sure you are developing the skills and discipline you will need to transform the world. There are times when it’s helpful to know how to blast the guts out of aliens on a TV screen, but the real-world demand for those skills is relatively low at the moment.

    Of course there are things about the rising generation that I don’t get – I’ll admit that – and there are plenty of things about my generation that baffle me.

  8. Jeff,

    I can’t cite the source, but video games have helped prepare the latest generation of fighter pilots and “combat engineers”. The hand-eye coordination developed seems to have real-life application in those specialties.

    However, the vast majority of teens addicted to video games don’t go on to become fighter-jocks and combat specialists.

    I read somewhere that the two kids who shot up Columbine high school were heavy video game players. And even though they had a LITTLE firearm experience, their “hit ratio” (# of bullets hitting a target divided by total bullets fired) was higher than most police officers. Their high hit ratio was attributed to hand-eye coordination developed through video games.

    But I don’t know if that analysis of the Columbine shooters was just speculation or had a firm basis.

    And wasn’t it on your blog where you wrote about taking a group of kids to a real-life flight simulator, and one of the kids with experience on a home-computer-based flight-sim program really wow’ed the people who operated the multi-million dollar “real” flight simulator?

  9. I wonder if the church’s Addiction Recovery Program will add a segment for those suffering from video ga me addiction…

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