As parents, it is worrying and disheartening to find that your child does not want to engage in any activity apart from playing video games for 16 hours a day. Telling them to read books does not work. Asking them to do chores does not work either. Your child will lash out and want to go back to playing games. These are not great alternatives to video games.
Parents are generally clueless about what activities to recommend to their inhouse gamer. When the child feels forced to sit down and read a book, something that they don’t enjoy, it does more harm than good. It sows resentment in the child and the parent because the child will go back to gaming against the parent’s wishes, and the child feels forced to do something that is fundamentally unenjoyable for them.
There is a fundamental lack of understanding on both sides of this equation. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how video games affect your child. It helps to understand why certain activities are more fun while others are boring for your child, and how, as parents, you can help them regain balance using alternatives to video games.
12 Alternatives to Video Games
- Art, dance, or music lessons
- Nature activities such as whitewater rafting or hiking
- Martial arts
- Learning to code
- Internships at startups
- Competitive Sports
- Boy Scouts/Eagle Scouts
- Learning creative art forms
- Playing the stock market with phantom portfolios or small amounts of money
- Roller coasters
While it is useful to know the alternatives to video games that can work, this list is incomplete without understanding why certain activities work for certain kinds of gamers.
Different kinds of gamers seek to fulfill different needs from video games. To learn what these needs are, we first need to understand how games affect the mind.
How do Video Games Affect the Brain?
Video games affect the brain in several ways. However, we are going to focus on there are three distinct effects:
- Dopamine Exhaustion
- Suppressing Negative Emotions
- Triumph Circuit
Our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine when we are having fun. This chemical governs the feeling of pleasure. When we play games, our brain releases a constant supply of dopamine with random bursts.
Over time, our brain gets used to a certain level of dopamine, and we need to play for longer durations to have the same amount of fun. If we keep playing for prolonged periods, our brain gets used to a certain amount of dopamine, which makes other activities feel less enjoyable. Anything other than gaming is not as fun.
Negative Emotion Suppression
Video games also suppress negative emotions. The amygdala is the part of our brain that governs the feeling of negative emotion. It is active when we experience negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, frustration, etc. Moreover, fMRI studies have shown that when we start playing a video game while our amygdala is active and we are feeling negative emotions, our amygdala shuts off.
Over time, this can lead to a condition called Alexithymia, which is the inability to determine your inner emotional state. That is why video games are great coping mechanisms. One can easily play a game and feel better.
The Triumph circuit is not a physical structure in our brains. It is more of a psychological pattern that all human beings share. The triumph circuit gets activated when we feel challenged and, as a result of overcoming that challenge, receive a reward.
Learn more about the triumph circuit in this video:
Video games have found a way to hack this circuit. If we feel inadequately challenged, we can turn on a video game and change that. Video games provide us with challenges and reward us in a way that is subservient to us. As a result, we don’t need to rely on the real world to feel tested and receive rewards.
Click here to learn more about why these three factors make video games addictive.
Alternatives to Playing Video Games
Now that we understand how video games affect the brain and the needs that they fulfill, we can start to look at different activities that will make suitable replacements for your child’s gaming habit.
However, the first step is to understand what kinds of games your child plays. This understanding will help you determine whether they will enjoy a particular hobby or not since different types of games fulfill different needs. Some of the game genres mentioned here are:
- MMORPGs such as Final Fantasy 14 and World of Warcraft.
- Adventure games such as The Legend of Zelda, Dark Souls, and Skyrim.
- First Person Shooters (FPS) such as Fortnite and Call of Duty.
- Sports games such as FIFA.
- Collectible Card Games (CCGs) such as Hearthstone, Artifact, and Gwent.
- Clan games such as Clash of Clans.
- Turn-Based Strategy games such as the Civilizations, XCOM, and the Total War series.
- MOBAs such as League of Legends and Dota 2.
- Role-Playing Games (RPGs) such as the Final Fantasy series, Witcher, and Diablo 3.
Alternatives to Video Games for Your Resident Gamer
- Martial Arts, Competitive sports, and Rollercoasters: These activities are suitable for players of First-Person Shooter and Sports games. These gamers enjoy the thrill they get from a sense of danger. They have a high competitive drive and love winning against adversity. They also like to acquire new skills.
- Internships at Startups: Internships are great for players of Collectible Card Games and Strategy Games. These gamers love to understand complex systems and attain quantitative mastery over a subject. They also have a high competitive drive. Since startups are complex and competitive systems that require employees to do more than just their daily tasks, a gamer will feel adequately challenged there. Bonus points if it is a tech, financial or political startup, as they require a high degree of strategizing and problem-solving.
- Boy Scouts/Eagle Scouts, Volunteering, and Habitat for Humanity: These activities are suitable for players of Clan games and MMORPGs. The players of these games usually play for a feeling of a shared community, so community-based activities that involve working together towards a common goal will most likely be enjoyable for these gamers.
- Learning to code, Tutoring: Players of RPGs, Turn-Based Strategy, and CCGs will enjoy coding and tutoring since they involve understanding a system, quantitative mastery, and learning new skills (similar to internships at startups).
- Playing the stock market with phantom portfolios or small amounts of money: CCG and Turn-Based strategy gamers will enjoy playing the stock market (safely). These players get satisfaction from planning out and executing a successful strategy, and they can achieve the same feeling from the stock market.
- Nature activities: Outdoor activities work for players of adventure games, MOBAs, and sports games, because these players enjoy exploration and are highly curious. Hiking is excellent for those not seeking adrenaline, while whitewater rafting works for those seeking adrenaline.
- Learning an art or creative form: Players of adventure games will enjoy learning to play a musical instrument, woodworking, painting, sculpture, etc. because they activate parts of the brain that interpret sensory information. These people get rushes from seeing new things, navigating new landscapes, and creating something new.
Alternatives to Video Games that will NOT work
- Reading a book: In theory, reading a book is a suitable replacement for a gamer. Books can offer rich stories and enjoyable narratives, much like video games. They can also act as an escape from the real world. Moreover, they also come with great benefits, such as boosting reading comprehension, increased vocabulary, and improved communication skills. However, reading a book is too dull for a brain that likes faster-paced activity. A gamer’s mind has high dopamine tolerance, and books cannot live up to the standard of “fun” set by video games. At the beginning of their gaming cleanse, a gamer will not be able to read or enjoy books. They will not have the attention span because the book is not fast-paced enough to be stimulating.
- Playing board games with family: Board games also seem like a good replacement activity for video games. However, many gamers feel quite defensive when their games get taken away from them. If they have to do something else, such as play a board game with family, they will associate the negative feelings of not being able to play games with spending time with family. As a parent, this is not a good association to instill in your child. It is more effective to spend time with your child while they’re playing games. That will help them get used to your presence when they are having fun, and they will not feel threatened that their games will get taken away. Aside from that, board games are too dull for the gamer, as they’re slow compared to video games.
- Play outside: While spending time in nature is great for your child, “playing outside” is too abstract for a gamer to process. Moreover, one of the biggest reasons that children turn to video games is because they get bullied outside their homes. If your child escapes to video games to avoid playing outside with their friends, they might be doing it for a good reason.
- Household chores: Let’s face it — chores are tedious, especially for children. It will be especially hard for a gamer to stop playing games and do chores because they’re still at home where their video games are accessible. Their environment hasn’t changed, and they will keep wondering why they have to do chores when they can play video games.
Open-Ended vs. Close-Ended Problem Solving
Some activities won’t work for gamers because they are too abstract. For example, “working out” is not actionable. How does one workout?
Video games put us in an environment, tell us the rules, and then ask us to solve a problem given a particular set of conditions. A gamer’s mind gets used to going through this process, so when they find themself in a situation where the rules are unclear or open-ended, they get stuck. They don’t know how to deal with these open-ended problems, because video games have trained their minds to solve close-ended problems.
That affects a gamer’s motivation as well. Players are less likely to clean their room because their brain does not know how to solve open-ended problems. It is difficult for them to break down that task into actionable steps, which keeps them from attempting that task in the first place.
Learn more about open-ended vs close-ended problem-solving in this video:
One solution to this problem is to help them break down this task into several steps. For example, cleaning your room can be broken down into cleaning your cupboard, picking clothes off the floor, making the bed, etc. Each of these is an actionable task that will help the gamer learn how to solve open-ended problems.
Click here to read more about detoxing your child from video games.
To suggest activities that work for your child, you need to understand what games they enjoy playing. That will give you a significant insight into how their brain functions and why the games they play are enjoyable to them.
The first step to doing that is to get on their team. If your child’s perspective is “Me + video games vs. my parents,” then it will be hard to get them to do anything.
Our Parents Course can help you build rapport with your child and help them regain balance. Click here to learn more.