Stop Pretending Games Can’t Harm You, New Book Argues

Stop Pretending Games Can’t Harm You, New Book Argues

Are video games bad for you? Could they even kill you? That’s the kind of rhetoric we’re accustomed to hearing from cable television, not from one of the best journalists and critics who writes about games. Simon Parkin’s terrific new book, Death by Video Game, ends on just that note, however. “No, video games won’t save you — they might even kill you — and the jury is still very much out as to whether they improve or imperil the world,” Parkin writes in his book’s final chapter.

I called Parkin and asked him about this ambivalence toward games — given that he writes about them for places like The New Yorker, the Guardian, Eurogamer, and, on occasion, Kotaku — for the latest episode of Shall We Play a Game?, the podcast I co-host.

“Once I started having to opportunity to write about video games for an audience that traditionally doesn’t care about video games and thinks they’re a waste of time — all the clichés — the tendency is to go, ‘Hey guys! Video games are great! You guys should really take notice!’ And to slip into this advocacy role,” he said. “Whereas when you’re writing for people who are very familiar with video games and conversant in them, you allow yourself to be much more nuanced. Or I did, at least.

“That’s the wrong approach,” he went on. “If we want video games to be taken seriously, then don’t pretend that they’re all amazing. Because they’re not. And we all know that. Loads of them are terrible. Isn’t it better, don’t you treat the medium with more respect, if you can say, ‘Some parts of these video games are incredible, and they moved me, and they taught me about the world, and they taught me about myself. And then some parts of them, I’m really unclear on whether they are any good and whether they help anyone, or whether they actually depress the spirit in some way.’ And it’s possible to hold those two thoughts at once, if we’re adults.”

You can listen to the podcast here. The interview begins at about the 12:30 mark, after JJ and I finish reviewing Volume, the new game from Mike Bithell.

Parkin and I also discussed his decision to write a book that begins and ends with a discussion of why several young men have died during extended video-game binges in Internet cafes in East Asia. Millions of people around the world are playing video games all the time. It seems unexceptional that some people would die while playing them. Couldn’t these deaths be coincidental?

“The circumstances in which many of these deaths are taking place are eerily similar,” Parkin said. They usually take place in South Korea or Taiwan, in 24-hour Internet cafes, and the victims are usually young men who have been playing a game for an extremely long period, days at a time. “Why are people playing video games for so long, and losing their sense of time in a way that you don’t, perhaps, with a book or a crossword, or even with a Netflix season?” he said.

Equally important, he said, is that this urge to lose oneself in a video game is something that all players can recognise, even if it doesn’t lead them to amuse themselves to death. “Maybe I didn’t play games for 48 hours without sleep in a public place when I was a teenager,” he said. “But it’s something that I probably would have done, had the opportunity arisen. There’s something common in there. Anyone who plays video games can perhaps recognise a part of themselves in that.”

Disclosure: I am in the acknowledgments of Death by Video Game because a few paragraphs of an essay by Parkin that I edited, for Medium’s New York Review of Video Games, ended up in the book. And as I mentioned earlier, Parkin, who has written about video games for the Guardian, Eurogamer,, and the Awl, among other places, has also written on occasion for Kotaku.

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Chris Suellentrop is the critic at large for Kotaku and a host of the podcast Shall We Play a Game? Contact him by writing [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @suellentrop.

Top Photo: NetEase


  • Well of course video games can harm you! Just the same as drinking too much water will kill you. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop drinking water any time soon.

    • Yea and I think all the commenters here agree with you. But I think the point he was trying to make is that somehow people are more likely to binge on games this way more than anything else.

      Sure people might have the same tendency to binge on other things, but usually there will be an external limiter that stops them. You run out of money in gambling, your body fatigues when exercising, you pass out when drinking.

      Gaming on the other hand…though it may not be the only easily “bingeable” activity, is still one of the easier ones to go overboard with.

      At least that’s what I took away from this article

      • people are more likely to binge on games this way more than anything else.

        You obviously never saw my girlfriend’s reaction to finding Greys Anatomy on Netflix haha.

  • Don’t go doing week long marathons of an MMO, i.e. everything in moderation, and you’ll be fine.

  • “…usually take place in South Korea or Taiwan, in 24-hour Internet cafes, and the victims are usually young men who have been playing a game for an extremely long period, days at a time”.

    Pretty sure if you do anything for days at a time it’ll be bad for your health. Even exercising does that.

  • 100% of people who died after the age of 1 have died from breathing Air, we must stop this as it is killing us. This is as stupid as the research that says this will give cancer and this, pretty much anything will kill us or give us cancer. So how about they piss off and let people do what they want. Also obesity is becoming more of a problem then gaming, so why dont they try fix that first.

  • To everyone who’s saying ‘but you can do x, and it’ll kill us eventually’ you’re missing the point.

    There’s two points to take away from this article.

    1. Perhaps videogames aren’t as harmless as video game advocates suggest.

    2. Why this may be is due to the way which people may lose grip on reality to the point where they literally play themselves to death that doesn’t seem to happen in other examples like netflix or books.

    I personally think it’s quite an interesting point to bring up.

  • the dying in internet cafe’s always made me wonder if its a combination of fatigue, over dosing on caffeine and diagnosed health issues at play

  • Meh. Just another form of natural selection. If someone is stupid enough to binge on anything for 48 hrs then thats one less moron to feed.

  • When the guy suggests that people could be reading a book or watching a season on Netflix He lost any support I could have given him. People will marathon Netflix for days on end, forgetting to eat as well, yet that is acceptable but it’s dangerous for video games?

    Flawed “logic” is flawed

    • Do you have the data on that?
      The fact that people marathon Netflix days on end and forget to eat?
      Can you flick some of that this way?

      Moreover, Parkin actually says:
      …losing their sense of time in a way that you don’t, perhaps, with a book or a crossword, or even with a Netflix season?

      The way he has phrased his sentence is that the way in which one becomes lost in a video game is explicitly different from that in a book, a crossword, or a Netflix season. This is a hypothesis, not a fact. He is offering an opinion. The logic isn’t flawed.

      • But isn’t @mase just offering an opinion that Parkin’s logic is flawed? Parkin, however really, truly ignores many potentially contributing factors to this behaviour and simply asks rhetorical questions as some sort of justification. He also makes note of the geographical location and scenarios in these people’s lives, yet puts a greater emphasis on the media they were consuming at the time. What was the logic in doing that? What was the logic in omitting and dismissing so many immediately relevant components and emphasising another? He also uses the word “perhaps”, which means his logic may actually be flawed immediately before another unsubstantiated rhetorical question. He’s basically saying “I kinda think this but could be wrong due to variables unknown to me but consider this all the same.” I personally think that media alone is not enough to kill you and a question of whether a physical object or construct is inherently bad is inherently flawed because it can’t do anything to anyone unless it is perceived, considered and used – all of which greatly alter and shape the influence of the object.

        Seriously, simply apply the same rules for things you want to believe as well as the things you don’t.

    • Yeahhhhh…..nahhhhhh. Sorry but i call bullshit on that mate. Never, ever heard of somebody NOT stockpiling munchies n comfort items beforehand. And failing that there’s this game-changing, cutting-edge bit of tech being implemented called *drum roll* a “pause button”. And not to blow yer mind too much more…books have an analogue version called a “book mark”, which when combined with a book’s ease of portability makes getting food or taking a dump rather easy to manage provided you’re not a moron… not that im implying that. At all. Not even a little.

  • The author talks about Southeast Asian countries where a lot of these binge gaming sessions deaths happen and I wonder how much of that has to do with the isolation culture? From what I’ve heard/read/seen, South Korea (and making assumptions of other countries, so correct me if I’m wrong) is a very couple culture. Meaning that everything is designed for couples.

    What’s to stop someone from going online for 40 hours and oops, I accidentally forgot to person and now I died because they don’t actually have anything else?

  • Clearly the author of this “book” isn’t all that bright or inteligent. Giving idiots a chance to express themselves just dumbs down everybody else, unless you have the sense to see through his peculiar logical fallacies on every single front. Everything he says can be applied to anything and solved with common sense. It doesn’t take a book to think “everything in moderation is key to your health”.

    To be honest, it’s the classic “rhetorical questions+cherry picking facts+fallacious logic” template masquerading as something meaningful, just like every other attempt at pseudo-intellectualist critique.

    Basically, state the obvious and dress it up as something new and compelling. Either he’s biased against games or an idiot….Or both. You can solve it all with commom sense.

    • It does serve a purpose- without crud like this to be intellectually dismantled, set on fire and (hopefully) buried under enough fact n counter argument that it becomes harder to exhume n parade about as one of “society’s great evils”. Never disallow an opposing view (censorship sucks), just be smart and informed enough to bring it into the light so the world can see how flimsy it truly is.

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