Source: Ben Bernstein
When I scheduled a play date with my 15-year-old cousin, I was specific, “Bring your VR headset. I want to see how it all works. At 74, I’ve had very limited exposure to the virtual reality, and I know this kid is totally hooked.
He immediately takes us into a game: a player wears the headset and holds the controllers in his hands. Once in the virtual reality world, he finds himself in front of a large bomb that will explode in five minutes unless he defuses it. The other player (not wearing a helmet) reads the instructions to defuse the bomb. The instructions are very complicated – there are many different parts in the bomb: colored wires that need to be cut, switches that need to be turned off and buttons that need to be pressed. The clock is counting down. If you don’t defuse the bomb in time, it explodes and you explode with it.
I put on the headset while listening to my cousin (I’ll call him “the kid”) give me basic instructions on how to use the controllers. The clock started ticking. Oh wow. I see the bomb! It’s the big blocky thing with all kinds of stuff on it. The kid was shouting instructions: “Cut the blue thread!”
At first, I didn’t see a blue wire, but when I saw it, I immediately ran into a problem with the controllers. I couldn’t translate verbal instructions to my fingers. I got a few directions fine, but realized I was so scared of blowing myself up that I ripped the helmet off and quit the game after four minutes. We tried again and twice more I was so loaded with anxiety I stopped before the big explosion. On the fourth attempt, I thought, I’m not really going to explode. This is virtual reality. Face it to fear! I am the Stress Doctor! I took deep breaths and tried to follow his instructions, but my clumsy maneuvers caused the stupid bomb to slide off the table and fall to the floor. Shit ! Boom!
While my physical body didn’t shatter into a million shards and my VR body didn’t pixelate into a billion dots, I found myself laughing hysterically as the old child rolled his eyes and made a sarcastic remark, “Baby boomers!
I can’t help but notice how amplified I felt. I felt so high! It’s the same feeling I had 50 years ago when I used drugs.
I just wanted to play again.
The kid and I went out for burgers. I asked him how he was doing in school. He rolled his eyes. I asked him what that meant. “I’m not well,” he said, looking away. “I don’t do my homework.”
“Let me guess,” I said, “homework is very boring.” He shot back, “School is very boring.
So. What can compete with mainlining your neurons with floods of dopamine induced by playing in the world of virtual reality and video games? Dopamine makes you feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. A rush of dopamine makes your brain feel good, like you’ve achieved something. Geometry, nouns, adjectives, and the War of 1812 don’t stand a chance.
The child’s parents believe he has ADHD. He is not. The virtual world completely traps its Warning. This adds another layer to why ADHD is too often misdiagnosed, or even misdiagnosed, for teenagers. (See my previous post, What is the real “deficit” in ADHD?).
My encounter with the child revealed another layer of attention problems: difficulty paying attention to someone else. As we chewed our burgers and brushed our fries with ketchup, the kid continually talked about himself with remarkable ease. He showed little or no interest in me.
In the competitive virtual world, either you are in opposition to everyone else, or you are part of a team that outperforms or obliterates other teams. Of course, there are virtual experiments that consist of building Cooperation and the community, but they are not the ones that hook teenagers.
The game we played was called, Keep talking and nobody blows up. Unfortunately, I can imagine a second or third generation iteration called Keep playing and everyone implodes.
Then, as we were cycling home, a curious thing happened. Out of the blue, the kid asked, “Ben, are you religious?”
Wow, there’s more to his world than headsets, controllers and exploding bombs.
A glimmer of hope !