With each new generation, technology is playing an increasingly larger role in day-to-day life. Many feel that technology should be embraced and can be used to improve upon society, while others feel technological advancements are having a negative effect on young people, becoming too prevalent in their lives. American author David Wong once wrote “New technology is not good or evil in and of itself. It’s all about how people choose to use it.” Few would argue that video games are inherently “evil”; they generally serve as an innocuous hobby and can even be used to bring people together and allow users to learn from one another. However, when video game users choose to devote too much of their daily lives to an activity that separates them from reality, then the gaming technology can certainly become dangerous and “evil”.
Such is the case of video game addiction, which is still a point of contention in the medical community, but is defined by some as a behavioral compulsion resulting in social isolation, hyper-focus on in-game achievements, and a resulting disassociation with other important real-life responsibilities. Video game addiction is becoming more and more common and has now found its way into the world of hockey. In Sportsnet’s “31 Thoughts” podcast this week with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, Marek reveals inside knowledge of a top NHL prospect who he now feels is unlikely to reach the NHL due to a video game addiction (conversation begins at 22:22). Marek declined to name the player, but mentioned that it is a Canadian major junior player and a recent first-round draft pick by a very prominent NHL team. Marek goes on to describe how team management has had to intervene and seek counseling for the player after his addiction led to late-night game play and negatively affected his energy level and on-ice performance. Marek admitted that this information is now a year old, but that the player’s stats would indicate that little has changed. He simply sums up the situation by saying that this talented prospect will “probably never play in the NHL because of a video game addiction… it is that bad.”
The story has now spread to Vancouver after an erroneous report left Marek without any option but to publicly deny that the player in question was top Canucks defensive prospect Olli Juolevi. However, in defending Juolevi, both Ben Kuzma and Patrick Johnston of the The Province tackled the issue of video game addiction in hockey. Kuzma spoke with GM Jim Benning who again defended Juolevi, but admitted that video games are beginning to pose a threat. When asked if he would inquire into prospects’ video game habits at the NHL Draft Combine, Benning initially laughed it off and said “Asking players if they play video games? I’ve never heard that it has been a problem”. That is until now, and Benning got serious saying “It’s getting bigger. And if a player is doing it all the time and has an addiction, it could be a problem.” Johnston details some of the benefits of playing video games, both mentally and socially, and discusses how it is already popular among NHL players. However, he warns that – like anything – a lack of control can lead to problems.
Video game addiction is unlikely to begin while in the NHL, given the heavy schedule and locker room dynamics. It’s clear that they are popular among players – perhaps even the favorite way to pass the time – but veterans on any team would never allow one of their teammate to reach an addiction level of play. The multi-million dollar contracts tend to help with maintaining focus as well. Yet, the developmental levels are at risk and it will become increasingly important that coaches, executives, and older players ensure that everyone is keeping a healthy balance between hockey, social life, and then leisure activities like video games. Marek believes that one career has already been lost to video game addiction; it would be a travesty to see a trend begin.