I am a father of 6 children. Throughout the first 12 years of my family life we owned a computer but had no game systems. During this time I played few games on the computer, Everquest and an online first person shooter. I spent about 30 minutes 3 times a week on the shooter game and 1-2 hours 3-4 times a week on Everquest. This was pretty much a maximum amount.
During this time I also worked full time, assisted with family chores, did significant home improvements, and built a small business selling promotional products. I also organized and planned activities nearly ever weekend with the kids; road trips, camping, museums, conventions, fairs, parades, community activities, charities, and as they got older I became a youth sports coach in soccer, baseball, and football which the boys all played.
The kids were allowed to play kids learning games that taught numbers, letters, etc until age 5 or so. At about 5 my oldest son (born in 1995) wanted to play Everquest, too. We made the agreement with him that when he could read the conversation that was shared in this online game (no headsets at that time), he would be allowed to play. He drove himself to learn to read in less than a year. And he began to play Everquest. Though we limited him to 1 hour on school days and 2 hours per day weekends. My other two boys' early years went basically the same.
During this time my wife played Everquest a minimum of 6 hours per day. She worked at different times as a part time bank teller or stayed home after giving birth to each of the boys. Her time on the pc was mostly after 11pm and would sometimes last as much as 8 hours. Then she slept. Until noon or later. Kids? Well, the supervision was minimal and housework lackadaisical. This created some relationship stress.
After the third boy was born (2000), others 5 and 2 1/2(1998), my game play declined dramatically. I spent less than an hour a week after that for maybe 2 years. By the time the youngest was 2, I played a few minutes once in a while with the kids, but that was it. Sports began taking precedence of my free time when the oldest was 8.
Kids habits were still the same, still shared 1 system between 5 of us. Home life was pretty good. We were active, healthy. Grades in school were strong. Social interaction for both adults and kids was strong. Wife/Mom still maintained many gamer hours. Though it improved when she went to work full time in 2003.
In 2005, my wife suggested an Xbox. I vetoed the system. This was an adults only conversation, not a tyrannical demand. She agreed. (She had equal veto power.) 2006, the idea came up from the kids regularly, but my wife and I still chose no. In June 2006, we had our last child, a daughter. At Christmas in 2007, an X box showed up under the Christmas tree. A gift to the boys from her father. (He knew I was deeply opposed.) Significant discussion ensued. I wanted to return it. Mom did not. Kids were ecstatic. It stayed.
The worst decision of our entire family life.
By 2010 we were divorced. My now 20 year old is a 6th year senior finally got a job at Goodwill, my 17 year old (straight A student and varsity basketball player college bound) molested his now 9 year old sister when she was 6, my youngest son strives to be like his oldest brother, and my daughter is struggling with problems stemming from the abuse and her parents divorce.
Did all of this come directly from game play alone? No. But it was the beginning of the cascade. Watching Mom so devoted to games that she could barely supervise her kids, have no motivation beyond the screen, and finally cut behind Dad's back with Grandpa to get the X box completely undermined the family power balance. Dad becomes the enemy. Family activity boring. Anger and rage are fueled by violent games, later movies, that Mom ceased limiting to the kids. 2 of 3 boys have been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Mutual raising of the kids now degenerates into Dad trying to keep up the family while Mom repeatedly gives into increasing monopolization of all screens by the kids. She no longer games except Candy Crush on her phone (hour after mind numbing hour). But the kids now own TV, X box, PC, her work laptop, and each a "smart" phone.
Devistated. Oldest is completely addicted to games now and will sit and yell at the games. He is 20, very strong, happy, smiling, good looking and at least average intelligence. But he has no progress in his life. Lives rent free with Mom. Rarely visits Dad.
Next oldest, is a felon. Victimized his sister. No longer a top level basketball player, and his grades now average C+. He barely speaks to me and blames me for his situation and takes minimal responsibility for his crime. Feels entitled to college, but refuses to work for me in my Landscaping business or keep his grades up. Will not, by choice, see Dad. Cannot be around his sister or 4 yr old half sister (Dad's).
Youngest boy is ok when he is in my home most of the time. But idolizes the oldest and mimics him at Mom's home. Average grades, minimal social life. But a good, well rounded, respectful young man. He spends 50% of his time with Dad. Few outbursts.
Daughter: struggles to get attention from everyone. Always left semi-supervised at most in Mom's house. Never allowed a turn at screens. Just wants to be liked by all. Lives with Dad full time, but misses Mom terribly. Generally a good kid, sad about what she is being forced through.
Were there other factors? Yes. Many. Were games all bad? No. There was some good in them. They learned early childhood milestones more readily with access to appropriate children's games in moderation.
So what went wrong? Limits were ended. The day the X box arrived it became a constant battle to balance some time playing with the rest of life. But without help from Mom, it was a losing battle.
How to avoid it? Tie in computer/gaming system to real life connections and limits. Homework done? Chores? Room clean? Yes? Then 1 hour on appropriate games. For every hour playing, spend at least 1 hour learning to use the computer or about life; hardware, productive software, programming, research, or learning games.
Above all: Keep a written log of time and type of activity on screens. Since an entire 50 year career can be spent on a computer, it is not all bad. But at least most of it must be productive in some way. And not productive in leveling in the next game, but "LEVELLING" in life. Good luck. Pray for my kids.