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#154 Imagination and the Virtual World

 LEGO DOOM: Cacodemon says "I am not a Beholder!" Iain Heath via Compfight

Is the virtual world the ideal playground for the imagination?  Maybe and maybe not! As parents we want to build an environment in which creativity and imagination flourish. So hey! We can just let kids play on the Internet all day. It’s creative, right? That is partly true but  I also want to suggest some caveats that come into play when we enter that seemingly endless playground for the mind.
I am thinking now of a boy of 13 whom I shall call Alex. His parents brought him into treatment because he was failing all of his classes except for band. He enjoyed music and loved to compose both music and lyrics. In fact he did it in his classes instead of listening to the teacher or copying down assignments. He wrote tunes and verses all over his homework papers so that the teachers couldn’t even read them.
I found him to be creative and intelligent—too intelligent to be flunking out of school. So we got very practical. Could he remember to turn in his homework? (This is a HUGE problem with many adolescents. Teachers think they are too old to be reminded and so the kids think it doesn’t matter.) Then we talked it over and decided together that he could only doodle in the margins of his homework and that he really did have to listen to his teachers.
Eventually I found out how much time Alex spends on the Internet and how isolated he becomes when doing so. It is not just the time in front of the screen which is limited by his parents. It is the thought and energy that goes into planning strategies, anticipating moves, assimilating powers and tools to achieve one level after another in a variety of compelling games. He finds the Internet world so vivid and absorbing that it has become a huge part of his life space, his interests and values.
In order to understand this young man as well as others I have worked with I have had to become immersed in that world. It means I have to learn about the games he plays; the characters that populate the kingdoms and their traits and powers. We made an interesting discovery in our journey together. There is a particular game in which the characters have no hearts. Their hearts have been stolen by an evil wizard and so they have no emotions. One of the objects of the game (as best I understand it) is in trying to return the hearts to the characters by defeating the wizard, much like Dorothy helped the Tin Man regain his heart in The Wizard of Oz. The young man has not played the game for several years because it was too sad for him.
I am not surprised that Alex has sad feelings. He is a rather subdued young man with not a lot of emotional expression. But unless I had delved into his Internet games in some depth I would not have discovered his sadness. For the time being anyway his emotion is stored in the games he is playing. It will take some time and gentle probing before we will know if there are things in his “real” life that he is sad about. Does he know people who have no emotions? Are they people who are important in his world? Can he find ways to express his feelings outside of the virtual world?
The Internet is highly imaginative but it also can serve as an escape, a hiding place if you will, from the emotions that make us all too human. As I will be talking about next week I also believe it can circumvent the very imagination we are trying to encourage.

#154 Imagination and the Virtual World

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2015). #154 Imagination and the Virtual World. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Jun 2015
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