You may have read one article or another over the last 30 years describing the dangers of video games, but despite the outcries, computer and video game sales keep rising. So I wanted to look a bit closer at the question; is gaming a hobby or a hazard?
Much has changed since 1978 when “Space Invaders” came to the market and arcade machines appeared everywhere. What were once a few rebellious teens is now a large community consisting of kids and adults from every generation.
They represent the girls and boys, the hardcore and the casual player and people from all over the world. It is a growing market, but the outcry from concerned parents also appears to be rising.
Concerns vary from lower grades in school to a lack of social life. Some see this as teenage carelessness, but last year a Swedish boy’s parents had him involuntarily committed to institutional care. His parents claimed they were unable to stop him from playing video games.
Not Everyone is Excited About Gaming
Also the generations who grew up with gaming themselves, question the amount of time some children spend behind the PC. Consequently parents often watch their children come home and lock themselves in their rooms.
They may appear for a quick dinner, but often go straight back to gaming in sessions which can last until 2 or 3 o’clock at night. Children’s grades often drop and others even drop out of school completely.
The troubling trend is the seclusion some gamers put themselves in. There often is a decline in social activities such as meeting friends or interacting with peers outside of school.
Often gamers start to lie to maintain their lifestyle or to hide the amount of time they actually spend playing, thereby further separating them from their communities and their lives outside of video games.
According to many physicians there are also many health problems associated with many hours of game play. If you sit down all day, lose sleep and skip meals there will be negative consequences for your health. Some of the most common are backaches, headaches, eyestrain and carpel tunnel syndrome, pain and other common RSI pains.
In addition a posed problem is the increase of aggression and violence caused by playing video games. It is not a new trend but it got the spotlight last year when there were two court cases in Sweden involving teen video game addiction one of which at least one was violent.
The 16-year-old in the latter would turn violent when his parents would make attempts to get him to stop playing. Even though the child claims not to be addicted, the court decided his parents weren’t equipped to deal with their son’s gaming problems and ruled to have him institutionalized.
Sadly the violence portrayed isn’t uncommon and one study even concluded there to be long-term effects from playing violent video games.
More Sides to this Story
Are these fears justified? Whilst some parents may be concerned with all the violence, many gamers describe their attraction to gaming to be the sense of accomplishments, not the violence.
People are eager to challenge themselves and games provide that perfect opportunity in a controlled setting. In a game they find themselves in environments where they are free from judgment to do as they wish. Their appearance doesn’t come into play, only their abilities.
Being anonymous helps some build confidence and achieve tasks they would never have imagined themselves capable of. The exploring of new terrain gives a thrill of seeing things for the first time.
And then there are those games which encourage cooperation and teamwork, helping some people overcome social awkwardness and others to come out of their shell.
Many gamers say they keep playing mostly for the social aspects some games have to offer. Nowadays players find themselves belonging to large communities often unimaginable to their other friends and family.
Long after gamers say their desire to play has faded, they still come back and hang around mainly to converse with their old team mates. Gaming has helped creates friendships, build relationships and improved marriages.
There are also other reported psychological benefits to people with for example traumas or chronic illnesses. Playing a fictional character allows the person to forget the pain for brief moments.
The University of Utah also says it helps improve resilience, empowerment and ‘fight spirit’. Furthermore some games require fast reactions and split-second decisions.
Cognitive neuroscientists at the University of Rochester in New York found that because of this gamers process information much faster, they improve their abilities to reason, problem solve and make accurate decisions. It has also been linked to improving eye-hand coordination and multitasking.
Additionally the benefits don’t seem limited to only young people. Some research finds that many older adults experience an increase in happiness from playing video games every now and then. Those who took part in a study and did not play themselves were reported to have more negative emotions and higher levels of depression.
However experts do suggest a limit of maximum 21 hours a week when playing video games. Claiming more hours significantly decrease the positive effects and could be harmful.
Up- and Downsides to Gaming
Nowadays gaming is integrated in schools and elderly homes, in treatment of mental and physical health, early development, and rehabilitation.
On the other hand the dangers of gaming are very real, and the line between having a life filled with friends and being alone is very thin, so one must be aware of the dangers.
From experience I can say that there are up- and downsides to gaming, but I think the healthiest way to look it is with moderation, it is just like another sport. It can be fun and positive in various ways, but it is highly advised you don’t make it a full time activity.
Septermber 7 2013: Christopher, D. ‘The Negative Effects Of Video Game Addiction’, August 31 2013.
The Local ‘Swedish teen sectioned due to gaming ’addiction’. October 24 2012.
Nauert, R. ‘Negative Effects of Violent Video Games May Build Over Time’, December 11 2011.
Frugaldad, ‘The Benefits of Gaming’ (Infographic). March 2 2013.
Grzegorz, B. ‘Video Games Help Patients and Health Care Providers’. September 19 2012.
Choi, C. ‘Grand Theft Auto’ may improve decision-making skills’ for NBC Science September 13 2010.
Nauert, R. ‘Playing Video Games Tied To Happiness, Emotional Wellness in Seniors’. Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.. March 6 2013.