Video Games: Heroes or Villains?
Many young children and teenagers have heard their mother’s incessant plead to get away from the screen and to go outside or pick up a book for once instead. The urge to play “just one more level” before starting that homework or doing those chores can be quite distracting. But are video games really as awful as Mom exclaims or as brutal as those TV ads depict? It turns out that video games can have a strong impact on participants’ lives in both positive as well as negative ways.
When imagining the typical video gamer, one might envision the stereotypical overweight, slightly nerdy looking man who traps himself within his basement till two every morning leveling his character (see Figure 1). This behavior, of course, has poor physical health consequences. Rani Desai noted in her survey of high school gamers that both males and females tended to consume more caffeine (almost three times more), which, in the case of our stereotype, would cause him to sacrifice sleep, a vital mental resource, in order to play games. Desai also found that female gamers tended to have a slightly higher than average body mass index (BMI), however, male gamers and their BMI seemed to be unrelated. Overall, male gamers tended to display a neutral correlation between video games and heath whereas “among the girls, gaming was associated with modestly lower risk of depression and moderate increases in serious fights and carrying a weapon” (Desai et al.). This implies that video games may have a positive effect on mood and a negative effect on aggression.
Numerous studies have been conducted claiming a link between video game violence and increased aggression in players. For example, Gentile notes in his study on the effects of violent video games that “adolescents who expose themselves to greater amounts of video game violence were more hostile, reported getting into arguments with teachers more frequently, [and] were more likely to be involved in physical fights” (Gentile et al.). Since several video games contain some sort of violent content, it has been hypothesized that gamers nowadays tend to be more aggressive. Gentile also states that “playing violent games increases aggressive behaviors, increases aggressive cognitions, [and] increases aggressive emotions.” This is an intense list of negative consequences, but what makes violent games instill such hostility? Many video games today include multiplayer in addition to classical single player modes. With real life opponents, gamers are much more competitive and inclined to demonstrate dominance over friends and real life opponents. Whereas facing a computer can be competitive, there may be a stronger feeling of satisfaction after defeating a nonvirtual enemy which could translate into real life aggression towards real people. Though correlation does not mean causation, the fear that violent video games may increase problematic antagonism is clearly not misplaced.
But not all video games are violent: in fact, video games can promote cohesion through cooperation rather than competition. Multiplayer games sometimes implement a cooperative mode enabling players to use teamwork to achieve a goal instead of contending for supremacy. This cooperative multiplayer encourages “(against the stereotype of gaming as a socially isolating action) the development of team, social, communication, and resource sharing skills” (Kirriemuir). Video games, especially in the last half-decade, offer social opportunities unlike any games of the past. With services such as “Steam,” “Battle.net,” “Xbox Live,” and the “Playstation Network,” gamers can play with people all over the world via the internet. Instead of the aforementioned antisocial stereotype, gamers have become increasingly connected: perhaps even more so than nongamers. This is because it is now not only possible, but common to play with dozens of friends and family scattered all around the country at once for multiple hours- something totally unrealistic as a daily occurrence in a nonvirtual world.
Besides supporting teamwork and socialness, video games can also provide a huge range of additional benefits. In his study on video games in education Kirriemuir observes that a basic gain from playing is an increase in hand-eye coordination. He also found that complex, modern games promote the development of strategic skills. Not all games are so simple and straightforward or are mindless shooters. Video games can stimulate mental activities and exercise the brain. Many games are virtual puzzles that require deep thought to overcome. Video games excel at “stimulating curiosity and encouraging experimentation in a safe “virtual” environment” (Kirriemuir). Being exposed to these types of games improves cognitive function- the opposite of what most moms expect.
There is a huge area of video games dedicated to the education of the people. Kirriemuir comments that “simulation games can offer learners sophisticated scenarios to support meaningful post-game discussion.” For example, these scenarios are extremely useful for training pilots for strenuous flight conditions that could arise (see Figure 2). Practicing these simulations beforehand rather than in the cockpit for the first time is essential for everyone’s safety. An advantage of video games as opposed to worksheets for learning is that “pupils receive immediate feedback on their actions and decisions, inviting exploration and experimentation.” It is easy to test one scenario and then quickly another as the game plays each one out while you witness success or failure. The entertainment games can provide captures pupils’ attention much more intensely than a textbook or blackboard. The potential video games have as a teaching method has been proven and is continuously being capitalized for the benefit of all users.
So are video games heroic tools for the world to profit from or evil devices that promote hostility and laziness? The paradox of video games is not so easily categorized. There are clear benefits and detriments to the use of video games. With proper adult supervision, violent video games can be restricted and therefore the aggression they may induce can be as well. New games such as “Wii Fit” seem to break the typical “couch potato” stereotype, and intricate real time strategy games turn the “lazy gamer” into a blazing mental menace. Not all games are “Wii Fit,” but also not all games are violent killing sprees. In fact, Adam Theirer found that “out of 1,638 games rated by the ESRB in 2010, only 5% were rated “M” for Mature” and more than half of these games were rated “E” for “Everyone” indicating that violence in video games is, in truth, quite limited (see Figure 3). In moderation, video games can promote positive cognitive growth and social connectedness. Video games can be abused, however, and problems such as addiction or increased hostility are legitimate threats. Dedicated gamers agree that video games are a fantastically amusing form of entertainment, but how this entertainment is exploited is, of course, up to the user.
Carnagey, Nicholas L., Craig Anderson, and Brad Bushman. “The Effect of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-life Violence.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 43 (2007): 489-96. ScienceDirect. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Desai, Rani A., Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, Dana Cavallo, Marc Potenza. “Video-Gaming Among High School Students: Health Correlates, Gender Differences, and Problematic Gaming.” Pediatrics. 126.1 (2010): 1414-424. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Gentile, Douglas A., Paul K. Lynch, Jennifer R. Linder, and David A. Walsh. “The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Hostility, Aggressive Behaviors, and School Performance.” Journal of Adolescence 27 (2004): 5-22. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Kirriemuir, John. “The Relevance of Video Games and Gaming Consoles to the Higher and Further Education Learning Experience.” Ceangal 2.1 (2002): 1-14. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Schmierbach, Mike. ““Killing Spree”: Exploring the Connection Between Competitive Game Play and Aggressive Cognition.” Communication Research 37.2 (2010): 256-74. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Thierer, Adam. “Again, Most Video Games Are Not Violent.” Technology Liberation Front — Keeping Politicians’ Hands off the Net & Everything Else Related to Technology. 21 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.