Often, in modern culture, video games are portrayed in a negative light. Whether it be isolation, deterioration of mental and physical health or the formulation of violent thoughts. While some of these arguments may hold some merit, they are often conflated as fact. In recent years, certain aspects of the media have attempted to link gun-crime in the US to violent thoughts and aggression caused by violent video games, and despite the fact that these claims are often unsubstantiated or unfound, these opinions often linger in the minds of those who hear them. As such, this article will cover some of the contended positive effects of video games across various studies, ranging from mental, physical or social benefits.
Perhaps one of these alleged affects which may first come to mind would be isolation or social exclusion. It is not a stretch to think that perhaps someone who plays games alone at home may, at points, feel quite lonesome, but in fact, it has often been proven that the opposite is the case. The increase in multiplayer games has led to a new form of online socializing. Where, at first, many of these games may lead to random global match-making, over time, multi-player gaming has led to the development of vibrant communities and friendships, where people with a similar interest in games will repeatedly play together. In the case of UCC, there are two societies which centre around video games, and the communities which are formed in both are vibrant and extremely active.
It should also not be forgotten that online gaming can at times bridge the gap between distant friends, retaining strong bonds between old friends just as much as they form new ones. The level of constant communication has been proven to result in the development of meaningful relationships due to the fact that, in many cases, players are over-coming obstacles alongside their friends. There have also been studies conducted on the positive effects that gaming can have for people who live with autism. Many people who have the condition have been found to have overcome social obstacles which they normally could not due to communication issues associated with their condition. It has also been found that sharing a team with players and the communication that comes with that, has led to greater social interaction for people with autism outside of video games. This can also be seen often for younger children, who may find interaction with others difficult. In some cases, children can find it far easier to communicate online with friends at first and this could certainly create an initial connection needed to form a greater friendship.
Beyond the social aspects, it has been said that various mental health benefits have been suggested to accompany those who regularly play video games. It has been suggested that decision making can be improved and quickened from playing games. Due to the nature of many of these games, fast-pace and unforgiving, gamers often react quicker and more logically than others in reaction to questions regarding image processing. Problem solving is such a large part of video games due to the sheer amount of split-second decisions that players make in each and every game. The problem-solving, memory, and puzzle components of video games have been shown to have a positive benefit on older players. In one study, just 10 hours of play led to increased cognitive functioning in participants 50 and older.
Beyond just decision making, it has been argued that multi-tasking skills are improved massively through video games due to the level of observation needed to look at the various figures, stats and more highlighted on the GUI, while also interacting with your controller or keyboard. It really is no surprise that split-second decision making, coupled with the level of observation needed leads to improvements overall in reactions, co-ordination and much more. While many may think that gaming involves merely staring at a screen inanely, this could not be further from the truth. Mental stimulation is something that is just as important as physical in many aspects. The fine-tuning of visual, audial and physical movements has been proven to improve hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. It has also been suggested that while playing video games has led to stress, that they improve individual’s abilities to deal with these stresses and that adrenaline response to stress can decrease significantly over time. This study also claimed that there was a noticeable improvement in ‘the ability to refrain from responding to non-target stimuli’, also known as a reduction in impulsiveness.
The link between violence in video games, and real-life aggression is one that has been well-reported, but is there any substance to the debate? That is a topic that is far too important and nuanced to be merely tacked on at the end of this piece. Check back in the next issue for some analysis of the arguments for and against, and much much more.