Video Games: Harmful Addiction or Helpful Tool?

By Mansi Soni

(21/09/2020 18:00 IST)

It's been months observing kids around me addictively playing video games on their mobile phones. And, when I explored further, I came to know that they are not alone, but lakhs of other children have also been trapped in addictive video gaming, a phenomenon known as “Internet gaming disorder.”

Few weeks ago, when I went on my terrace for a peaceful walk, I saw my neighbor playing a video game (may be Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular video game series among teenagers), keeping volume very high. I found that quite disturbing, so I politely asked him, "could you please reduce the volume of your phone?” He, the one who used to talk to me endlessly, who used to take guidance from me in studies, who used to consider me more than her real sister, looked at me quite unusually and reduced the volume without uttering a single word!

Next day, I came across a news article saying, three persons allegedly killed a man who asked them not to make noise while playing a video game! Literally, that report shocked me. Simply asking to not to make noise, can cost someone's life? Seriously? Can repeated play of video games desensitize players and make them aggressive and violent?

Well, now video games are everywhere. It is estimated that 88% of households have a ready and accessible means of playing video games.

Psychological research studies and large observational studies — have found an association between violent video games and increased aggressive thinking and behavior among both children and youths. Organizations like American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), reason that children learn by observing, mimicking, and adopting behaviors — a basic principle of social learning theory. It is argued that exposure to aggressive behavior or violence in video games, over time, desensitize youths by numbing them emotionally.

Prosocial behavior – voluntary behavior intended to help another – is crucial to the functioning of human communities. What are the social effects of video games? Do they make kids friendlier? Or hostile? Well, the effects of video games by and large depend on the content. Researchers in Singapore surveyed 727 middle school students and tested children’s prosocial attitudes and behavior. Kids were asked whether or not they agreed with a series of statements (e.g., “I feel happy when I share my things with others”). Kids were also asked to interpret several social scenarios (e.g., “what would it mean if someone broke your watch?”)

The results? Kids who spent more time playing prosocial video games reported more prosocial behaviors. And when presented with the social scenarios, these kids were also less likely to attribute hostile intentions to other people.

By contrast, kids who spent more time playing violent video games showed fewer prosocial traits and were more likely to attribute hostility to others.

The potential negative effects on physical health such as risk of obesity are another concern relating to excessive video game playing. If a child spends long periods of time playing video games, it may come at the expense of more active pastimes.

Douglas Gentile, a developmental psychologist, has suggested that the effects of video games on children – good or bad – vary according to five factors: amount, content, context, structure, and mechanics. So, whereas increased amount of game play can have negative effects such as poorer school performance and risk of obesity, the structure of a game may actually improve cognitive skills, such as visual attention. For example, video games such as World of Warcraft, Age of Empires, and Total War, which are played by millions, are games which can be won through strategic planning, selective attention, sensorimotor skills, and teamwork. They place considerable demands on the brain. Resultantly, lead to cognitive development.

Interestingly, studies has also revealed that by learning to cope with ongoing failures in games, children can also build emotional resilience that they can rely upon in their everyday lives.

Moreover, a study, which appeared in Nature Neuroscience, demonstrated that action games can also improve adults' abilities to make fine distinctions among different shades of gray (called contrast sensitivity), which is important for activities such as driving at night. Other research suggests that games requiring teamwork help people develop collaboration skills.

Hence, calling it either good or bad is difficult. It has been rightly said that excess of anything is bad. Video games share much in common with other pursuits that are enjoyable and rewarding, but may become hazardous, if played excessively. To determine whether game-playing is becoming excessive, consider the effect gaming is having on a teen’s life: is he or she socializing less with friends? Are his or her grades declining? Is his or her sleep or general health being affected?

Parents can best protect their children by remaining engaged with them and providing limits and guidance as necessary. They should encourage them to participate in sports or school activities in which they can interact with peers in person rather than online.

If there are concerns, it is important to make sure the child’s mental health needs are being addressed through appropriate school, medical or social service counselling.

Remember, even though video games have their place, they should occupy less time than what kids need to devote to exercising, socializing and studying. After all, it is their real world, where their dreams will come true, not virtual one!

About Authors.

Mansi Soni

Desk Editor

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