You’ve Been Lied To: Video Games aren’t Bad for You

by Florence Larkin

Everybody has heard probably from their parents or teachers about how bad playing video games is for you. I certainly have. But are they really? There have been studies that give evidence to video games actually improving performance in certain areas of the brain. Playing strategic games have shown to improve testers scores on psychological tests. Certain games have also been proven to slow the mental aging process in seniors. These are just a few examples of the positive things that video games can do. There are certain myths about video games that everyone is familiar with. 1. Video games have a negative effect on your brain, 2. Video games cause violence and aggression, 3. Video games have a negative effect on your mood, and 4. Playing video games will cause your child to be a loner with no friends.

The first myth? Video games “turn your brain into mush”. There was a study by German researchers that had the subjects play the game Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over a period of two months. There was also a control group that did not play any video games. When the groups were MRI’d after the test, they found that the group that had played Mario had increased brain matter in three areas: the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum. These areas of the brain deal with memory, spatial reasoning, strategy, and also fine motor skills.

There was another study that had subjects play Starcraft (a military strategy game) over a period of six weeks for 40 hours. People who played this game ended up scoring higher on psychological tests than they had before they had started playing the game.

They were to perform “cognitive flexibility tasks” faster and more accurately than the other groups in the study. Video games have also been proven to help senior citizens slow the aging of the brain and deterioration of memory. There was also a study by Italian researchers that showed that playing fast paced action games helped improve the reading skills of children with dyslexia. The kids who played the game were able to read quicker and with more accuracy than the kids who did not play the game.

The second myth is one we probably have all heard at some point in our lives: “Video games cause violence!” Obviously this doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to let your seven year old play Call of Duty, there is a reason that games have a rating system. While it is true that many video games have violent subject matter, there is no direct between videogames and violence. Many studies have been done to try to prove that videogames cause violence in children and teens, but all of these studies have been inconclusive at best. In fact the length of time a child spends playing has more impact on their behavior than the actual content of the games. The thing is about this particular myth about video games is that is it ultimately stems from parents that are worried about their child’s behavior. This is nothing new, and has been going on for a long time, and it hasn’t just been video games. Some kids I knew had parents who wouldn’t let them have Nerf guns or those fake plastic swords you get at Target because that “promotes violence”. People often try to blame the most convenient thing for things that have a much deeper cause that people might not want to address.

Myth No. 3? Video games get you worked up/ put you in a bad mood! This I think has a lot to do with how much time you are spending playing the game. Yes, if you are sitting for five hours trying to beat the same level, you are going to be frustrated and in general in a bad mood (I speak from experience). However, some video games can have a positive effect on mood and actually decrease anxiety. When you are playing video games that set goals, and then rewarded for those goals, it gives you a sense of accomplishment, and can encourage you to work harder and improve your self-esteem. I have anxiety, and I have found that playing certain video games is really useful for helping me calm down. Specifically the game Love Live!, which is a rhythm game where you tap the circles on beat to a song. The reason this game is so calming for me is that I have to use all of my concentration, I have to listen to the song, watch the notes, and use my hands. Many songs are not very challenging so it doesn’t frustrate me. When I spend a half an hour or so playing that, my mood improves and I am a lot calmer. Video games can be good for kids with ADHD too because they engage multiple senses (sight, sound, touch), and improve concentration. This is because when you are playing a videogame you use mental energy, just like you are doing any other activity that is not on a screen. Goal-setting is also an important skill that kids can learn from playing video games, specifically having to work hard and put effort into completing goals. This can be translated into skills that kids can use in real life whether it is in school or later in the workplace.

The fourth myth: People who play video games are loners who isolate themselves from society and don’t have any social skills. We all have heard of (and possibly made fun of) the stereotypical Gamer Dude™ who lives in his parents basement in the dark playing Halo and drinking Mountain Dew, that is definitely not representative of everybody who enjoys video games. The thing is a lot of people play video games, especially children and young adults. They may not call themselves a “gamer” but they still can be classified as “someone who plays video games”. It’s not usually possible to tell who likes video games and who doesn’t, because the majority of people who do, don’t actually isolate themselves from society and are perfectly normal people. Playing multiplayer games that rely on teamwork in specific can help kids make friends and find a sense of achievement in completing goals with a group. The stereotype of more boys playing video games than girl is also not true. Just as many girls play video games as boys, though they are less likely to participate in games that involve teaming up with other players (most likely because of the rampant sexism in the gaming community, but that’s another essay). Either way, just because someone plays video games doesn’t mean they don’t socialize too.

In conclusion, video games are not inherently bad for you. They aren’t a cause of violence and don’t rot your brain. They won’t make you into an angry loner, in fact they may be able to help people. They can improve your memory, fine motor skills, brain flexibility and eyesight. Video games to help patients with brain trauma, strokes, or mental illnesses/disabilities are not far in our future, some are being developed and tested now.

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