Francis McGowan
Oct 7, 2016 · 22 min read

A Practical Study of

Their Merits and Demerits for Society

Abstract:

During the 1980s and into the 1990s the concept of video games being played on computers was that of a novelty use for what was a seriously productive tool, namely the PC or Apple home computer. For almost the past twenty years gaming as an entity has been at the forefront of the technological march towards ever more realistic virtual worlds. This has resulted in video games becoming the single biggest section within the entertainment industry. With the relative cost of advanced technology decreasing to the consumer, video games can now be afforded by almost everyone. This, along with the huge advances being made in terms of realistic vision and sound effects it is now possible for some players to become so immersed in games that they risk losing touch with reality. If true, it could have serious social and emotional consequences for society. This dissertation asks if these fears are justified, how seriously affected some people could become and also what benefits, if any may be derived from playing such games. My research has included academic, psychological and neurological sources, current real world examples and also my own online surveys. I believe the results of this study offer an optimistic and positive way forward for a new industry in the 21st century.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 4

2 The negative research surrounding playing video games

2.1 Addiction and health concerns 5–6

2.2 Mental health issues 6–8

2.3 Links between violence and playing violent video games 8–10

3 The positive affects of playing video games

3.1 Socializing and relationships 10–11

3.2 Neurological improvements 11–12

3.3 Fulfilment 12–14

4 Conclusion 15

4 References 16–21

5 Bibliography 21

1.0 Introduction

The modern-era has seen a huge influx in the numbers of people who devote their spare time to indulging in video games. There is an estimated 155 million people playing video games in the USA alone which demonstrates just how popular playing video games has become. (Essential facts about the computer and video game industry, 2016)

With such a huge percentage of the population playing video games a question that likely pops into most people’s minds, is “are playing games bad for you?” This has lead to many debates in the media about whether or not playing games really is bad for you. With the younger generation playing games from birth this topic generates concerns for many parents who are becoming anxious about the implications their children are facing due to playing Video games. (Gavin, 2014)

Since the advent of Crazy Taxi (1999) the popularity and complexity of video games has increased exponentially. In 2015 worldwide sales of video games was reported to be $61 billion. (Dichristopher, 2016) When compared with sales of only $11.13 billion for movie attendances in the same year this is now shown to be the largest worldwide entertainment industry ever. (Boxofficemojo.com, 2016)

I have extensively researched both the negative affects of playing video games and also the positive affects. Being able to create a framework for this dissertation without being biased will lead to a very informative study, which will determine if games are really bad for you.

The Negative Research Surrounding

Playing Video Games

2.1 Addiction and Health Concerns

On average, video games are consumed for 6.5hrs a week. This, according to experts can be interpreted as an addiction (Essential facts about the computer and videogame industry, 2016). Since it is only the average person that spends that amount of time playing video games, it means that there are people out there who spend a far greater time playing them.

There are two types of addictions to playing games, the people who are addicted to completing a game and those who are addicted to playing games with no ending (Adams, n.d.). Games with no ending would mean that the addiction could continue to go on, as they would never be able to complete the game. In the case of people being addicted to games which do end, at least they will be able to complete the game, which would warrant at any rate some time away from games once they are completed. Games with no end such as World Of Warcraft, 2004 has a minimum of 30% of its players spending over 30 hours a week playing it (Statista, 2013). Considering that the average working week is 37.5 hours this would suggest that these players are spending nearly a full working week playing games.

Playing for long periods of time can also lead to physical health problems. A common condition brought on by playing video games is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is a painful repetitive strain injury affecting the wrist, hand and fingers, which may require surgery (Nhs.uk, 2014). If a person were to spend over 30 hours a week pressing buttons on a video game controller then the chances of developing this condition would be very high.

Eating Irregularities is a common trait of a typical video gamer as they rarely take a break from their games consoles to eat nutritious meals. This means that when they do come away from their console they choose to eat quick snacks, which frequently contain a lot of sugar and saturated fat (Wohlman, 2016). This can cause rapid weight gain and diabetes due to the excess sugar and fat that they would be consuming. If a person becomes over weight they may then become a recluse and stop going out to exercise and socialise which would lead them to playing games even more.

A serious condition caused by sitting still whilst playing video games is Thrombosis. A case was reported of an individual who developed life threatening blood clots in his leg after he spent many hours playing video games (Gholipour, 2013). Remaining seated and still for long periods of time which gamers tend to do can cause this condition.

2.2 Mental Health Issues

A big issue concerning playing video games is the mental implications brought on due to playing them. A study conducted in 2015 by the University of Montreal, concluded that playing games neglects parts of the brain, which leads to mental illnesses such as dementia and depression (Manger, 2015). The lead author of this study Dr Gregory West explains that players mainly accessed the reward system part of the brain, which is known as the hippocampal. Over stimulation of this part of the brain can lead to the risk of developing neurological diseases (SJ,2005).

Games have not been around for long enough to distinguish whether or not playing them can lead to Alzheimer’s as it’s more common amongst older people. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK just 4.7% of those with Alzheimer’s are under 65 years of age. (Smith,2014)

As this research continues to be carried out while the gaming generation grows older, only then will we be able to see just how destructive gaming is on our mental state. In contradiction to this research it has been shown that people who already suffer from schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s could actually benefit from playing video games as it can help therapeutic intercessions targeting psychiatric illnesses (Bergland, 2013).

Many parents now take away games from their children as a form of punishment. In one video posted on YouTube a young man who is about 18 years of age is featured acting very aggressively and becomes distressed due to his games being taken away from him. (When parents take their kids games away, 2014) In this video he threatens to harm himself and then actually begins to do so. This instance demonstrates just how destructive video games can be on a person’s emotional state when played excessively. This can cause individuals to become depressed and even suicidal due to the obsession some people develop when playing video games.

Research has demonstrated that when players look around the screen it uses a key area of the brain, which causes a loss to its grey matter (O’callaghan,2015). This in turn can lead to depression, which makes playing games a lose-lose situation for some people. The paradox is that if they continue to play games they can suffer from depression later down the line and if games are taken away from them, they can still suffer from depression. It would appear from the above that it is the excessive playing of games leading to overdependence, which is the cause of mental and social problems. There is no evidence to show that occasionally playing such games, whilst mentally stimulating at the time contributes to emotional instability.

With the decline of grey matter in the brain the onset of schizophrenia is a real possibility (Siddique,2015). When a person suffers from schizophrenia they have compromised their reality testing ability. This would mean that they would be unable to distinguish what is reality and what is not (Shean,2004). A person who suffers from schizophrenia can think that something is occurring but will be unable to tell if it is real or not as they have lost the ability to distinguish between reality and their imagination. This could result in them acting in an inappropriate manner which they would normally restrict to when playing video games. If that game were to feature fast action or violence the consequences could be very destructive. Since such sufferers are unable to distinguish the difference, they would remain unaware that what they are in fact doing is wrong.

2.3 Links Between Acts of Violence and Playing Violent Video Games

Violence is an aspect in some of the most popular game franchises, which include Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and Call Of Duty. The industry’s leading games developer ‘Rockstar Games’ publishes two of these with the exception of Call Of Duty. The most recent Grand Theft Auto: V (2013) has managed to sell in excess of 54 million copies. (Metro,2015) This game allows players to become a menace to society, kill police, run over prostitutes and even to kill animals; so it’s a very violent game.

Deven Moore, 18 years of age was an avid gamer and enjoyed playing Grand Theft Auto incessantly for days and nights over many months. A tragic consequence of this obsession subsequently caused him to commit murder (Leung,2004). The crime involved the murder of 3 men all of whom were gunned down by Moore. The gun, which he used to commit these murders, would have been the same weapon that he used to kill in Grand Theft Auto. In court it was said that he played Grand Theft Auto day and night for months, which could cause degenerative affects in his brain leading to a possible psychosis. (Siddique,2015). Playing the game for such a long period of time could have had a real destructive impact on his mental state, which later led him to commit this horrendous crime.

Moore’s defence attorney stated that Moore had in fact been given a murder emulator, which qualified him to be competent to do what he did. (Leung,2004). David Walsh, who is a child psychologist proposed that the part of the brain which gives us the ability to think ahead, contemplate consequences and control impulses does not develop until a person is in their mid 20s (Ibid). Violent video games have more of an impression on a teenager than it does on an adult due to the prefrontal cortex being underdeveloped (Edmonds, 2008). This would suggest that people who play violent games before they reach their mid 20s could be at risk of acting out a form of violence due to their lack of ability to consider the consequences of their actions.

Tyrone Spellman was 27 years of age when he “pummelled” his 17-month-old baby daughter to death. (Mail Online, 2008) He was playing the violent shooter game Ghost Recon when his baby daughter knocked over the Xbox console. The fact that he was 27 years of age would have meant that his prefrontal cortex would have in fact been developed when he killed his innocent daughter. In a game where the player is rewarded for killing, the ability to distinguish reality from virtual may have become hazed to Spellman, who then began hitting his 17-month-old baby daughter.

Researchers Dr Craig Bushman and Dr Craig Anderson created a General Aggression Model, which is referred to as a paramount to the study of the link between video games and violence (Bushman and Anderson, 2016). This model has shown that people who have just played a violent video game tend to respond with irrational aggression, which is evident in the Spellman case. Anderson and Bushman have determined that it takes three inner features — feelings, thoughts and physiological reactions — which would then regulate how an individual decodes antagonistic behaviour (Ibid). This would suggest that how a person responds to antagonism is dependent on their mental chemistry after playing a violent game. In the case of Spellman it’s impossible to say whether he did what he did due to playing a violent game or because he was inherently emotionally unstable.

Dr Douglas Gentile and Dr Craig Anderson conducted an experiment for the purpose of trying to establish the links between aggression levels after playing video games and playing non-violent video games (Dailymotion, 2016). The study established that people who had just played violent video games became more desensitized to real world violence. Professor of Psychology Christopher Ferguson has asserted that playing violent video games is not a reason or cause behind any real world violence. Playing video games has no influence on whether or not a person chooses to act out violently (Dailymotion, 2016). This would contradict Dr Douglas Gentile and Dr Craig Anderson’s experiment, which suggested that people do become more aggressive after playing violent video games.

The Positive Affects of Playing Video Games

3.1 Socializing and Relationships

Gaming has now developed from what used to be a solitary activity to an interconnected world with other people from around the globe. This shows that people who play games are interacting with other players more than ever before. According to ESA the average player spends 6.5 hours a week playing video games online (Essential facts about the computer and video game industry,2016).

This leads to opportunities for friendships to form and even romantic relationships to blossom. In 2008 Paul Turner and Vicky Teather got married after they met during an online gaming session (Smith, 2014). This relationship would not have been possible if they had not been playing online video games. A survey has shown that people think online gaming is a better method of meeting people than with other online activities. The results of the survey showed that 45 per cent of people felt that online gaming is a great method of meeting people (Lough, 2015).

Another couple that met online said that online gaming was a facilitator for them meeting each other. Game developers now have the incentive to start facilitating the development of romantic relationships in their games (Gamers Finding Real Love In The Virtual World, 2016). These days meeting people online whilst gaming is becoming widespread and therefore allowing more and more people to find love through their shared hobby.

However, experts in the field of human relationships have warned that these relationships could suffer, as the game becomes the centre point of their romantic liaisons (Ibid). If this were the case then these friendships, fabricated through online gaming would eventually fall apart when games are removed from the relationship. This may be true for gamers whose relationship only exists in games but in the case of people like Paul Turner it is not the case (Smith,2014). His relationship has continued to blossom even though he and his wife no longer play video games.

Sonny Charalambous was able to make friends at school through playing video games despite him having cerebral palsy. School is a place where bullying is a real issue and making friends can seem like a daunting task and for some even impossible. Sonny said that ‘Yes I have made loads of friends online but I also made some in school because of games’. This was his response when asked; ‘you play games a lot, have you made any friends online through playing games?’ (Charalambous, 2016).

Online gaming does not discriminate against people no matter what their race, religion or physical capabilities may be. This allows anybody to play online without any concerns about what people may say about him or her because they cannot be seen. This concern could hinder many from socialising in the real world and by lifting this barrier allows them to become sociable people.

3.2 Neurological Improvements

Much has been said about how games cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s’ but there are also some neurological improvements that stem from playing games (SJ, 2005). A study has indicated that playing video games can encourage neurogenesis and connectivity within specific regions in the brain (Ibid). These parts of the brain are accountable for spatial coordination; the formation of memory cells and calculated planning as well as fine motor-neuron skills (Bergland, 2013). This research would mean that people who play video games would have a neurological advantage over non-gamers. The benefits of gaming, according to this study are a level of higher intelligence in functions such as spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills of the hands (Ibid).

The link between reaction time and the playing of video games has shown to be a long proven point such as in the case of the experiment conducted by the University of Rochester (Rochester, 2010). This experiment involved testing the reaction speed between people who played gradual paced games and then comparing them to players who played faster paced games. The results demonstrated that the players who played the fast paced games were 25 per cent faster at making decisions (Ibid).

This evidence shows that the neurological improvements due to playing games can be very beneficial to us. With the world becoming evermore faster paced as technology evolves, gaming may be what is needed to give us a mental boost to keep up.

I created an online forum and asked, “What affects do you think gaming has on us?” A few people believed it was ‘quicker reflexes’ (McGowan, 2016). Having quicker reflexes would enable people to excel at jobs, which require immediate reactions such as surgeons, marksmen, financial traders and racing drivers. This indicates that people who play games would be better at performing certain duties at work with more effectiveness than people who do not play. This would make a person more productive and effective in many work situations and therefore more employable.

3.3 Fulfilment

The biggest form of entertainment in the UK is now video games as it managed to outsell films last year (Wallop, 2009). This demonstrates just how popular gaming has become and how much we have embraced it.

Gaming has enabled people to live a virtual life without the kind of restrictions that the real world imposes on them. In the case of Paul Turner who was able to fulfil his desire to find love through gaming, this is an example of how gaming leads to fulfilment (Smith, 2014). Gaming allowed him to overcome his shyness in the real world and engage in conversation with a person to whom he was attracted.

Sonny Charalambous suffers from cerebral palsy, which makes him less able to do things than his peers at school manage without any difficulty. In an interview with Sonny he demonstrated to me just how much games have allowed him to fulfil his desire to make friends and become part of a social circle (Charalambous , 2016). Sonny stresses how he is always the leader of his teams when he plays games with his school friends online. This has enabled him to become a real team player and allows him to be in a position of power and authority, something that he cannot achieve in the real world. Sonny is able to fulfil his desire to be needed on a team and enables him to feel integrated with his school friends. When he plays online his physical handicaps, which restrict him in the real world, have no affect on his ability to be really good at lots of games (Ibid).

A huge amount of dopamine is released when a person plays a video game. This level of dopamine has been compared with that of a person who has just received a stimulant drug such as amphetamine or methylphenidate (Paturel, 2014). This amount of dopamine being released would make a person feel very satisfied and happy as a result of playing video games. The benefits of having a high level of dopamine are a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and having a low risk of addiction (Psychologytoday.com, n.d.).

A recent study has demonstrated that people who actively play video games have a higher level of happiness than non-gamers as a result of gaming (Matthews, n.d.). This research exhibits just how effective games are at allowing people to escape the stresses of the real world and increase their overall contentment. People who play games may be less inclined to use drugs as a method of escaping the stresses of the real world due to the levels of happiness that can be achieved through playing video games. Michael Clune was once a heroin addict but was able to kick his bad habit after he started playing video games. He said that games ‘helped me overcome my addictive nature’ (Clune,2015). The levels of dopamine induced through gaming also makes a person become less prone to addiction which can aid a person kicking a drug addiction (Psychologytoday.com, n.d.).

Playing video games can become a time consuming hobby, which allows addicts to fill their time with a less self-destructive activity. Addicts who begin playing games will see an increase of dopamine levels which will make them feel more energetic and could give them that vital mental edge to kick their habit (Psychologytoday.com, n.d.). In the near future using games, as a stimulant in rehabs may prove successful due to the affects dopamine gained from gaming has on patients.

Games can also be used as an outlet to escape from the reality of suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and panic attacks. I asked the question “why do you play games” on a forum to get reasons why people choose to play games. One girl said that she played games because they “help distract me from my OCD and panic attacks” (McGowan, 2016). Playing games has allowed her to temporarily escape from her distressing conditions, bringing her a degree of valued contentment, which brings her overall happiness.

Conclusion

Accessing a huge array of sources to structure my dissertation has permitted me to comprehensively understand the influences that playing video games has on all of us. There are pros and cons to playing games but that’s like most activities that we humans engage in. Whether it’s eating nice food that’s bad for us or activities such as sunbathing or just being physically inactive, doing what we do in moderation seldom has any lasting harmful affects.

There is no real evidence to suggest that playing video games has a negative affect on us apart from theories. None of these have yet to be proven, such as Dr Gregory West’s theory that playing games leads to ‘mental illnesses such as dementia and depression’ (Manger, 2015.). This theory that it causes depression is not proven either, especially when adults who play games have been shown to experience higher levels of happiness (Matthews, n.d.).

As video games become more realistic and absorbing I would however contend that young people under the age of 18 needs to be protected from the worst excesses of violent and sexually explicit content. In 2012 the Pan European Game Information system (PEGI) was made law in the UK (Sweney, 2012). These regulations provide for severe penalties if retailers sell games to children under the age for which they are categorised. I believe this system will greatly help both parents and children to make informed choices when selecting suitable games and afford a level of protection where needed.

My research indicates clearly that playing games has been proven to allow people to be happier, find love, improve mental capabilities, make friends and even beat drug addictions. This would conclude that when not played obsessively, games are harmless forms of entertainment and can even reap benefits for many people.

References

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Appendices

Transcript of interview with Sonny Charalambous:

Interview start 15:55pm 18/03/2016

Me: I am going to ask you a few questions about why you play games. If you do not want to answer anything I say then just say.

Sonny: Ok then.

Me: Why do you play games?

Sonny: Because they are fun and I get bored at home.

Me: how often do you play games?

Sonny: everyday

Me: how long do you play them for?

Sonny: As soon as I get from school, until I go to bed.

Me: What time would that be?

Sonny: I get home at 3:25am normally and then play from then until I go to bed, which is around 10:30pm.

Me: You play games a lot. Have you made any friends online through playing games?

Sonny: Yes I have made loads of friends online but I also made some in school because of games.

Me: How did you make friends in school through playing games online?

Sonny: because I am really good at lots of games and people always want me on their teams when we play games online.

Me: So did they not want you on their teams before you started playing online with them?

Sonny: No because, I did not talk to them in school before.

Me: How comes you did not talk with them?

Sonny: Because I cannot do everything they do at playtime.

Me: Why can you not do, what they do?

Sonny: because I have cerebral palsy

Me: how does this affect you from doing what they do?

Sonny: I cannot walk for long and need to sit down quite often. I can not run either because I normally fall over

Me: So break times and lunch times are not normally a sociable time for you?

Sonny: no because everyone goes and plays football and stuff and I just have to stay inside.

Me: Could you not play any things that involve sitting down.

Sonny: no because everyone likes playing outside and running around.

Me: so you said that you made friends in school because of how good you are online. So what do they do at lunch time?

Sonny: well now they stay in doors with me and we play PSP and just talk and stuff.

Me: so you playing online have made you make some good friends?

Sonny: Yes I think they are good friends but sometimes they still go outside because being inside everyday gets boring for them.

Me: so what do you do when they go outside?

Sonny: Now I go outside with them and I go on goal but they give me a chair so I can sit down when I need to.

Me: they sound like really good friends.

Sonny: yes they are cool.

Me: so are you a good goalkeeper?

Sonny: no but they still ask me to be on their team.

Me: So are you the best at gaming out of your friends?

Sonny: Yes I am always the leader of our teams when we play games online together.

Me: Does that make you feel good that you are always the leader?

Sonny: Yes because it makes me popular in school.

Me: Thanks for answering my questions.

Interview terminated at 16:17pm 18/03/2016

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