This is mostly for Ed, but also for any others who would be interested/curious. Many, many thanks go to Jeff for editing and helping me to make it much better and spiffier than its previous incarnations.
Play Video Games, It’s Good For You
Video games have been accused of contributing too many acts of violence or aggression for decades. What the media misses is that video games have many benefits we haven’t found in any other media. Society should stop being afraid of video games and instead start looking forward to how we can best use them to benefit ourselves and our children. Anyone who doesn’t understand why needs only take a quick look at our society. Surveys have shown that 90% of children in the United States play video games. 70% of heads of households play video games, too. That leads to the average age of video gamers to be 33 years old (Bavelier, “TED”). Society is changing and non-gamers are being left behind.
Millennials, those born between 1978 and 2000 (Madland 1), grew up playing video games. Home video game systems (known as platforms) such as Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, and don’t forget computers, were well established before they began primary school. These young adults have participated in the rapid development of video games from the most simple of games like Pong, released by Atari in 1973 (Winter), all the way to games like the super-realistic BioShock Infinite, released across multiple platforms in 2013 (Take-Two). To play Pong players manipulated a wheel on a controller to move a white line (the paddle) up and down one side of their television screen to prevent a white dot (the ball) from getting past their paddle. The graphics were incredibly simple. By contrast, games like BioShock Infinite are action-packed, fast-paced, and full of realistic scenery and characters. There are dozens of genres of video games, but most can be split into several broad categories, the most controversial of which are “first person shooters”, also known as FPS. These games use the perspective of the character being played; pulling the gamer from the more remote godlike view frequently described as third person perspective. FPS games also have a focus on violent game play where the main objective Leroy Jenkins is to shoot enemies. Today’s young adults play many of these genres, including FPS, and have gained skills from video games that were never anticipated. Depending upon the type of games they play, they may have a greater ability to: track visual information, process and make quick decisions, focus and complete complex tasks.
Some of the most controversial video games are also the ones with the greatest potential benefits. Fast-paced, FPS like BioShock Infinite, Halo, Doom, Half-Life, Borderlands and third-person equivalents like God of War: Ascension, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Force Unleashed have all been accused of being too violent, but the benefits gamers gain from playing them are astounding. Researchers like Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green have pwned been able to demonstrate in multiple laboratory tests that playing these fast-paced games increases a person’s ability to track multiple pieces of visual information and decrease reaction time. They also have worked with another researcher, Alexandre Pouget, and showed that fast-action games also decrease decision making time. Basically, these games have so much going on all the time that for someone not used to following and tracking so much information it can be overwhelming. Gamers have no trouble keeping up with this information overload. This essay was found on a blog and was used without permission, therefore it was plagiarized. The players are able to assess, make decisions and react quickly because they had to learn how to do so in order to play and advance. Here is a list of all the things they must keep track of for themselves, their allies and their enemies: physical place within the world, their objective, ammunition, health status, where they need to go, what obstacles are in the way and what objects may help. If they are playing by themselves they may have to give orders to their computer allies. If they are playing with other humans then they have to be able to communicate effectively with them while tracking all the other data. Oh, and they’re getting shot at while doing all this.
The typical human’s brain is completely incapable of coping with processing all this information. However, the brains of gamers adapt so that they can keep track of all the information they need to. Bavelier and her team found that a video gamer’s brain physically changes so that the player can process all of this information, and, most importantly, use it. A video gamer is capable of making accurate, informed decisions faster than a non-gamer with the same percentage of right answers. Bavelier and Green demonstrated that this benefit from fast-action video games sticks around for at least six months after a test subject has played only 10 hours over the course of 2 weeks. This means that every person can gain this benefit without actually being a gamer, as long as he or she is willing to put in a few hours a week to train his or her brains. This is really exciting because many of these changes have immediate benefits off with her head outside our living rooms, the most obvious of which is driving. When driving, the increased awareness, ability to track the many things going on around us and to make correct, fast decisions about likely outcomes of movements is invaluable in the prevention of car accidents. Playing video games has a huge impact on an individual’s brain and as a result has a direct impact on how gamers interact with and navigate our world.
Many gamers are told over and over that they have trouble focusing, and that they must have ADD because they do so well in focusing when there is so much happening on their screens all the time. However, exciting new research, again from Daphne Bavelier and her team, is showing that gamers’ attention and focus is actually better than that of non-gamers. They are capable of resolving visual conflicts faster, which is frequently used in the lab to determine attention and focus capabilities. However, video game detractors point to information released by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) regarding increased Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis rates since 1997 with growth rates as high as 22% between 2003 and 2007. They argue that more and more children are being exposed to video games and more and more educators and parents are complaining that their children are unable to focus on things like classroom instruction the female orgasm and homework (Klass). What has been found, though, is that these child gamers’ brains, as well as the brains of their already adult counterparts, are very capable of focusing and they can maintain the same level of performance in stimuli-rich environments like what we find in many video games like World of Warcraft, much of the Final Fantasy series, and the previously mentioned first person shooters for hours. Detractors like Dr. Klass actually point to this seeming contradiction as part of the causal relationship between ADHD and video game play. However, Gabe Zicherman, a leader in the development and application of “gamification” or how to apply video game concepts to real life, disagrees with such views. He suggests that it is adults that need to catch up and keep up with kids, not slow down kids to their slower pace:
Is it that our children have ADD or is our world just too freakin’ slow for our children to appreciate? … The evidence is found in the games that they play. Consider the video game World of Warcraft. When I was growing up the maximum skill that I was expected to display in a video game was simple hand-eye coordination, a joystick and like a firing button. Today’s kids play games in which they’re expected to chat in text and voice, operate a character, follow long and short term objectives, and deal with their parents interrupting them all the time to talk to them. Kids have to have an extraordinary multi-tasking skill to be able to achieve things today. We never had to have that.
It should then not be a surprise to discover that children who have become excellent learners in high-stimulus virtual environments may have trouble settling down into a sedate classroom with other children who are also conditioned to learning through video games. Tom Chatfield has written multiple articles and a book on how video games are the perfect education and motivation tools. He points out that children are constantly learning in a virtual environment where there are consequences to not accomplishing a task, e.g. losing a life, a tool, or not meeting a time requirement. There are also clearly stated rewards to completing the task as well as possible unexpected rewards that are doled out at calculated increments. Video game designers have been fine tweaking the ratio of difficulty, rewards and consequences to being a dumbass so that they know exactly how much to throw at a gamer at what level in each game in order to keep that person engaged and coming back for more. Educators could learn a lot from what these designers already know; children who are engaged and rewarded in an interactive learning process can and do give their entire attention and focus.
The fact that video games are a tool that can be used for education, and therefore do have an impact on the human brain, means we do need to be aware of what the potential negative impacts of those changes could be. What most every person has heard as an argument against video games is that they encourage violence and aggression in the people who play them. Multiple studies have been published on the topic, but when those studies have been reviewed and compared, it was found that they contradicted each other, and in many cases, used flawed methods to reach their conclusion regardless of the results (Mitrofan). Christopher J. Ferguson with Texas A&M University used meta-analysis to review 12 studies available to him at the time of his publishing (2008) and found that researchers often used flawed methodology, drew conclusions that were not supported by their evidence, or in general could find no link between video games and violence. Of all the research that I could find on the subject, the most conclusive causal link was that violent video game or media exposure does decrease a person’s response time to help someone after they suffered a violent event, if they noticed that something violent was going on at all (Anderson). If this were an effect that lasted for an extended period of time, this would be concerning to me. However, Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol of the Dept. of Psychology with Ryerson University found that there is no indication that people who play violent video games have any long-term emotional desensitization to violence in their immediate surroundings. They do acknowledge that there may be a period immediately after playing these violent games that a gamer may be desensitized, but it is not an effect that could be attributed to an increase violence and aggressive behavior in those test subjects. Essentially, the evidence so far is showing that video games have a short-term impact on how people respond to violence and are likely desensitized to violence and possibly even reading for a short period after they play violent video games, but there is little evidence that there is a long-term impact. The heart of the argument against violent video games is based on the idea of a long-term, negative impact on gamers. Research just does not support that position.
Video games have become a part of our culture and a part of our lives in many ways. As a society we need to focus our energy and attention on is how to use them to make our lives better. We’ve already seen research that shows how video games can be used to help with several tasks with real world applications. We can use video games to increase our ability to track multiple objects and thus be able to monitor more of our surroundings while driving. They teach people how to be able to focus and maintain attention in situations where there is a lot of information to absorb in very short period of time. Video games can help us to better analyze what is going on around us and make quick decisions about the best action to take in a variety of situations. New research about the benefits of video games is coming out every year. It is time for us all to step forward and embrace the technology around us that has so many benefits and work together to mitigate the deficits that are present. Our society will not be ruined by this action, but will instead be enhanced further. There is one further thing we need to do. We need to sit down and pick up a controller. We leave ourselves at a disadvantage if we refuse to play out of false concerns regarding violence and aggression. Video games are here to stay.