For those of you who have grown up hearing from their parents, “Don’t play that video game for too long, it’ll rot your brain”. Lets take a deep-dive into what the actual effects of gaming are and put this myth to rest.
It’s 2019 and video games are an ever expanding medium. The selection of gaming platforms are steadily increasing, game quality continues to greatly improve in leaps & bounds, and the growing demographics that have accepted and integrated games into their daily lives have currently reached their highest point and yet continue to rise.
Yes, the gaming industry is flourishing, thanks in part to the likes of eSports becoming mainstream fare, game accessibility through smartphones, an increase in game quality and free-to-play games like Fortnite. With the large increase in active daily gamers reaching a point it has never been to before, it begs the question, “Are Video Games bad for you?”. We’ve all heard at some point or another someone talk about video games damaging your eye sight, ruining your posture and eroding your brain functionality, but what are these statements based upon?
Below is a video from Wired which takes a hands-on approach at uncovering how exactly video games effect individuals.
While Wired’s video was more of a keyhole look at a large industry, it does a great job of tackling some of the general concerns that come with gaming. Personally, as someone that enjoys playing video games I have always been of the opinion that my cognitive abilities have only gotten better with time so I was relieved to have the confirmation from Wired’s studies that gamers tend to out-perform those that do not play games often or at all, when it comes to complex cognitive testing and performing tasks that were filled with distractions and overwhelming stimuli.
It was also welcoming to know that games do not appeal to a certain type of highly cognitive individual but rather help increase and stretch any and all users in their cognitive abilities.
C. Shawn Green, Assoc. Professor of Psychology at UW-Madison managed to paint an interesting approach to studying gaming and its effects when he said, “Video games is a hugely broad category. The impact of a game has to do with what tasks are involved in the game. So because of that, different tasks will have different impacts on the brain. You wouldn’t ask ‘what’s the impact of food on your body’, you’d wanna know the composition of the food. The same is true of video games, the Mechanics, Dynamics and Content of individual games are all predictors of how they will affect the brain in their own unique way.”
Professor Green then went on to use the example of action games, explaining that everything including the player, moves at a fast pace, there are multiple objects on-screen to track simultaneously and an emphasis on peripheral processing, which requires quick and accurate decisions to be made under time pressure. After 15 years of research, the biggest positive to come out of action games has been sensory perception, how the gamer’s mind can interpret external stimuli like sights and sounds, spatial cognition, which helps you coordinate yourself in and navigate 3D environments, along with top down attention, the ability to focus on one object while ignoring distractions.
Citing that games are being observed as beneficial for mind health, Researchers at UCSF’s Neuroscape Lab are aiming to bridge the gap between technology and neuroscience to improve people’s brain functionality. The reason why they focus on cognitive control is because it is the foundation in which all other functions such as memory, reasoning, decision making, wisdom and so on are all built upon, they are dependent upon it. If someone can’t pay attention, everything else crumbles. You can’t build any of the higher order cognitive abilities. Their cognitive games could be seen in the future as a form of digital medication, prescribed to the likes of patients with ADHD.
So with all this information, lets review the Pros and Cons listed in Wired’s study:
- Cognitive strengthening- The ability to quickly comprehend and respond to data and stimuli.
- Hand-Eye coordination- The coordinated control of eye and hand movements along with the processing of visual input to guide actions.
- Perception- The sensory strength to see, hear and become aware of external stimuli.
- Focus- The ability to centre one’s engagement within an activity.
- Attention- The mental faculty of considering or taking notice of someone or something.
- Memory- Both the ability to store and recall important information.
- Response Time- The length of time taken for an individual to respond to external action point stimuli.
- Repetitive motion injuries from extensive gaming- Finger, Thumb, Wrist, Elbow, Shoulder and Neck Injuries are all products of repeated motions over a lengthy period of time.
- Unhealthy lifestyle- Excessive gaming can consume large portions of a user’s day, leading to neglecting physical activity, time spend outdoors and a balanced diet.
Going over the list above, all the Pros noted in the study seem to be of the human brain having a positive response to games, resulting in overall growth in cognitive ability and motor control, while the short list of Cons tend to be a result of excessive gaming. Both cons listed, simply require moderation and balance just like all things in life.
The key to moderation being that users need the self-awareness to monitor their engagement in an activity that can become highly addictive. Games have a powerful connection with the reward centres in the human brain and can be a quick and easy way for users to feel the euphoria of accomplishment without truly achieving anything outside of in-game objectives.
In conclusion, you will get more learning gain from smaller game sessions spread out over time rather than one big block, and cognitive function has only been observed to have either a positive effect or none whatsoever, there are no cases where gaming has caused cognitive damage or worsening in performance over time.
Stick that in your pipe.