Video Games: The Great Debate

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An Xbox controller.

An Xbox controller.

qiye/Pixabay

qiye/Pixabay

An Xbox controller.

For the last two decades, scientists, researchers, journalists, teachers, and parents have given mixed messages about video games.  Studies come out every few years either saying that “Video games melt your brain,” or “Video Games help with cognitive and motor skills.”  Ask any person and you will get a variety of different opinions.  Who is correct?  This questions is not so easy to answer.  It often depends on whether the person is talking about gaming as a form of entertainment, or the gaming technology itself.   

Graphic video games were created the 1970s.  The first commercial arcade game was Computer Space developed in 1971 by Nutting Associates.  Then, in 1972, Pong was introduced by Atari (How Stuff Works).  The home console solidified the existence of videogames in everyday lives.

The gaming industry is worth $95.1 billion dollars annually, and the average person plays 6.3 hours of video games per week (Times).  The future of gaming now lies in the direction of virtual reality and augmented reality.  The first of these games, Pokemon Go was released four months ago and it is wildly popular.  Another widespread phenomenon that is occurring is competitions.  More professional gamers are going to international competitions to test their skills against other players.

Considering the widespread, and growing, popularity of video games, what is their effect on us?  In a study done by Daphne Bavelier, she noted many good benefits from gaming (Daphne Bavelier Ted Talk).  In one portion of the study she looked at the claim that some video games can lead to violent tendencies in children.  The results she came out with strongly contradicted that claim.  Only four percent of kids that played video games regularly had an increase in violence.

Another point she refuted was the claim that kids that play a lot of video games will have worse eyesight.  In a study done in her lab, it was shown that those kids that play more video games have a better reaction time and are able to pick out certain objects when their is a lot of visual clutter.

All these studies sound great and all, but before you go indulge in some Clash of Clans or Call of Duty, there have been studies saying the exact opposite: Video games are bad for you.

In a study done by Tohoku University (Rocket News), they monitored kids 5-18 who played video games for an extended period on a daily basis.  After three years, they scanned the kids in an MRI machined and it show that they “had slower development in their language function, along with a negative impact on their prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functions), the caudate nucleus (responsible for movement), and the hippocampus (responsible for memory).”

The researchers did note that there was an improvement in the children’s spatial perception, but the claim that was made was that all the dopamine released during the gaming, made it addictive, therefore negating the benefits.

Although no one can agree on the effects when people game purely for entertainment, there is strong evidence that games can solve real world problems.  Technologies that were invented for entertainment are now being repurposed to help humanity.

A new revolutionary video game is under development.  It is called Underground and being headed by Dr. Henk ten Cate, a surgeon (BBC). The most striking feature about this game is that it was actually made to train surgeons.  The game uses controllers that mimic the tools used is surgery and the individuals who did better at the game actually scored higher on their surgical tests.

Another game, Neuroracer, developed by UCSF, is meant to improve cognitive ability and multitasking in older people from age 60-85.  The point of the game is to keep a car on a windy road that goes up and down in addition to pressing certain buttons for certain colored shapes when they pop up on the screen.  

The game gets harder as a player progresses, keeping the game challenging.  As predicted, most older people got better at multitasking such as remembering seven digit phone numbers.  Some brain experts do point out that multitasking could be improved through training but the training in past multitasking studies was “boring as all get go,” says Elizabeth Zelinski, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California.

While the debate over video games continues, one thing that most people agree on is that moderation is key.  As a form of entertainment, video games definitely have both fans and detractors, but the rise of the entertainment industry has led to other, more innovative, uses of the technology.  We now seeing a rise in video games that can help older people and train kids with ADHD.  It is too easy to say that videogames are either good or bad; the answer is not that simple.  Like many new technologies, the value lies is how you use it.

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