Video Games: Myths vs. Facts


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For years now video games have been blamed for everything from learning disabilities to diminished social skills to heightened violent tendencies. Researchers have been able to substantiate many claims about video games (especially regarding children), but there are still plenty of misconceptions out there about them. Let’s try to understand what’s going on by taking a look at some common video game myths.

Myth: Video games are primarily influencing adolescent boys.** Fact:** Yes, video games are popular among children, but it may surprise you that only 25 percent of gamers are under 18 years old. And perhaps even more surprising – 26 percent are over the age of 50. The assumption that adults don’t play video games is probably as prevalent as the stereotype that most gamers are men. While the latter is true overall, when you consider gamers under the age of 18, females outnumber males 33 to 20 percent. It’s important to look beyond age and gender stereotypes and consider the whole gaming demographic before drawing conclusions about video game consequences.

Myth: Virtual violence begets real violence.** Fact:** This is a tricky one; there’s substantial evidence to support the claim that playing violent video games can lead to an increase in aggression and violent behavior. To be fair, however, we need to examine this on several levels, including age and individuality.

Many studies have been conducted to determine whether violent media such as video games lead to increased aggressive behavior and desensitization. While conclusions vary, scientists have widely accepted that playing a violent video game increases levels of testosterone, leading to more aggressive behavior while playing and immediately after. But this effect seems to be short-lived, much like road rage or playing a competitive sport. Some gamers appear to be more strongly influenced by violence than others, and extensive research still needs to be done regarding a gamer’s age, personal life, genetics, amount of play time, and the types of violent gaming scenarios to which they are exposed.

This isn’t to say that such studies should be discredited, as some have shown that young people will lash out aggressively as a potential reaction to exposure to violent video games. And actually, some famous sociopaths have owned up to using video games to prepare for committing violent acts. The U.S. military even uses video game simulations to prepare soldiers for combat. But the crime statistics appear to debunk this connection; video game usage continues to increase (the industry has grown from $5.5 billion to $9.5 billion from 1999-2007), while violent crime among youth has declined (1,763 youth arrests for homicides in 1999, and 1,063 in 2007).

While video games have rating levels much like movies, parental supervision is still needed. Some suggestions concerned parents have offered to game designers include realistic consequences for violent acts within a video game--for instance showing the heartbroken family of a victim or facing in-game punishments, such as a jail sentence. It’s also been recommended that violent acts shouldn’t be rewarded with points, level advancement, and special effects.

Myth: Video games lead to social isolation.** Fact:** It’s easy to see how this myth came about. Gamers seemingly tune out for hours on end without any sort of human interaction. Again, video games may be an outlet for the anti-social, but since the early 1990’s players have been increasingly able to connect with each other through online multi-player games like “Quake,” “Diablo,” “Everquest,” and most famously, “World of Warcraft.” These games are designed to provide cooperative play, or at least peer competition to encourage socializing. Online playing gives gamers the opportunity to spend time with distant friends, as well as the chance to make new ones. Gaming interaction is very much like social media interaction, and as long as people are still keeping healthy priorities in life, their interpersonal skills shouldn’t suffer. Again, children have brains that are still developing and parents should stay aware of their child’s gaming habits to ensure this pastime isn’t becoming a substitute for participating in real life due to shyness or fear of bullying. Isolation behavior could also be a sign of a developing social phobia.

Myth: Video games lead to heightened anxiety and depression.** Fact:** Typical video game playing doesn’t lead to anxiety and depression in children, but excessive or compulsive playing could. Video game addiction is comparable to porn addiction and social media addiction. Several factors contribute to making video games addictive: going for the high score, beating the game, role-playing, exploring an alternative world, gaining achievements and developing relationships. Symptoms of anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand with addiction, so it’s no surprise that those who play video games obsessively could experience these things in a way similar to a drug addict.

Again the solution here is moderation. Addictive behavior is generally harmful no matter what form the addiction takes, but a recent study has shown that casual use of video games can ease anxiety and depression because it allows a break from daily stress.

Myth: Video games can aggravate symptoms of ADHact: Children who play video games or watch television in excess are indeed more likely to have ADHD. However, this may just be a side effect of ADHD that makes them more likely to be distracted by media. Video games do have a more severe effect on children with ADHD since their fast-paced action and sensory-overloading special effects seem to exacerbate attention problems, resulting in real-life activities being pushed into the background.

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While popular games such as Super Mario Brothers and Halo don’t debunk this myth, other technology programs utilizing the controls and gaming formats of popular video games are providing treatment for ADHD, using neurofeedback gaming. Neurofeedback is a technique used to enhance the brain’s operating abilities by monitoring brain wave interaction while playing a type of race car game. Gaming is highly engaging and can actually help ADHD patients to focus on a training task when it’s presented in the context of a game.

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Neurofeedback gaming is only one specialized way of tackling learning disabilities. Other gaming techniques have shown promise in helping kids focus and learn as well. “Mario Teaches Typing” may not be quite as fun as classic Super Mario Brothers, but it sure beats dry typing exercises. Kids with autism spectrum disorders are also making social and cognitive skill progress with the help of interactive games on the iPad. Utilizing game technology shows great promise in engaging children and teaching them effectively.


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