Are Video Games Really Bad?

Dustin Gingerich, Staff Reporter

Video gaming is clearly a popular form of entertainment, with video gamers collectively spending 3 billion hours per week in front of their screens according to a study. Due to their widespread use, scientists have researched how video games affect the brain and behavior. Are these effects positive or negative? We examine the evidence.

“I feel like video games are bad because they keep many children distracted and distant from people,” Joseph Mcbride, 8th grader said.

At a glance, more than 150 million people in the United States play video games regularly, or for at least 3 hours per week. The average American gamer is a 35-year-old adult, with 72 percent of gamers aged 18 or older. For video game use by children, most parents – 71 percent – indicate that video games have a positive influence on their child’s life.

“I don’t really feel like gaming effects us badly, I feel as though it affects the way they talk as in like slang,” Orianna Riggins, 8th grader said.

The top three best-selling video games of 2016 were Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, and Grand Theft Auto V. These games fall into the first-person shooter or action-adventure genres – the top two genres, accounting for 27.5 percent and 22.5 percent of sales, respectively. First-person shooter and action genres often stand accused of stirring aggression and causing violence and addiction.

“The worst part is that sometimes kids get all absorbed in video games and waste their parents money on it, and the best part is that it’s a good way to pass the time and some are very interesting,” Riggins said. 

According to one study, decades of research examining video gaming and violence have failed to reach consensus among scientists.

“I think video games were meant for entertainment, but turned into something bigger than that, something to make children ignore chores and other things,” Mcbride said. 

By looking at all research to date, Marc Palaus and team aimed to observe whether any trends had emerged with regard to how video games impact the structure and activity of the brain. A total of 22 of the reviewed studies explored structural changes in the brain and 100 studies analyzed changes in brain functionality and behavior. Results of the studies indicate that playing video games not only changes how our brains perform, but also their structure.

For example, video game use is known to affect attention. The studies included in the review show that video game players display improvements in several types of attention, including sustained attention and selective attention. Furthermore, the regions of the brain that play a role in attention are more efficient in gamers compared with non-gamers, and they require less activation to stay focused on demanding tasks.

“I do play video games and it does keep me distracted at times,” Mcbride said. 

“In gaming addicts, there are functional and structural alterations in the neural reward system – a group of structures associated with feeling pleasure, learning, and motivation. Exposing video game addicts to game-related cues that cause cravings, and monitoring their brain responses, highlighted these changes – changes that are also seen in other addictive disorders. We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes. The research into the effects of video gaming is still in its infancy and scientists are still scrutinizing what aspects of gaming impact what brain regions,” according to a pscyhology study. 

“Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” Marc Palaus said.