Who do you picture upon hearing the term “gamer”? An introvert who seldom emerges from the cavern of his/her parents’ basement? How about the fifth richest person in the world? An aerospace mogul poised on colonizing Mars? That’s right, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and many other unlikely magnates are, or at one time were, gamers. What if I told you gaming could boost your memory, help tackle issues like depression, increase the amount of grey matter in your brain and so much more?
Unfortunately, however, video games have always been blighted by socially constructed assumptions—suppositions like the one that assumes only adolescents are gamers. Even though statistics do in fact show that over 90 percent of children play video games, the average age of a gamer has been estimated to be 33 years old. I’m nearly 23 and I still play video games.
Since I can remember I’ve been playing some type of digital game; Gameboy, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Wii and so on. I’ve skied down Olympicgrade mountains, flown fighter jets over center city L.A. and defended the earth from cryptic extraterrestrial evils. Sounds nerdy, right? Yet during these innumerable hours of playtime, my mind and future has benefited.
Beyond the basic level of entertainment video games provide, researchers have uncovered a myriad of positive effects. For example, in 2013 German scholars asked participants to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes each day over the course of two months. At the end of the study they found that, in contrast to the placebo group, those who played the Nintendo game saw notable increases in regions of the brain that control “spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills of the hands.” The same researchers even proposed that video games may be used in the future to treat mental ailments such as schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
If around 930 minutes per month could do that then think what 36 billion minutes a month could do. Well, in the first month following the release of Call of Duty Black Ops, fans played it for over 600 million hours, or the equivalent of 68,000 years.
To continue, some arguments also blame video games for poor eyesight, stating that sitting in front of a screen, as gamers do, can worsen someone’s vision.
Yet a study expounded on in a TED Talk about this very issue found that gamers, who play between five to 15 hours a week actually have better eyesight than non-gamers. For instance, those who play video games were discovered to be capable of picking up “small detail in context of clutter” and “[resolving] different levels of grey.” Among numerous advantages of enhanced eyesight, these abilities allow gamers to read small-print and drive through visual obstructions, like fog, more easily than non-gamers.
Furthermore, there has long been a supposition that video games can stint mental capacities such as one’s attention span. However, scientists from Queen Mary University of London and University College London found that “strategy-based” video games can train the mind’s agility or “cognitive flexibility” which they consider “a cornerstone of human intelligence.”
This type of improvement could, according to the researchers, be developed to treat “symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or traumatic brain injuries.”
Studies such as these have led major organizations like the National Institute of Aging to invest in gaming. In fact, they recently used funding from the National Science Foundation to test the positive effects of the Nintendo Wii on the cognitive functions and abilities of older Americans.
What about violence? For decades, new-age entertainment has been the scapegoat for the world’s problems (i.e. controversial music, action movies, etc.). This time around gamers are receiving the blunt end of the ridicule. After school shootings, for example, people always try and unearth a reason.
What could cause a young individual to commit such acts of evil? On countless occasions the media will point to violence in video games as the catalyst. Even the National Rifle Association has incriminated video game manufacturers.
Politicians, activists and parents alike believe that video games have the potential of desensitizing violence to young players; however, research shows otherwise. In fact, scholars have found that exposure to violent video games actually decreases the number of violent crimes committed, levels of anger and more.
One such study at Texas A&M found that “violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings.” Another, published in the Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation, suggested that video games could be used as “prescriptive interventions…to prevent and treat stress related medical disorders.” Numerous findings similar to these show that the cathartic experiences offered by video games, including violent ones, not only diminish one’s stress level but can also serve as an outlet for anger.
In an effort to combat school shootings and other such attacks, the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education heavily researched the causes of such ferocity.
Upon reviewing nearly three decades worth of school shooting cases, they found that a mere 12 percent of attackers had an interest in violent video games while others showed more interest in their private vehement writings (37 percent), violent films (27 percent) and violent books (24 percent).
To be fair, there are indeed conflicting studies that claim video games cause minors to commit acts of violence. However, during the 2011 case of Brown v Entertainment Merchants Association, one supreme court justice mentioned that reports of video games causing young players to act out violently in the real world “have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively.”
So… what’s next? Is it “game over” for video games or will we soon see an end to the presumption that they are all inherently bad? The information included in this article is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of other studies have discovered even more beneficial consequences of gaming. Ultimately, playing video games may seem socially undesirable at the moment, but scientifically its perceived as a 21st century phenomenon.
Salvatore Pinero is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at SP0828988@wcupa.edu.