Screen savants or digital zombies? The Effects of Playing Video Games on the Brain – Now. Powered by Northrop Grumman
There’s no denying the juggernaut that is the video game. Both praised and lamented by news agencies, governments and researchers, the gaming industry is now worth more than $ 57 billion a year, as VentureBeat notes. According to recent research from NPD, 244 million people in the United States play video games an average of 14 hours per week – and 65% play multiple games on multiple platforms.
But what are the effects of video games on the brain? Are we learning new skills to become screen savants, able to apply virtual knowledge in the real world? Or are we destined to become digital zombies, subconsciously staring at screens as traditional social interactions crumble?
Not surprisingly, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Here’s a look at the mental machinations and operational impact of video games on the human brain.
From Frogger to Fortnite
While the recent boom in mobile gaming has both broadened the appeal and increased concerns about the impacts of video games, gaming itself has a substantial history stretching back over 80 years. As the Museum of Play notes, Edward U. Condon created one of the very first video games for the 1940 World’s Fair. Designed to play Nim – a game in which players try to avoid picking up the last one. match – the computer was able to beat the human competitors 90% of the time.
The 1950s saw the creation of chess programs and 1972 gave birth to Pong. In 1981, Pac Man made his way through people’s hearts as Super Mario stood up and Frogger tried to stay the course on a busy road. The rise of home consoles and the drop in desktop PC costs have helped launch a new generation of games. Thanks to Atari, Coleco, Sega and Nintendo, the game quickly became widespread. Fueled by reliable high-speed internet access and the rapid adoption of smartphones, gaming rose to prominence in the second decade of the 21st century. In 2010 came the release of the mega-hit Minecraft, and massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have seen immense popularity with games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Final Fantasy XIV. Cross-platform play has also increased adoption thanks to hugely popular games like Fortnite and Call of Duty.
At the end of the line ? Gaming has evolved from an expensive niche pastime to something anyone can enjoy, regardless of their digital preferences. From in-depth building games like Minecraft to online social interactions in MMORPGs and small games on mobile phones, there is something for everyone.
Benefits of playing video games
Beyond the fun of evolving your character, beating the big boss, or building something truly epic in Minecraft, are there any mental or physical benefits to video gaming? Ultimately, absolutely.
“Studies show that playing video games can change the performance of our brain, and even its structure,” according to a recent study published in Science Daily. Some studies have shown that gamers have improvements in both sustained and selective attention and that attention-related processes have a reduced activation threshold, allowing them to focus longer on more demanding tasks. In addition, the research noted that “there is also some evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills” – in gamers and volunteers, the right hippocampus has been enlarged. after completing a video game training program.
As the Dana Foundation notes, there is also some evidence to suggest that playing action games may improve contrast sensitivity in adults, which is the ability to differentiate multiple shades of gray, potentially increasing their ability to do the same. in real world scenarios such as like driving at night. Pro-social games can also help encourage helpfulness and kindness outside of digital worlds. And professions requiring exceptional precision – like laparoscopic surgeons – have reported an increase in skills after playing a specially designed training game.
Potential pitfalls of sustained screen time
It’s a scenario often repeated by opponents of digital delivery: people parading idly by on social media sites or are so engrossed in video games that they can’t bother to go out, socialize. or even to eat. The situation is not impossible – there are occasional reports of gamers spending so much time online that they neglect their responsibilities or even end up in hospital.
But in reality, these stories are outliers. The vast majority of players know when to stop or are forced to drop the controllers thanks to outside forces such as school, work or social obligations. But there is a grain of truth in these problems of calculation. Some potential pitfalls of extended screen time include:
- Eye fatigue: As the American Optometric Association (AOA) notes, digital eye strain (also known as computer vision syndrome) often occurs as a result of prolonged use of the screen. Symptoms include eye discomfort and vision problems, and “the level of discomfort seems to increase with the amount of use of the digital screen.” To limit impact, the AOA recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Digital desensitization: Desensitization is also of concern, with some research suggesting lower rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and amygdala activity after playing violent video games, as the Dana Foundation points out. Since interactions between these regions of the brain are often thought to have an impact on the resolution of emotional conflicts, a decrease in functioning could indicate a suppression of the emotional response. The warning ? This is a correlation and not a causation, which indicates that one must be careful in the interpretation.
- Online dependencies: Video games have also been linked to Internet gaming disorder, which the American Psychiatric Association says affects between 0.3% and 1% of the population. The symptoms of this disorder are similar to those of other addiction problems and include functional and structural changes in neural reward systems that lead to cravings and potentially obsessive behavior.
The children are (mostly) well
With pandemic pressures pushing children and parents into a framework focused on screen time for learning and recreation, there is understandable concern about the impact of delivering digital content to children.
The good news? Everything is (almost) fine. As a recent Time article notes, games provided a way for many children to connect with friends when face-to-face social interactions weren’t possible, and although online learning tools can never replace classroom teaching, they provided a way to help bridge the engagement gap.
Also essential in children’s games? The context. Setting limits, such as limited or supervised screen time, is essential as is finding the right solution for gaming. Social, interactive, or games that prioritize creation are preferred over more brute-force-focused play options.
It’s time to level up
What are the effects of video games on the brain? Recent studies suggest that, in some cases, games can help improve attention span, promote social bonding, and increase contrast sensitivity. The warning ? Everything in moderation. No matter how fun the game is or how big the mental benefits are, it’s worth taking a break to reduce eye strain and interact with other humans face to face.
Simply put, while the games won’t save humanity, they are not the destructive numerical force described by their opponents. Overall, the toll appears to be positive: the overall enjoyment coupled with moderate cognitive benefits suggest that video games provide both physical and virtual value for gamers.
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