Facts and Myths about Video Games

In this day and age, we all play video games. On the XBOX, the PS4, you name it, most of us have played it. In Sri Lanka in particular, our parents, most of the time our moms, are very prone to blaming everything on either the phone or the video games.

Video Games have been blamed for everything from simple headaches to learning disabilities and diminished social skills to heightened violent tendencies. Thus, this week’s FYI will be differentiating facts from myths solely For Your Information and your mother’s.

Myth: Video games primarily influence adolescent boys.
Fact: Yes, video games are popular among children, but it may surprise you that only 25 per cent of gamers are under 18 years old.  And perhaps even more surprising, 26 per cent 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 per-cent. It’s important to look beyond age and gender stereotypes and consider the whole gaming demographic before drawing conclusions about video game consequences.

MYTH: The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
FACT: According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It’s true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players.

According to a 2001 US Surgeon General’s report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centred on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester.

MYTH:  Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
FACT: Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, ‘media effects’. This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds.

Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment. That’s why the vague term ‘links’ is used here. If there is a consensus emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one risk factor – when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences, which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.

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 behaviour 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 behaviour 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.