Globally, video games generated $108.9 billion in 2017. There are 2.2 billion gamers worldwide. In the United States alone, there are about 183 million active gamer – individuals who report they play computer or video games “regularly” or 13 hours a week. In comparison, there are only 5 million “extreme” gamers – those who play about 45 hours per week – in the U.S. These numbers include console, personal computer and mobile phone gaming.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, in the U.S. 69 percent of all heads of household play computer and video games, 97 percent of youth play computer and video games, and 40 percent of all gamers are women. The average game-player is 35 years old and has been playing for 12 years; however, one out of four gamers is over the age of 50.
Any discussion of video games naturally brings up the idea of “violent video games desensitize children to violence.” Most research coming out in the last 10 years, however, states these claims have no evidence.
The American Psychological Association, which originally said violent video games do create violent people, released a Technical Report on the Review of the Violent Video Game Literature in 2015 which disproved that concept. In a review of 101 scholarly articles on the subject from 2000 to 2013, the APA did conclude there is a correlation between violent video game use and aggressive behavior.
Note that this does not equate to violence. Aggression is usually defined as behavior that is intended to harm another, whereas violence is the intentional use of physical force or power that results in harm. Thus, all violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence. If aggressive behavior is the issue, then all sports should also be looked at as a risk factor in violence.
The key finding of the APA, however, is that there is not enough evidence to evaluate whether outcomes such as criminal violence, delinquency and physiological and neurological changes are affected by violent video game use. In fact, according to a Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor and member of the APA, spikes in violent video game popularity have a strong correlation with immediate and substantial declines in youth violence. This correlation is one of the strongest seen in behavioral research.
All of the negative research and media about video games overshadows the benefits of gaming. There is plenty of research and data which suggest the mental health benefits of gaming, as well as the health benefits of fiero, the most powerful neurochemical high people can experience. Fiero is the universal feeling of triumph over adversity, and everyone on the planet expresses fiero in the exact same way: arms over their heads and yelling.
These positive neurochemicals are not the games’ most important aspect. It is their ability to teach which should really be focused on and encouraged. Educators are using games to teach their students history, science and foreign cultures. When used in a positive way, games can give people a sense of competition, the opportunity for socialization, and instant feedback on whether they are right or wrong. Youth who game are able to focus on several ideas or objects at once and they respond quicker to unexpected circumstances than those who don’t game. They also learn how to work together through cooperative game play.
Of course, there are negative effects involved with “pathological” or “extreme gaming,” including spikes in levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia. Biochemistry in the brain during game play can be compared to similar spikes as people who use cocaine. The brain releases dopamine, adrenaline, epinephrine and several other stress hormones. If the person gaming becomes accustomed to these spikes and “highs” it is possible to become addicted, again, much like a drug.
However, those neurochemicals in small doses do not produce negative effects. According to a psychologist, “What needs to be changed is not the game. What needs to change is the players need to learn to put it back into balance.” Like most everything, if used in moderation gaming can actually be a benefit.
There are several ways to monitor, and potentially control, children’s access to games. The most obvious, and first step, is looking at the Entertainment Software Review Board. Much like movies which have different ratings from G to R, video games have age restriction ratings as well. If something is rated E that means it is a game for everyone, with no age limit. E 10+ refers to games that are not suitable for anyone under the age of 10. T is for Teen, think PG-13, M is Mature 17+, meaning only those age 17 or older can even purchase the game, and AO is Adults Only, so only those 18 and older can purchase the game.
Also like movies, these ratings can be found on the back of a game’s box in the bottom lefthand corner. Digital purchases of these games also have the ranking either in the trailer or in an obvious location on the store page. These ratings also list why the game is rated the way it is. For example, something that is rated E could have a descriptor in the space next to it which lists “Comic Mischief” or “Mild lyrics.” These descriptors offer an extra way to monitor the content a child is seeking. Arguably, these descriptions can be quite vague. After all, “Comic Mischief” might not mean much. However, the ESRB has a full list of game ratings and what some of those descriptors mean on their website.
For consoles, there are ways to protect children as well. Again, much like TV, you can set up a child’s profile on a console. This means they can’t access or download anything without a parent’s password or credit card, and they can’t access online multiplayer games. It’s similar to how a TV works or even Netflix, and these safety precautions exist for the explicit purpose of protecting children.
Gaming isn’t inherently evil. People who play video games aren’t bad, they aren’t killers. As long as parents are actively engaged in what their children are doing, video games will never be an issue. Research the game, work with the technology to create child profiles on consoles, set designated times for video game play, and video games can actually be a benefit for children.