The research on the psychological impact of video games tells quite a different story from the stories we get from interest groups and the media. I look at what we know in an article for The Observer.
Perhaps the two biggest concerns are that video games are ‘damaging the brain’ and that violent video games are causing, well, violence.
It’s first worth noting that talking about the impact of ‘video games’ as a whole is about a pointless as talking about the health effects of ‘sports’ as a whole.
However, we do know that certain sorts of video games have specific effects. For example, we have increasing evidence that ‘action video games’ lead to significant improvements in certain mental skills.
The number of aliens you kill may directly contribute to an improvement in your brain. This may not sound like a typical scientific discovery, but it has come from some of the world’s finest neuroscience laboratories. In fact, it is the genuine outcome of studies on how action video games can improve your attention, mental control and visual skills. We’re talking here about fast-moving titles such as Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, which demand quick reflexes and instant decision-making. They’re often portrayed as the most trashy, vapid and empty-headed forms of digital entertainment, but it looks as if they may be particularly good at sharpening your mental skills.
As the article makes clear, this has been tested quite rigorously, including with randomised controlled trials.
With regard to violence, violent video games have been found to cause small, reliable but temporary increases in aggressive thoughts and behaviour in the lab – as have other forms of violent media, including films and the news.
But in terms of real-world violence “delinquent peers, depression and an abusive family environment account for actual violent incidents, while exposure to media violence seems to have only a minor and usually insignificant effect.”
Nevertheless, the video game utopians also have reason to think again. There are some negative effects of spending too much time in front of the console, which are also tackled in the article.
Link to Observer article on the science of how gaming affects us.