Every now and then vague accusations arise about the harmful effects of computer games on people. I’ve played computer and video games pretty much all my life and most of my friends play games too. I think that makes me qualified to say that games indeed can have negative effects on people, however almost always these articles and studies that seemingly criticize games leave me unconvinced of actually saying anything relevant. They are usually written by an outsider, somebody who does not seem to have much personal experience on gaming. It’s like an alien trying to observe humanity and criticize them based on their outsider information. They may have a few poignant insights, but overall they miss the main issue.
First of all, video games are a part of our culture, same as anything else. They are an act of storytelling. They can be profound art or superficial entertainment the same as books, movies and music. If this claim surprises you or you disagree with it, that is merely ignorance on your part. Video games are a fairly new genre of storytelling having existed a bit over 30 years, and therefore they are not as solidified and legitimate art form in the minds of some, but that is their problem. A hundred years ago many people probably didn’t consider movies a legitimate art form, but nowadays I think most think so.
Video games being a legitimate art form does not exclude them from criticism, I’d say it’s rather the other way around. However, one-sided criticism is just stupid. Games also have positive effects. For example I have learned a lot of English from games in my youth, they can bring people together as friends and games are usually fun, which is why people play them.
Speaking of one-sided criticism, all my life I’ve been hearing someone getting on their soap box and denouncing violent video games for causing aggression in children. I previously made a post on violent video games. When I was a kid I saw violence in video games as a form of artistic expression. You got to do something nasty and forbidden, and it felt nice. In the game Syndicate you controlled a four person team of cyborgs. You were able to kill cops, civilians and cyborgs from rival syndicates. It was fun, especially killing civilians, since it was completely senseless and something you didn’t see a lot in games back then, before Grand Theft Auto. There must have been something wrong with me, since I never wanted to go kill people in real life, just in the game. I’m crazy like that, I can tell the difference between reality and a game. Man, I was fucked up. I screw up their theories about games making kids violent.
I see a lot of this so called concern over video games as another expression of the Nazi book burnings. People who haven’t played games fearing them for being “different” and wanting to get rid of them. That is not to say there aren’t harmful effects to gaming, but let’s be reasonable about it.
I read a couple of articles from 4 Mind 4 Life which prompted me to write this post. An article called “Effects of Video Games on the Brain of Children” and another is “Effects Of Video Games On The Brain: Men More Likely To Get Addicted”. First of all the former article says: “there are some studies demonstrating a connection between video games and a hostile demeanor as well as disturbed eruptions.” Yet it doesn’t offer links to these studies. This is common, in my experience, to criticism against video games, vague accusations, no concrete proof, even though it is true. Video games have made me angry many times in my life. Less nowadays than in my youth, since if a game starts to piss me off, I tend to stop playing. Still, I’m not convinced that this aggression has anything to do with whether the game has expressions of violence in it or not, as is often assumed. It has more to do with whether the game sucks or not. Games can make you aggressive and angry, it’s a given. I’ve experienced this myself many times and observed in my friends. However, despite what the critics seem to hint at, that games make people aggressive, I’d say that games limit the aggression to games. In their private lives, gamers aren’t usually aggressive, even when they should be. Many gamers direct their aggression toward virtual foes, instead of real ones. Games can render them apathetic to society, having little will to combat the real enemies that conspire to enslave us further.
The article says: “Perusal of these studies [what studies?] and my own experiences with children while they play video games has led me to believe that video games do in fact influence the actions and thoughts of the person playing them. So far it’s proven difficult to discern whether or not the player is impacted after the game has been shut off, or what the magnitude will be or how long that change might endure.” I don’t understand what the point of this article is, if it is trying to be critical of video games, since it clearly has no actual evidence to back up any of it’s assumptions. I’ve experienced the after-effects of gaming many times. The strongest would probably be Team Fortress 2, which is a first person shooter where a red and blue team try to kill each other and complete objectives. If I play it for two hours straight afterwards images of the game flash in my subconscious, which is freaky, and perhaps sort of cool. I doubt the game affects everyone like this, but I don’t play so much fast paced 3D action games so I’m usually drawn deeper into the 3D world than people who are more used to it. Other after effects can be that I dream I’m a playing a game, while I’m sleeping. However, this isn’t limited to video games, I have also dreamed I’m playing a card game, so the effect is more related to games, not video games.
I think it’s funny, even though I’m defending video games, I can come up with more evidence about their harmful effects than an article that is trying to be critical of them, since the article does not even offer any link to the supposed studies. My source for my studies is me. Take it or leave it.
The other article I mentioned at least names an actual researcher and an actual study. Allan Reiss from Stanford University School of Medicine did a study that men get more easily addicted to games than women, which is hardly groundbreaking news. The article says something about territoriality and men being conquering tyrants (yeah, I’m sort of mis-quoting the article, but I’ll give myself the liberty to do that based on the fact that even though the article mentioned the study, and offered a link to the Stanford University website, there is no link to the actual study, just the front page. I mean how fucking lazy can you be?). My understanding of why many men are drawn to games is that men are builders and warriors by nature. We like to be able to affect our surroundings. In the past men used to build houses and castles, and fight wars, but nowadays we aren’t taught the skills and are expected to rot in our cubicles, and also we have morals qualms about wars, so we do those things in a virtual environment.
In conclusion, games do have negative effects, but so does everything else. Games also function as bread and circuses to distract us from important social issues, but so does everything else. The effect of games on people should be studied, and we should be critical of them, but let’s not be one-dimensional dick-wads about. If you think games are harmful for people, go play one yourself first. Then you can experience the harmful and the beneficial effects of it.
Effects of Video Games on the Brain of Children: http://4mind4life.com/blog/2010/01/16/effects-of-video-games-on-the-brain-of-children/
Effects Of Video Games On The Brain: Men More Likely To Get Addicted: http://4mind4life.com/blog/2008/07/08/effects-of-video-games-on-the-brain-men-more-likely-to-get-addicted/
Video games activate reward regions of brain in men more than women: http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2008/february/videobrain.html