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Ever since Computer Space came out in 1971, video games have become more and more realistic and life-like. Graduating from primitive 2D graphics to life-like 3D environments, computer games have had an impact on kids, and adults, for more than forty years. While there is some controversy about whether computer games are beneficial or harmful, the impact they have on people is well documented and studies conducted over the years have brought up some interesting results.
The Effects of Violent Video Games
Many studies have been undertaken to see how violent video games effect children. One such study shows that there is a connection between violent video games and aggressive behavior. Dr. Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., of the Iowa State University in Ames has conducted a study on the gaming habits of over a thousand children from Japan and the United States (7). The study has revealed some startling facts about the effects of video games on children.
During the course of the experiment, the children's video game habits were studied, along with their behavior. At the start, the behavior of the children--whether they were more passive or aggressive--was taken into account. The participants rated their own behavior, but Anderson's team also gathered information from their peers and teachers (7). Anderson and his colleagues concluded that children who played violent video games on a regular basis were more aggressive than their peers who rarely or never played such games (7).
Anderson writes in an article for the American Psychological Association: "High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behavior (e.g., self-reported assault, robbery)" (1).
Others experts disagree with Anderson's research, claiming that violence in general is not the problem with video games. Dr. Cheryl K. Olson, a director of the Center for Mental Health and the Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is quoted by CNN as saying, "I think there may well be problems with some kinds of violent games for some kinds of kids. We may find things we should be worried about, but right now we don't know enough" (7).
While there is controversy over whether all genres of violent video games are harmful, research regarding the effects of violent video games on the brain has brought up some startling results. According to a fairly recent study by Dr. Vincent Matthews of Indiana University, computer games have an impact on the brain. A number of participants, ages 18 to 29, were randomly chosen to play a Mature-rated, first-person shooter game (13). The other group played no computer games during the study. None of the participants had much experience playing computer games and all were men (9).
In the first part of the experiment conducted by Matthews, the subjects were given counting and emotional tests to complete while their brains were scanned by a functional MRI machine. During the first week, the group assigned the video game played it for 10 hours on average (13).
After one week had passed, both groups were given counting and emotional tests and scanned again by the functional MRI machine. The scans revealed that the game-playing group had less activity in the areas of their brains where attention, emotions, and the restraint of impulses are centered (9). The group that played the Mature-rated game did not respond to emotional content as they had during the first test (13). A test that involved counting revealed that the video game group had decreased activity in the areas of their brains where concentration and attention are controlled (9).
During the second week, neither group played video games. The testing that took place that the end of the second week revealed that the video game group had improved (13) in their performance compared to the previous test, but had not quite reached the results of their first test, prior to their playing the game. The control group, which had played no video games, performed the same, as expected.
Matthews is quoted in an article on Time.com as saying, "Behavioral studies have shown an increase in aggressive behavior after violent video games, and what we show is the physiological explanation for what the behavioral studies are showing. We're showing that there are changes in brain function that are likely related to that behavior" (9).
The activity of the brain is not the only thing to be affected in the brain. Dr. Paul Grasby of the Hammersmith Hospital in London obtained evidence that playing video games can become chemically addictive. He and his fellow researchers learned that the production of dopamine doubles in the brain of a person who consistently plays video games (15). The researchers found that the dopamine produced had the same effect as amphetamines or Ritalin injected into the blood stream (15). Dopamine is considered to be a hormone associated with pleasure (4) and Grasby's team has compared video games to taking "a dose of speed" (15).
Video Game Addiction
This dopamine craving makes sense in light of the obsession of many with massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Games such as World of Warcraft and EverQuest bring the player into a fantasy world where he or she can interact with thousands of other online players and complete missions in complex maps. Each player controls a character he or she can use to gain advancements and special abilities. Most players of such games become completely engrossed in his or her game. A website called gamerwidow.com has started that is for "gamer widows" to "come and share their frustrations with their fellow gamer widow(er)s, and discuss their feelings and develop a [camaraderie] that only those in their positions understand" (6).
While "gamer widows" suffer from the absence of their husbands, "gamer widows" are not the only ones who suffer as a result of their husbands' video game addictions. Children, who need to be spending quality time with their dads are not getting that important family time. Studies show that fathers who are involved in their infants' lives will have children with higher IQs and better reasoning and linguistic abilities (11). Fathers who were involved in helping their older children with school work, and who spent quality time with their kids, positively effected their kids' grades. A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that children with such fathers were 33 percent less likely to repeat a grade than other children and 43 percent more likely than their peers to have mostly As (11). Fathers do not realize how important they are to their children's well being. Dr. David Popenoe, professor of sociology emeritus and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, has written a book called Life Without Father (5). Popenoe says, "Fathers are far more than just 'second adults' in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring" (10).
Video games also cause harm to the video game addict in a very physical way, aside from the negative changes in the brain as mentioned earlier. Clicking away on a controller or a mouse for too long can cause hand, wrist, and finger injuries (2). And, staring at a TV or computer screen for too long can cause vision problems. Optometrists and ophthalmologists claim that there is a connection between nearsightedness (or myopia) and staring for long periods of time at screens or books (14). While this connection is not fully understood, nearly everyone has experienced eyestrain when spending too much time looking at a screen or a book. The eyes become dry and begin to ache, and vision gets blurry.
While staring at a computer screen for long periods of time is harmful, just sitting in one place for too long--strange though it may sound--is more potentially harmful. When someone is focused on trying to complete missions in a video game, he or she may not take much time for breaks or for exercise. New research shows that simply just sitting too long and not getting exercise can be the cause of cancer. In a news release from December 2011, Neville Owen, PhD, of Australia's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, said, "It seems highly likely that the longer you sit, the higher your risk" (3).
Staying in one place, prolonged sitting, and getting little or no exercise are all linked with cancer risk and inflammation (8). Alice Bender, RD, a dietitian for the American Institute for Cancer Research is quoted in a Fox News article as saying, "We'd like Americans to think about physical activity in a different way" (8). Bender goes on to say that people need to focus on making time for regular exercise and also reduce prolonged sitting. The Fox News article quoted her saying, "We would like people to think about 'make time' and 'break time' and that equals cancer protection" (8). While this research applies to anyone who sits too long without taking breaks, it also applies to people who spend lots of time playing video games.
Surprisingly, playing video games for extremely long periods of time can also cause death. A 28-year-old South Korean man died after playing an online computer game for 50 hours straight after losing his job (12). He had only taken a few brief naps and bathroom breaks during that time (12). One police officer said, "We presume the cause of death was heart failure stemming from exhaustion" (12). Interestingly, he had lost his job because he had skipped out on work to play a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) (12). As mentioned earlier in this article, MMORPGs are highly complex computer games where a person can interact with thousands of other gamers and perform various tasks and missions to gain powers or abilities, and such games are highly addictive. Video games also waste a lot of time that could be better used for more productive tasks such as homework, physical exercise, creative hobbies, or sports.
In conclusion, this article has looked at how violent video games have negative effects on the brain and how video games can be chemically addictive, causing the production of dopamine, a hormone that stimulates pleasure. Video game addictions can be so strong that addicts waste hours of their lives each day, ignoring their families and friends. Because of this addiction to video games, forums and websites dedicated to the lonely spouses of gamers have started popping up. This article has also examined how staring at a screen for too long can cause harm to the eyes and how sitting in one place for too long can cause the risk of cancer to increase. Cancer is a serious problem and trying to prevent it should be at the top of everyone's priorities, but showing attention to one's family is also very important and this importance cannot be overstated. Video games can be a fun hobby to do once in a while, but if one is not careful, they may become an addiction.
(1) Anderson, Craig A. "Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions." apa.org. American Psychological Association, n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
(2) "A Young Affliction? Do Video Games Cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?" repetitive-strain.com. Balanced Systems, Inc, n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
(3) Doheny, Kathleen. "Study Shows Inactivity and Excess Sitting Linked to an Estimated 100,000 Cancer Cases a Year." webmd.com. WebMD, LLC, 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 March 2012.
(4) "Dopamine Functions." news-medical.net. AZoNetwork, n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
(5) "Families without Fathers by David Popenoe New Book." mkg4583.wordpress.com. WordPress.com, n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
(6) GamerWidow.com. GamerWidow.com, n.d. Web. 20 March 2012.
(7) Harding, Anne. "Violent video games linked to child aggression." cnn.com. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc, 3 Nov. 2008. Web. 19 March 2012.
(8) "Is Sitting Too Long a Major Cancer Risk?" fox23news.com. Newport Television LLC, 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 March 2012.
(9) Park, Alice. "How Playing Violent Video Games May Change the Brain." time.com. Time Inc, 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 March 2012.
(10) Popenoe, David. Life Without Father. New York: Free Press, 1996. Print.
(11) Rosenberg, Jeffrey, W. Bradford Wilcox. "The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children." childwelfare.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006. Web. 20 March 2012.
(12) "S Korean dies after games session." bbc.co.uk. BBC, 10 Aug. 2005. Web. 20 March 2012.
(13) Snider, Mike. "Research: Violent video games may alter brain function." usatoday.com. USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 March 2012.
(14) Webster, Molly. "Sitting Too Close to the Computer Screen Can Make You Go Blind." scientificamerican.com. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc, 8 Nov. 2007. Web. 20 March 2012.
(15) Zambrello, Brad. "Video Game Addiction Harmful." dailycampus.com. The Daily Campus, 18 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 March 2012.