Video games:Boon or Curse

Video games entertain and fascinate most children and teenagers. To them video games means fun, adventure, thrill, travelling, winning and a lot more. Spending hours, playing video games is one of their favourite activities and also one of their activities that is quite resented by their parents. Almost all parents think that their wards should spend maximum time in academics instead of playing video games which they think is an utter waste of time. They think that their kids might deviate from studies and even become more aggressive and violent. In this respect the parents are partially correct.

Video games for children and teenagers should be chosen carefully. Well designed games are great teachers as they provide both fun and learning. Such games provide feedback on the player’s success by enforcing penalty, helping in learning the game at different levels (like easy, medium and difficult) and also by providing opportunities to practice the game so that it can be mastered. While playing video games, actions are repeated several times, which is a pre-requisite for strengthening brain cell connections (known as synapses). Repeated actions assist in increasing memory storage and learning as coined by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb “Neurons that fire together wire together”.  Many studies have showed that video games have a lot of merits. A neuroscience study published in the Nature, shows that playing video games increase visual ability at the edge of the computer screen. Other studies reveal that video games can help an adult differentiate between different shades of gray (known as contrast sensitivity) which is required for activities like driving at night. Also the games involving the gamer to work as a team help in increasing collaboration skills. A new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charite University Medicine St. Hedwig Krankenhaus shows that playing the Super Mario 64 video game increases the size of those regions of the brain that are responsible for orientation, memory formation, planning strategies as well as other motor skills.

 Some games require gamers to maintain constant awareness on the screen which in turn improves navigation and way-finding skills. During playing, movement of the controller of the game changes with what the gamer sees on the screen. This improves the hand-eye coordination of the gamers. “When you become one of the top players in a game like World of Warcraft, tens of thousands of players are essentially under you, so you become like a virtual god,” explains Dr. Greenfield. This gives confidence to socially isolated children.

 

 Video games, if not chosen properly, can lead to the nightmare of most parents come true. Playing violent video games increase aggressiveness and such violent actions may extend to real life situations. In one study, some college students, chosen randomly, were assigned to play one of the many violent games, neutral games and pro-social games. After playing they had to perform a task in which they could either hurt or help a student. Those who played violent games were hurtful towards other students whereas those who played pro-social games helped other students. People who are not acquainted to see violent images, show a strong emotional reaction when they encounter such images or situations but those who are regularly exposed to violent situations in the form of video games, not lack an emotional reaction but suppress them quite easily. They may have become insensitive or indifferent to the violence in video games and apply the same in real world as well. Research has showed that just few minutes of violent gaming can increase feelings of arousal and anxiety.
The dopamine released during gaming is powerful enough to shut down certain brain activities which locks children in front of the game for long hours, says Dr. Greenfield. Children spending excess time on video games not only show poor performance in school but also develop health problems like obesity as it causes reduction in physical activities.
Too much or too less of anything is not desirable. Playing well designed video games for some amount of time can not only entertain but also teach various skills which are required to manage many real life situations.