Do you enjoy playing video games? Maybe your kids love the interactive experience, and you’re concerned about their wellbeing? This guide from INTENTA explores the positives and negatives of gaming – we hope it helps your family create a healthy relationship with technology.
The Benefits and Risks of Gaming
Over 2.7 billion people around the world play video games and for the vast majority it is a positive experience. However, around 2-3 % of gamers experience negative consequences. This blog will explore the benefits and risks of video games to help players, parents and mental health professionals recognize the difference between healthy gaming and problematic behavior.
Benefits of gaming
Video games can be a force for good with emotional, social, cognitive, motivational, therapeutic and educational benefits.
Emotional benefits of gaming
Playing video games is a fun and enjoyable activity. It results in dopamine secretion, which makes gamers feel good. They often describe experiencing the ‘flow state’ (similar to meditation) while gaming – total immersion when the mind is so focused that it stops generating other thoughts. Video games can provide instant gratification which can be a welcome respite from everyday life. For people experiencing stress and anxiety, gaming offers small, attainable goals to help create feelings of achievement.
Social benefits of gaming
Did you know video games offer are more than entertainment? Given the interactive, immersive and social aspects of many video games, they are a great way to form connections and build a community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have felt isolated, anxious and alone. Gaming has provided somewhere to cultivate and maintain relationships in place of physical connection. Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games require cooperation between players to complete tasks. Groups – known as clans or guilds – are formed which enables players to develop interpersonal and group relationships. A survey by Yee, 2006 involving 3,000 MMO players, found that 10% of respondents said that playing MMO games taught them “a lot about mediating group conflicts, motivating team members, persuading others, and becoming a better leader in general.”
Cognitive benefits of gaming
Research has found that first-person shooter games can increase spatial and mental rotation skills. Other studies have linked playing video games to problem-solving, increased attention, mental flexibility, enhanced creativity and executive control functions such as working memory, task-switching and reasoning. Italian researchers compared two groups of dyslexic children and found that 12 hours of playing video games drastically improved the children’s reading ability, “more so than one year of spontaneous reading development and more than or equal to highly-demanding traditional reading treatments.”
Motivational benefits of gaming
Video games offer immediate feedback and reward continued effort to keep players within the motivational “sweet spot”. In the best video games, this “sweet spot” balances challenges and frustration with rewards and success. The levels that players encounter become increasingly difficult so they are continually challenged. Granic et al. 2014 found that gaming is optimal “to cultivate a persistent, optimistic motivational style” in a player. The research stated that: “This motivational style, in turn, may generalize to school and work contexts.”
Therapeutic benefits of gaming
Video games have numerous therapeutic benefits including:
- treating physical and mental health conditions
- developing social skills
- distraction tools in pain management
- improving fine and gross motor skills in people with Down’s Syndrome
- reducing nausea in chemotherapy
- treating learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
- improving language, math and reading skills in people with severe autism.
Video games have been successfully used to treat panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, anxiety and depression. A 2021 study found that playing 45 minutes of video games four times a week to be more effective than medication in alleviating symptoms of anxiety.
Educational benefits of gaming
Video games can be a powerful tool in an educational context as they involve creativity, problem-solving, concentration, communication, teamwork and more. They have been shown to contribute to narrative thought development in 8 and 9 year olds (Lacasa, 2008) and increase math skills in high school students (Robles and Quintero, 2020). There is a growing interest in using video games to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. Minecraft has been used as an educational tool, because it requires players to build, create, explore worlds, gather and analyze data, plan and communicate. (Lane et al, 2017).
Risks of gaming
Despite the many benefits of playing video games, there are risks involved. However, the negative consequences of gaming, outlined below, are generally linked to excessive use.
Physical health risks
Hours spent gaming can cause players to neglect other aspects of their life. This can lead to insomnia, exhaustion and dehydration. Each of these conditions can pose a serious risk, including rare cases of death. Excessive video gaming is known to cause other health problems linked to lack of physical activity, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. These include heart problems, muscle atrophy, blood clots, eye strain, repetitive strain injury, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Mental health risks
For most people, video games do not lead to mental health problems. However, excessive gaming has been linked to several mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, poor emotional regulation, interpersonal conflict and suicidal thoughts. A US survey in 2009 reported that teenagers who engaged in five hours or more of video game or digital use each day had significantly higher levels of sadness, suicide ideation, and suicide planning.
Although some video games encourage social connection and teamwork, others can be very solitary. A lack of human contact can be damaging and have a detrimental effect on a player’s mental health. An Iranian study in 2009 found that young people who were addicted to video games tended to have lower social skills than who played recreationally. Social interaction is a skill and those who spend hours alone gaming will lose that skill. This sometimes leads to social anxiety, which can make the issue worse.
When people become consumed by playing video games, they can start to neglect other parts of their life. Healthy gaming can lead to stronger bonds, especially if friends and family get involved in the game. However, excessive gaming is often a solitary activity which excludes everyone else. This can become a regular source of conflict between the gamer and their loved ones.
Professional and academic performance
Those who play games excessively often struggle to concentrate at work and school. Academic and professional performance can suffer as they find it difficult to focus outside of their virtual world. This can be a vicious circle: the more their job or education feels overwhelming, the more they turn to video games as an escape.
Are you more comfortable gaming than speaking to someone face to face? Are you concerned about a loved one who is gaming, or want to understand how it can be a positive aspect of their life? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how Watersedge can best help you or book online now.