26 Mar 2019

How does gaming affect students?

The article below, written by HSC English student Sam Martin (11/MA), explores the topic of gaming and the impact it may have on students. Students in the course are required to submit their select works for publication.

Video games have become a topic of highly controversial debate within the recent decades due to their rising presence in homes, and because one of their most common audiences are teenage students. This has led to a fierce debate on the question: How do these video games really affect the behaviours of our teenage population?

Video games have become a worldwide phenomenon, with an Australian study by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA 2016) stating in a study conducted in 2016 that 98% of all Australian households with children under 18 had a device for playing video games. The same study also found the average total play time was 88 minutes daily. However other studies such as that by Holt and Kleiber (2009) have suggested some teenagers and young men play more than 30 hours per week. According to user experience/user interaction designer Genevieve Martin, games are designed to keep you playing. This is called “the flow of the game” and by increasing the level of challenge with increasing skill levels it makes you want to play the game more. Holt & Kleiber (2009) have likened a good game to a “siren’s song” suggesting that it can be difficult to stop playing. To me, this is highly disturbing, as 98% of Australian households are vulnerable to these potentially addictive and harmful applications.

One of the most popular genres of video games are Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), which are capable of having thousands of simultaneous players interacting with each other in an environment that constantly changes – like the real world. These games often set goals for players, and are constantly developing and improving to keep them playing. These virtual environments also serve as a ground for social interactions between players, allowing the creation of virtual friendships and social lives. Many of these MMOGs are role-playing games, designed for the player to immerse themselves in the personality of their character. World of Warcraft is an example. It is alarming that these digital worlds are designed to imitate the real world in an attempt to draw the player into them. If the player does not have the self-control and experience with games to separate these two worlds, it can lead to failure in the real world as they begin to shift their focus from reality to an artificial world and “virtual” relationships.  For example, a study by Sioni, Burleson and Bekerian (2017) found that gamers with social phobias preferred online social interaction rather than physical interaction and were more likely to be addicted to video games.

How do we define a gamer? It is commonly accepted that the majority of gamers are young men. However there is often a divide within the gaming community between people who are casual gamers and those who are more serious gamers. Serious gamers are often separated by a series of differential characteristics, such as the tendency to put much more effort into the game, and often identify strongly with other players, often sharing a “unique ethos” with each other. It is intriguing that the gaming community would automatically divide into these two groups and these people would have a natural affinity with each other. I believe this can represent the behaviours of the two types of people that often play video games.

So how exactly are these games affecting these gamers? There has been a large quantity of research on the effects of these games in recent years. Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield (2014) speculated that there are connections between short attention spans, impulsiveness and even autism. Pontes (2017) has said that excessive use of video games can lead to psychological impairments, behavioural problems, depression, anxiety and stress in some players and particularly young people. Even Donald Trump has weighed into the argument claiming that “the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts” (IFLScience! n.d.)

However, many studies into these games have found a variety of positive effects of gaming on behaviour and emotional states. A study by Bell, Bishop and Przbylski (2015) found that video games can actually improve neuropsychological performance, hand-eye coordination, attention span and ability to visually process information. Another study by Nichols (2017) supports this, and asserts that the parts of the brain associated with attention are more efficient in gamers and require less activation to stay focused, and that gamers have a larger hippocampus. These games have also been found to help people relax, regulate their emotions and challenge themselves (Pontes 2017).

Sydney psychologist Anna Finney warns against accepting relationships between factors as evidence of causation. She says that “there is a strong relationship between heavy internet use and sleep deprivation but this does not mean excessive internet use causes sleep deprivation”. This contrasts with previous studies suggesting that excessive internet use causes sleep deprivation. As Kim et al (2018) says,”All it means is that sleep deprived individuals spend more time on the internet”. It is also worth considering that evidence showing that players of World of Warcraft have improved problem solving capabilities is just reflecting that people with better problem solving abilities are more attracted to the game. However, Finney says that as with most things, it is all about balance. If it becomes an addiction, there is a problem.

The World Health Organisation has recently added “gaming disorder” to its list of mental health conditions. According to the American Psychiatric Association, internet gaming disorder (IGD) is when an individual demonstrates a pattern of persistent and recurrent use of video games leading to some type of impairment or distress over a period of 12 or more months including five or more of the following criteria:

  1. Preoccupation with games;
  2. Withdrawal symptoms if games cannot be accessed;
  3. The need to spend increasing amounts of time playing games;
  4. An inability to control participation in games;
  5. A loss of interest in activities other than games;
  6. Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psycho-social problems;
  7. Deceiving family members, therapists or others about the amount of time spent gaming, and 
  8. Jeopardising or losing a significant relationship or educational or career opportunity because of gaming (Pontes 2017).

So, is gaming really a siren’s song? From this variety of opinions and research, I believe that gaming can be potentially beneficial to teenage students. However, if they are sucked into the siren’s song of video games, it can damage their lives, even affecting their friends and family.


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