Next up in our series of common misconceptions is the idea that video games are either a moral or medical woe in this world, with children being particularly at risk. Manifesting in several forms, if the critics are to be believed they will either send you blind, rot your brain or turn you into a homicidal maniac. With just over half the UK’s population gaming and a truly diverse range of audiences and genres available, we have collated the evidence to understand the reality of the risks gaming poses to audiences.
Anyone born after 1990 who had a console growing up is guaranteed to have heard that playing too many games will ruin your eyesight. This is partly true.
Computer Vision Syndrome is the clinical diagnosis for a range of eye strains and pains in the neck and head that result from non-stop, long-term exposure to computer screens. However, this can be caused by every kind of computer screen, including mobile phones and office desktops, and is not close to becoming an epidemic.
In an interesting twist, in 2012 Canadian researchers found that prolonged exposure to video games had measurably positive effects on those born with impaired sight. This supports evidence from a 2009 study that found that action games such as Call of Duty provide the right combination of visual and cognitive focus demands to improve contrast sensitivity function, or rather our ability to see things that do not stand out from a background.
More worrying perhaps than the physical aches and pains that mass screen exposure can cause, are the theories that gaming can permanently damage your brain, or lead to an addiction.
In 2011 the Telegraph reported that Japanese researchers had found that while video games stimulate cerebral functions linked to vision and movement, the result of this is the neglect, and ruin, of the emotional and behavioral capacities.
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) next International Classification of Diseases is considering the inclusion of ‘gaming disorder’, possibly on the strong insistence of some Asian countries. This follows South Korea’s 2011 Shutdown Law, limiting access to online games for under 16s in the small hours, and China’s limiting of access to the country’s most popular children’s game Honour of Kings.
There is a tension between these restrictions and South Korea’s prominence in eSports, and the calls from across the West to move further towards their models.
More than this, the idea that gaming is an addictive past time in the same way as a drug habit is far from conclusively proven. The Guardian recently commented on an open letter from twenty-four higher education institutions in America that explained that as a past time ‘video games aren’t more addictive than gardening’. The paper condemned the use of the word addiction for the associations with vice that it implies.
The study argued that the WHO should drop the pathologising of ‘gaming disorder’ ‘to avoid a waste of public health resources’. They explained that regular gaming is the same as any hobby that people like, and therefore spend a lot of time on.
Furthermore the widely cited 2016 study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry last November found that 99% of people do not exhibit the characteristics of gaming addiction and in the remainder that might, there were no negative effects, either mentally or physically.
More than this, in her much-acclaimed TED talk Dr. Daphne Bavelier presented evidence for gaming creating long-lasting improvement in cognitive function and looked forward to future collaborations between, ‘brain scientists, people that work in the entertainment software industry and publishers. These are not people who usually meet every day but it is doable and we are on the right track.
The most notorious accusations against video gaming are the cases in which young audiences are exposed, or supposedly incited, to criminal activity. It cannot be denied that there have been tragic events that have in some way involved gaming, and have attracted high profile media coverage, such as in the Strickland vs Sony case, or abuses of open forum functions.
No one has been able to conclusively prove that gaming drives people to commit crimes. In fact, the University of Oxford has established that there is no link.
Unfortunately, the internet is vast enough that there will always be opportunities for criminals to take advantage of. However, this does not mean that gaming cannot be a safe activity for children.
In addition to applying age restrictions to games, PEGI have provided guidance on what parents can do to ensure their children’s digital safety. One of the simplest tips is to ‘Find out what your children are playing and take an interest.’ They have also provided instructions for how to install safe modes across all major consoles.
Similarly, Ukie reported that ‘the video games industry leads the way’ in the development of the ‘effective parent controls’ for the internet demanded by the 2011 Bailey Review, drawing attention both to password protection, corporate gaming policy and age restrictions.
Ultimately it is possible to have too much of anything, and our need for Vitamin D makes staying inside and gaming for two days straight a bad idea. However, to suggest that gaming is a damaging media of itself is to do a disservice to makers and players who cherish an enjoyable and creative past time because:
Gaming does not corrupt children.