A Look at Games and Their Beneficial Effects: Part 2

Currently, one of the largest entertainment industries in America is the video game industry which stands as one of the most powerful entertainment industries in America, rivaling the long standing movie industry in popularity and funds. However, a large percentage of the public opinion still worries about the effects of video games. Despite this line of thought, more recent research has pointed out "It has been speculated that computer game play by young people has negative correlates or consequences, although little evidence has emerged to support these fears." [Emphasis added] (Durkin et al., 2002) Indeed, so much attention has been paid to why video games may be bad for our children, that research is only in these more recent years asking how video games may be good for our children. 

      With this emphasis in mind, our research paper examines the question of what beneficial effect video games do have on the mental development of children, specifically those who are currently of grade school age and are more likely to play them. In this paper, we will examine and discuss the results of modern research projects (as much of the earlier research shows questionable results) pertaining to observed effects of playing video games. Our report is aimed the social effects and mental effects that playing games may have. When we speak of social effects, we are discussing concerns such as how video games affect inter-familial and friendship relations and how video games may affect global culturization. With mental effects, we will be presenting research on the topics of differentiation in brain development in gamers and non-gamers, mental acuity and memory changes, and motor-skill development. We will also be addressing as a subset of mental effects the concerns of violent behavior as a cause of playing video games with research from several sources. Lastly, we will summarize our findings and present our results and their implications.


      A recent and still developing field of entertainment, video games have only been extremely publicly accessible in the last twenty to thirty years and continue to change and grow at a rapid pace. The early video games were either large arcade cabinets featuring games such as Pac-man or Galaga, or simple home-based affairs on the Atari. Regardless of the platform an individual chose to play, graphics were crude and gameplay was often quite simple. The most advanced games of the day were often computer based, and the personal computer had yet to catch on. 

      With such simple un-advanced games on the market, video gaming was seen as a time waste by the general public. Something fun, but only something the most dedicated were truly concerned about. However, following the 'video game crash' of the mid 80s that ended the Atari, a small Japanese company called Nintendo flooded the market with its Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, which offered a new control scheme (the traditional game-paddle, or gamepad design still used today) and advanced 8-bit graphics, which allowed for far more color and character on screen at one time. Additionally, the personal computer was still growing as well, and those who created games quickly used the newest technologies to produce more and more advanced games.

      With the sudden rise in popularity however, came concerns of parents who watched their children eagerly clamor over the new technology and spend hours attempting to rescue a princess or defeat the evil Dr. Wily. Was spending time playing such games healthy? Many parents still connected the newer games with games they had played in the early 80s, seeing them as either ruthlessly simple or far more complex then the games they had played and therefore too complex to understand. As parents began to voice concerns about the health of their children, various research began to come forward blaming video games for a host of social problems, such as youth-violence and attributing video games to depression or a lack of social experience (Williams et al., 2002). 

     The early 1990s however, brought the attention to a high point that has continued ever since with the release of games such as Doom and Mortal Kombat, both featuring violence, blood and gore in different aspects. Doom, released in 1993 for PC took the computer world by storm, flooding college campuses and home computers as it spread by word of mouth. Building off of an earlier game called Wolfenstein 3D, the game had players wandering around a three dimensional environment in first person and using a large variety of weapons to slay demons. Mortal Kombat on the other had was a play on the popular fighting genre which allowed players to compete against one another in martial arts battles, but with gratuitous amounts of blood and the death of the losing player.

     As games continued to grow more advanced and lifelike (see Figure 3) questions of the effects of playing them were readily bounced through the media. Politicians picked up on growing controversy, and soon it was huge. Blame spread wide, with video games being accused of everything from causing school shootings to the lowering educational standards of American schools. Despite the heavy opposition, video games on both PC and home gaming consoles (the device required to play the games, much as a DVD player is required to play a DVD) continued to rise rapidly. 


Stephen said...

Great so far. I'm interested to see what else you have to say.

One thing I'm interested in is your rejection of the early gaming research. While I, like you, believe that much of the hype blaming video games for social problems is totally overblown, I still do believe that there may be negative effects.

This is because I'm familiar with the very comprehensive body of literature describing the effects of violent movies on children. A few years ago, Brad Bushman at the university of Michigan did a meta-analysis of all of the literature on movie violence and aggression, and established that the relationship there is very strong.

Of course, that line of research is not interested as much in whether or not violent movies turn kids into killers, but whether or not it makes you more likely to have aggressive thoughts or behave more aggressively in competitive games. I'd imagine that there are similar subtle effects in video games. What do you think?

However, as a casual gamer myself, I do think that there are many positive effects that video games are related to--and I think the gaming industry is continually missing opportunities to capitalize on those effects. But maybe more on that as I read more of your paper :)

The Game Critic said...

Well the reason we rejected a lot of earlier research is because the level of bias on both sides was much, much higher back then, with all sorts of reports that, once dug into, dealt with the subject matter in a a very questionable fashion.

For example, one study that I looked at that claimed games made people more aggressive had the following research. 20 or 30 people were divided into 2 groups and asked to play games, one group a board game, and the other a computer game. The result? People who played the computer game rated their aggression as 0.5! 0.5! Therefore, they asserted, video games made you violent.

So I dug into the study. What was the baseline for 0.5? There was none! How had they gotten 0.5? By a paper bubble sheet asking you to rate aggression. Had anyone used it beforehand to gauge a base? No....but it was 0.5! 0.5! They cried it over and over through the whole report.

What were the games? For both groups, Monopoly, one just played against a computer instead of team members. What kind of game is that to test aggression? What was the aggression result for the group that played people? 0.4 to 0.5. Wait a minute here...

Honestly, that experiment fails to even meet the criteria of an experiment as I learned it in 6th grade, and its shameful how they twist the one bit of data that is honestly meaningless to fit their preconceived idea.

One more example. One experiment from the early 90s was later disavowed when it was found that the researchers in charge had been paid individually to fake the result data by an anti-game group. Their control group of 'non-game players' was made of simply ordinary school children, while the 'Video Game players' group were children taken from a juvenile detention center for criminally violent children.

With so much research early in the game industry falling prey to one side or the other attempting to pick sides, we felt that more reliable data would be returned by more modern research if at all possible.

While I still agree that there can be negative effects from game playing (anything can be harmful), a lot of early video game research reminds me of the early Rock and Roll scientific research that proved Rock music caused communist thinking and pro-Soviet ideals. Anytime something new arises, various sides scramble to fix their agenda to it, and we felt that our report would be best served by modern data.

Edited once to clarify.

Stephen said...

I see what you're saying. Monopoly--lol. Seriously...there's some rigorous, advanced research.

I would hope that the social-scientific world has had time to cool their jets and get off their sensationalist train and examine the issue more scientifically. I think the fact that there are even ANY studies out there examining the potential benefits of games shows you that we're looking at this a little more objectively now.

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

It's funny how people will skew and leave out information just to advance their own agenda, yet still call their study legitimate with a straight face. (Monopoly? Seriously?)

Fantastic so far, though. I'm glad more people are stepping up to prove that the gamers deserve a fair shake and that video games aren't the devil.