Video games and kids, the link is not an ancient one; rather it is a recent association, about 25 odd years or so. But the history of video gaming is as old as 1947 when Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device was developed. Video games of yesteryears could be played only on computers. Video game consoles of today were not available during the 1900’s. Most of the early games were accessible only on US universities' mainframe computers. There was no gaming industry, it was a simple hobby. Various developments were made with varying technologies. The coin operated ones or better known as Arcade Games took gaming to a new level. In fact through the 1970s -1980s, these games were so popular that this time period is known as The Golden age of Arcade Video Games. By 1990’s home video games in the form of gaming consoles became the new rage. Keeping track of the video games, there are about eight generations of video game consoles as of 2012.
That was then, now video games and children have a stronger bond than ever before. Technology has taken gaming to a whole new level. Console players like XBOX360 , Wii and PS3 are favourites of kids today. Video gaming industry is a billion dollar venture and caters to the taste of teens with specialised products like gaming desktops, gaming websites, gaming headset, gaming chairs etc. In 2006, the entertainment software industry's value added to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $3.8 billion. (depts.washington.edu). Handheld console players like PSP and Nintendo DS have made video gaming portable. But what has impacted video gaming, is the increased portability with smart phones emerging as the new trend in mobile gaming. Kids today do not need to stick around the T.V., video gaming is now anywhere, any-time, pastime. This is the future of gaming and that is what makes the connection between the teens and video games more intimate. All these developments are also affordable which makes it easily accessible.
All these changes are good for the economy but are these good for kids or teens. Let us view some of the statistics towards this trend.
Video Games and Kids Statistics
U.S. computer and video game software sales grew six percent in 2007 to $9.5 billion – more than tripling industry software sales since 1996. (depts.washington.edu)
38% of homes in Americahavea video game console (depts.washington.edu)
According to a study of 1,178 children in the US, almost 9 percent of child gamers are pathologically or clinically addicted to playing video games.
23% of youth say that they have felt addicted to video games, with about one-third of males and a little more than one in 10 females reporting the sensation, according to the survey by Harris Interactive
44% of the youth aged 8 to 18 also reported their friends are addicted to video games, the survey said. The average child 8 to 12 plays 13 hours of video games per week, while teens age 13 to 18 year play 14 hours of video games per week, according to the survey (Harris Interactive).
The two single largest markets for video games are Japan and the US.
84% of tablet owners play games (Touchstone Research)
70 – 80% of all mobile downloads are games (Touchstone Research)
The most installed app type is arcade games, and the most purchased are card and casino games. (Jeremy Copp, Commscore)
The mobile gaming statistics are quite glaring and these are just from the United States and Japan. The worldwide figures would be more glaring. These figures translate a high usage of video gaming among youths. Such an activity is bound to have an impact on children.
The Impact of Video Games on Children
Is there anything which doesn’t have pros and cons? In that way there are advantages and disadvantages of playing video games, too. The pros and cons of gaming need to be understood so that drawbacks of video games can be weeded out and its positive attributes are used to full potential.
Video Games Advantages and Disadvantages
Advantages of Playing Video Games
Video games advantages may not sound good to orthodox mind. But that wisdom is about to be enlightened with video gaming benefits which goes beyond the recreation aspect.
Learning Process – The reason why the kids are so attracted to games is because they are something which they haven’t explored. A fresh mind is always eager to learn more and more. Amongst these learning’s is social and interpersonal skills like circumspection, collaboration, diplomacy, execution, planning and many more. These skills come in use in immediate or mediate future. Research studies have proved that even violent gaming increases the learning abilities if provisioned with guidance. This fact is supported by studies of gamers who are pursuing successful careers as doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers etc.
Stretches the Limits of Imagination – Video games use various types of animations and show unique equipments. These are the result of animator’s imaginations which further fuel the imagination of the kids. It boosts their creativity towards new dimensions. This imagination can be used in their academic, extracurricular activities and future activities.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination – Video game benefits hand-eye coordination. The way the mouse or a keypad is used, helps in making the fingers agile towards various precision, quick movements of the hands, thereby improving overall cognitive thinking. The eye hand coordination can be used to increase typing speed, improve handwriting, benefit craft based activities and other useful activities. Certain studies have shown that surgeons who play video games are faster and better than non-players.
Means of Interactive Entertainment – Video games are a means of entertainment, an interactive one. Watching television which is a favourite time pass of children is a passive mode of entertainment. Video gaming involves the gamer and provides the freedom to act on one’s own pace. The gamer doesn’t need to be instructed or wait for decisions to be made on his behalf. The cheer of winning and disappointment of loosing makes the teenagers experienced towards various emotions.
Frustration Release – Amongst the various advantages of computer games is the emotional release these provide. The world is more complicated today and so are the challenges faced by teenagers. Jealousy, hatred, disappointment, hardships and various other emotions need to be dealt. Mobile gaming provides an avenue of releasing pent up emotions which may not be necessarily shared with someone else.
Confidence Builders – Games are good confidence builders. They inspire effort towards an objective. Most of the games save the scores and sessions which are graphs of achievements and new aims. Winning a game provides a reward that build and reinforces self-confidence in individuals. Specialising in gaming amongst peers makes one realise the importance of effort. It provides a feeling of control over one’s actions. This confidence is all the more necessary for children suffering from mental disorders. In such individuals it stimulates brain activity.
Stimulates Curiosity – Playing mobile games stimulates curiosity towards the upcoming levels, scores and other relative components. Curiosity leads to discovery and discovery is itself a solution. The curiosity generated here may not just remain limited to gaming. It may extend towards the hardware and software of the gaming devices. This curiosity can be inspiring towards one’s answers to certain queries. Today’s gamers may become future scientists, geologists, inventors etc.
Means to Discipline – While playing video games the kids come to know the importance of discipline. Every game has a rule which if not followed results in elimination or end of game. Children learn a lesson of rules and regulations which are transferrable in real life. The lesson of discipline can be helpful in becoming a responsible citizen. Parents can use the habit of gaming as a means to discipline. Parents can develop an environment where such recreation is not a necessity but a privilege which needs to be earned. Completing the homework and then providing the freedom to play games also encourages discipline. Additional positive tasks can be used as yardsticks towards gaming time.
Develops Spirit of Competiveness – Playing of video games is a competitive sport itself and while playing you are in competition with your own self or other competitors. Competitiveness sharpens one’s skills and gives the kids strength to face the competitive world in the academic environment and future corporate environment. The young players do not need the motivation to compete as they are already motivated to do so. This competiveness can be directed towards other achievements in the real world.
Socialisation – Online games or multi player games involve a number of people. This encourages socialisation and not just local or national socialisation but of international level as well. Modern generation families are working families and often there is meagre interaction between the members. If family members and kids arrange for gaming at a certain point of time it can firm the family ties.
Improves Mental Ability – There is no doubt that games thrill us, at the same time they increase our brain activity. Strategy games and puzzles increase our focus towards our goal. Same goes with kids when they try to clear a level or finish a game. They are constantly thinking and reacting towards the stimuli of games. Exposure to video games on PC makes one technologically literate. It also introduces the functioning and operating of a gaming gadget.
Disadvantages of Video Games
As it has been mentioned above, the flip side highlights the negative effects of video games. Keeping in mind the contradictory nature of gaming pros and cons, it is not surprising to know that the positivity of video games can be nullified with various drawbacks of video games.
Encourages Violent Behaviour – The most highlighted negative aspect of gaming is that it encourages violent behaviour. Gentile & Anderson (2003) state that playing video games may increase aggressive behaviour because violent acts are continually repeated throughout the video game. This repetitive behaviour becomes an effective teaching method in reinforcing learning patterns. The researchers concluded that players who had prior experience playing violent video games responded with an increased level of aggression when they encountered confrontation. Various American medical associations have cautioned parents about negative effects in children when they view a violent act. These associations include American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. There have been reports of tragic incidents which have been inspired by video games. For example, in June 2008, four teens went on a crime spree. They robbed a man, knocked his teeth out, stopped a woman driving a black BMW and stole her car and her cigarettes. All this happened at New Hyde Park, New York. All these were obsessed with Grand Theft Auto IV game. This is just one of the incidents, there are numerous such incidents which highlight the aggressive behaviour induced by video games.
Stunts Brain Development – Kids have only one chance to develop their brains and this chance is limited to the age of 20. And if this development is hindered it can result in low level of intelligence. As per an article in the Observer - A research was conducted by Professor Ryuta Kawashima and his team at Tohoku University in Japan. The research involved measuring the level of brain activity in hundreds of teenagers playing a Nintendo game. The brain activity of students doing a simple, repetitive arithmetical exercise was also measured. When these scans were compared it was found that the computer game only stimulated activity in the parts of the brain associated with vision and movement. Maths exercise stimulated the frontal lobe in a better way. Video games allow only a limited portion of the brain to develop. The brain's frontal lobe plays an important role in the repression of antisocial impulses and is associated with memory, learning and emotion. Video games if played for long time with repetitive actions stop the frontal lobes of kid’s brains from developing fully.
Obesity – Obesity and video games gel together very well. This is because most of the gaming involves a stationary position. Most of the time kids are sitting in front of the television for 4-5 hours. Health practitioners point out that gaming regularly for long hour’s decreases physical activity increases the food intake and unhealthy food choices. This lowers the kid’s metabolic rate and increases the weight gain. Once obese, they are prone to a number of other diseases like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and many others. Obesity also leads to depression and mental disorders owing to demoralising behaviour of peers and parents.
Harmful Addiction – Video gaming addiction is harmful in a number of ways. Excessive gaming leans social development, physical activity and academic performance. Gaming addicts remain involved in ways to reaching the next stage. This addiction can make them lose interest in anything else. The world of teen revolves around gaming and they become dependent on it either for emotion release as claimed by researchers. Studies have shown that the gaming addiction stimulates the same regions of the brain as found in alcohol and drug addicts. It is a real problem with serious consequences and unfortunately it doesn’t have any fixed standard to determine the symptoms and behaviour. This is because every individual is unique and so are the behaviour patterns. More confusing are the statistics and findings which are not uniform. Certain issues like low grades, loss of interest, depression, anxiety, obesity etc. are very much real. Take the case of Seungseob Lee of South Korea, in 2005; he played StarCraft in the city of Taegu almost continuously for fifty hours. As a result he suffered a cardiac arrest which resulted in his death. This shows that video gaming addiction can be deadly.
Wastage of Time – Playing video games is also considered a waste of time. The skills of gaming are hardly of any use in the real world. Kids do not get scholarships and they are not awarded degrees for playing games. Nobody gives admission on the basis of your gaming scores. Your achievements are restricted to the gaming world only; they do not enhance your real potential. The same time spent on arts, music, sports etc. are recognised as real achievements and they are of great use in the real world.
Sleep Disorders – Amongst various health problems are various sleep disorders affecting the young mind. Gaming alters the sleep patterns especially when you sleep at irregular intervals. Gaming on mobile phones is more disruptive. Surveys conducted by Jan Van den Bulck, a senior lecturer in psychology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium have shown this fact. As per the surveys one in five teenagers reported being awakened regularly by their mobile devices. Playing at night eats up the sleep time which the body tries to recover during the daytime. Similarly sleeping in day makes you lose sleep at night. This cycle if remains undisrupted also causes behaviour problems.
Spendthrift Tendencies – Gaming expenses can be a big concern for parents especially when these crop up unexpectedly. This trend owes its origin to mobile gaming. Game designers craft fully create games which leave you wanting more. For example ‘Free to Premium’ games offer you limited freedom to play games. You have to pay for removing these limitations. These games have a tendency to addict and there have been numerous cases where kids have used their parents mobile towards gaming privileges intentionally or unintentionally. Even otherwise the addiction factor puts a lot of weight on your bills.
Poor Academic Performances – It is a wide known fact that teens who play lot of video games score less than the non-addicted ones. In fact their score are very poor in comparison. It is obvious that time and energy spent on gaming will hamper your other activities. Thus there is lack or total loss of interest which will be reflected in the grades.
Danger to Security – Threat to security comes from online gaming, either mobile or otherwise. Online safety is already a serious issue faced by the corporate world. This issue has the capacity to become serious in the world of children. Playing games with multiple partners over the internet is also facilitated with chat rooms. Gaming forums and messaging services can compromise the security of the information contained in the gaming device. The security breach can be used in various activities like spreading virus, online tracking and other privacy issues.
Exposure to Mature Content – Adult themes are common in video games. Apart from graphic violence, aggression they introduce drug use and sexual acts. Such mature content is not suitable for the minds of children. The curious mind wants to explore and understand what it’s all about? In this quest kids may end up endangering themselves in the form of diseases and addiction. Some games give false notions of abusing women and substances which may inspire the kids to do the same. Early knowledge of such things also matures the mind prematurely which will have abnormal outcomes.
Influence of Fake Reality – The world of gaming is a virtual one and far from real. Whatever happens in the games does not necessarily happen in the real world. It is an imaginary world filled with exaggerations. For the young mind it can become a part of his reality and we observe a changed individual in terms of manners and behaviour. For example in shooting games you can shoot anybody without any consequences. In some others you can jump off a cliff or a building. These don’t imply in the real world. However instances where games have inspired people to do the same, shows the effect. Today’s kids are more aggressive in their behaviour and language. They are outspoken and cannot control their emotions. These are the impressions of the virtual world which they try to print in the real world.
Early Exposure to Kids – Mobile phones or more aptly smart phones have revolutionised the communication world. There’s, however more to it. Affordable prices and availability of mobile devices has made them popular and widespread. So don’t get surprised when you see a 5-6 year old kid pressing the keys to play a game. In the coming years it wouldn’t be a great surprise either when you see 2-3 years old toying with the mobile phones. For some, it may appear as a ‘Wow Thing’ but is it? Early introduction to such equipment is harmful just in the same way as it is for 12-13 years old. It wouldn’t be an understatement that the harm would rather double up. 2005 research studies show that the average age that U.S. youngsters started to use electronic gadgets had fallen from just over 8 to just over 6 ½. This is an alarming trend.
Eye Problems – If studies haven’t troubled the vision of kids than video games surely will. Adults who work for long time on PC’s already suffer from ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’. This syndrome makes the eyes and brain react differently to words on a computer screen than they do to printed text. Similar symptoms like eye discomfort, fatigue, blurry vision and headaches is often experienced in avid gaming kids. Extensive gaming without sufficient breaks also affects the focus of the eye. This happens because human eyes are not meant for prolonged viewing of electronics devices.
Skin and Strain Problems – A skin disorder ‘Palmar hidradenitis’ is known to be caused by console gaming. It occurs as painful lesions on the palms and fingers. New type of terminology has also been formed like – Nintendonitis which causes tendon injuries of the hands and wrists of Nintendo players. Pain in back, hands, neck and wrist are also caused by regular and or excessive gaming.
Looking at the video games pros and cons it is very much clear that it is a very much issue which needs proper addressing. Earlier the negative effects of video games were more evident and publicised. Nonetheless video game benefits cannot be discounted. A lot of effective research supervised by international agencies needed to be done as there are inconsistencies in the research. Statistics and figures are contradictory. There is also the possibility of fake statistics promoted by the gaming industry to sustain their business. The possibility cannot be ruled out as the profit is large and tempting. Pros and cons of gaming will always be there and always have been. It is up to the parents and if possible the authorities and producers of gaming accessories and equipments to ensure that gaming does not harm the kids. Researchers and scientists can also contribute towards this effect by negating the cons of games and utilising the pros to the max towards productive output and or future.