Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Video games: Social hurdle or technological primer?

As the title reveals, the affect of which video games have on their players is a topic under constant debate. Criticism resides in the stigma placed on video games as unsophisticated and shallow. Proponents of the source of entertainment point to its ability to teach children computer skills. Much of what the class had to say in defense or against video games was brought up during the class discussion following the documentary, but it felt as though much was left undiscussed and would like to emphasize some of these points now.

In Understanding Video Games, the public perception against video games is explained as being contained in the thought that they promote violence, poor health, and anti-social tendencies. To rebuke these assumptions, Nielsen cites several studies. First, he quotes a study about the benefits of video games:

"[Video gaming] speeds eye-hand coordination, sharpens driving and math skills, and shields against technological shock."

A recent study has shown that video games do, in fact, improve fine hand-eye coordination but sports produce much better general balance and coordination. The only occupation tested was a surgeon when trying to figure out video games and sports compare in improving coordination. It really comes down to a debate between fine and general coordination, so the study really isn't proving a point about one being better than the other.

To continue, math skills could be better sharpened with, say, more math. And only certain games have been accredited to actually possessing such a benefit, so I'm not buying it as an overwhelming quality. If the only benefit that can be seen is that video games "shield against technological shock", such as with computers, I am failing to see the saving grace.

Understanding Video Games further tries to discredit the links to violence. Henry Jenkins states that video games cannot be an "immediate catalyst" because murders involving shootings do not happen at video arcades but in outside these environments, never in them. Research among psychologists have overwhelming proved the assertion by Jenkins to be false. Violent media, including videogames, while may not provide an "immediate catalyst" for acts of violence, over time can produce instances of violent behavior.

A study by psychologists at Iowa State University concluded that after subjects were given relatively low amounts of time to play violent video games, they found it easier to witness violent acts shown to them later on videos. Essentially, after completing their study, the psychologists stated that video games "desensitize individuals to real-life violence". So even when removed from the catalyst of violence, ie video games, violent tendencies follow the gamer outside of the gaming environment. One of the researchers. Craig Anderson, has been studying the psychological effects of violent media for nearly 30 years states in an article:

"Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior"

I have too often seen children being baby-sat with a video game console, often with violent or semi-violent video games. The effects of this could potentially be problematic when the child develops into a young adult. Desensitization and aggression are possible outcomes of consistent exposure to violent media. To digress, the class discussed the concept of laziness being perpetuated by video game-play. The studies, as aforementioned, mentioned a decrease in "prosocial (helping) behavior" as resulting from excessive playing of video games. This, too, goes against what was argued inUnderstanding Video Games.

This is by no means to say that the conclusions made by the psychologists mentioned above are the rule. But observations made by scientists in an ongoing manner shouldn't be discarded either. I am still not convinced of any true benefits that come from the playing of video games. What ever happened to going outside? Cliche, but true.

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