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Video Games: Dispelling the Myth

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There are a lot of preconceived ideas about gaming, who is doing it, how gaming can alter your brain and your behaviour. How many of you have heard that “Video Games are like Heroin”, “Video games worsen your eyesight”, “Video games reduce your attention span”? Let’s look at where these shock headlines derive from and the current research which suggests quite the opposite.

The Game Gender Gap

If you were to hazard a guess at the typical gamer you would most likely say a teenage boy. However, looking at statistics from United States the average age of a gamer is 35, and the gender gap isn’t as big as one might think, 55% gamers are male and 45% female. In fact, the % of gamers that are women over 18 years old is greater than males under 18.

Your Brain on a Game

Pathways in the forebrain known as dopaminergic pathways, named as such due to the neurotransmitter dopamine, are stimulated when people play video games (Psychology Today). This is where some of the “Gaming is Heroin” chatter lies, as many drugs like cocaine and heroin also stimulate these pathways. But so does eating food and having sex; in fact anything enjoyable activates these pathways causing the release of dopamine. This fear-mongering connection is rather futile.

Daphne Bavelier a neuroscientist from Switzerland, also helps to dispel many myths about the affects of video games in the Ted talk ‘Your brain on video games’. In this talk she explains how video gamers on average, have better vision as they can better depict fine details and differentiate variance in shades of grey. She also conducts mini tests that can prove gamers have enhanced attention and are able to track images better than a non-gamer. Brain imaging supports this evidence, showing that the following networks work more efficiently in the brain of a gamer:

Video Games and Violence

Another widely debated topic is whether video games increase aggression and are the cause of violent crimes. With terrorism and mass shootings rife, it is often an easy tactic to blame the video game industry, saying that violent, realistic games increase aggression and ‘prime’ people to be able to better handle gruesome situations in real life. The American Supreme Court already dismissed the link between game violence and real violence back in 2011 due to lack of evidence supporting the claim. Although that doesn’t stop the debate being revived.

In 2015, a controversial research piece by American Psychological Association claimed that there was a consistent relation between violent game use and aggressive behaviour according to their meta-analysis of existing literature. However, this received blowback from many academics claiming it was bias and contained bogus research that had not been peer reviewed (BBC). To date there is still no substantial evidence to link the two and any demonstrated effects of aggression after a game are indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.

In conclusion, video games are not as bad as you think, not just for teenage boys and can actually be beneficial to your brain when used correctly. That doesn’t mean that playing video games all day every day is good for you, but it does mean that this industry has possibilities to explore in improving brain development and function.

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