Just like nearly everything in this world, video games have their pros and cons. People who claim gaming only has advantages or disadvantages are oftentimes not able to see the whole picture. In reality, games have a big impact not only on people and their social behaviour, but also their brain chemistry.
Research on games
Scientists collected and analyzed research on games which proves they can shape our minds and behaviour. Studies suggest that gaming can change some areas of the brain – especially those responsible for visual attention and perception. A team of researchers has also investigated the mechanisms of reward systems and several other related phenomena.
Video games are gaining popularity. Even adults are becoming more and more involved, thus the average age of gamers is increasing. The changes in technology causes more people to play video games on desktops or consoles, but also on their smartphones and tablets for longer periods of time. It is an increasingly popular form of entertainment, but how does it affect our mind and behaviour?
The effect of video games on behaviour
There is some evidence that video games can increase the size and effectiveness of brain areas related to spatial imagination. For example, the hippocampus has grown for both experienced gamers and random volunteers after just a short workout.
However, video games can be addictive. Scientists have found functional and structural changes in the reward system for people who are addicted to computer games. Such a system activates while playing, evokes thirst and monitors the way the mind gets pleasure from playing through awarding itself. These neuronal changes are essentially the same in comparison to other addictive disorders.
Withdrawal symptoms related to such an addiction caused by the inability to use a computer or play a game may include irritability, restlessness, aggression, shame, apathy and, in extreme cases, even depression. It also causes hyperactivity, isolation, mood swings, circadian rhythm problems, insomnia, trouble concentrating, and neglecting everyday duties. The reward system causes the addict to constantly think about playing and the things they will do when they finally sit down in front of the screen, every time they are not using a computer or console.
The structure of the gamer’s brain is different from the brain of a person who doesn’t play video games. Gamers developed superior connections between the areas responsible for visual and spatial abilities and have a more developed area responsible for automatic movements.
Playing a variety of games has a good effect on memory and spatial orientation. Just 90 hours of gameplay can cause changes in the brain, however it also depends on the type of the game. Gamers who play within the 3D world (or in other words, without having to use a mini map on the screen) have larger hippocampuses than people who do not play games at all. The hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for memory, among other things.
Scientific research also shows that logic and platform games contribute to the increase in volume of the entorhinal area, which is associated with inter alia responsible for biographical memory.
Concentration can be divided into two types. The first focuses on achieving the goal, while the second controls, analyses and manages many factors, all at once. It turns out that a comparison of what is happening in the brain of a gamer with what is happening in the brain of a non-gamer, resulted in a conclusion that a majority of gamers use less brain energy to fully concentrate, simply because it’s easier for them.
There is no research proving that games, even violent ones, increase aggression.
However, playing video games can still have a negative impact on people. It turns out that addiction to games is already classified as a real disease. Addiction manifests itself through a moment when a gamer becomes aware of the time they spend on games and how it negatively affects their personal life (school, work, relationships, etc.). An important factor in the diagnosis will also be the gamer’s admission that they no longer feel the pleasure of playing, but for some reason must do it anyway.
The whole problem in examining the impact of video games on cognitive functions is that there is lots of different games and people do not necessarily play only one type. This is a methodological problem in the context of this phenomenon. There are different game genres and each one has their own rules. The most “serious” gamers have their favourite games in which they try to go as far as possible and reach the highest level of the character they have created. Playing games in a foreign language can also expand your vocabulary to some extent, which is of course one of the undoubted advantages of playing.
FPS or RTS?
Research in this area began about 10 years ago. You don’t need a particularly large number of studies to conclude that games improve perception, working, short-term memory and reaction speed. Stimulating the brain with different, rapidly changing stimuli and rules ultimately contributes to improved cognitive training. Especially if you enjoy learning and solving puzzles.
Jane McGonigal, author of “Super better”, created a game which turns life into a virtual reality and thus allows you to perpetuate certain psychological habits. After signing up, you can choose the area of your personal life on which you would like to work on, and then get tasks to do during the day in several different areas: emotions, psyche, social skills, physical resistance. According to McGonigal, after 30 days of playing and achieving the Epic Win (the final goal) everyone feels the difference in their psyche – for the better, in the form of increased resistance and optimism.
The main benefits of playing video games:
- Better problem-solving and logic skills
- Improved hand-eye coordination
- Superior planning, resource management and logistics
- Multitasking, simultaneous tracking of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives
- Quick thinking, making fast analysis and decisions
- Better accuracy
- Complex strategy and anticipation skills
- Improved situational awareness
- Better pattern recognition
- Improved memory
- Better concentration
- Improved ability to rapidly and accurately recognize visual information
- Reasoned judgments
- Higher risk-taking possibility
- Better knowledge on how to respond to challenges
- Improved teamwork and cooperation skills
- Better management
All in all…
Video games are not bad or harmful if played within limits – that’s for sure. Of course, it’s worth to add that to maintain the above mentioned benefits, games should be played responsibly. Too much gaming can make us detached from reality, which is certainly not a good thing for our mental health.