It’s the final boss fight, I’m gonna get him this time. Charging my laser, boom! Barrel roll! Oh, I got him, legendary loot.
Oh, I didn’t see you all there. Since I was young, my granny has always been telling me to “never sit too close to the TV or the computer” or else my eyes will “go square,” as well as “you are what you eat, but you are also what you play on the computer,” and perhaps most puzzling of all – “Darling, how do I google something again?” In fact, the reason why I decided to do this talk in the first place was because I’d always hear this negativity around the media about video games. This person killed someone, did something violent, because they played a video game.
I really didn’t want any of this negativity to be true, so I decided to do a bit of research. One of the first studies I looked at was short but positive, and it showed that playing Portal 2, which is a very, very popular puzzle game, improves spatial skills, problem-solving, and persistence more than the supposed brain trainer Lumosity, which is a browser-based brain trainer. 77 undergraduates sat a test and then played eight hours of either Portal 2 or Lumosity. Afterward, they sat the same test again and the results were pretty astounding.
The Portal 2 players had improved their spatial skills, problem-solving, and persistence by over 80% when compared to the Lumosity players. Now, this sounded pretty good, but it gets even better. This study is carried out by Jeffrey Snodgrass, who by the way has the best name in science ever, and I know a lot of good guys in science, like the best, and in this study, he examines different types of video gaming experiences and their effects on players’ lives, including their self-reported stress levels, life satisfaction, and happiness. In his study, Dr. Snodgrass and his team examined the popular online game World of Warcraft, which currently has around 5.6 million players worldwide. In this game, players develop virtual avatars and complete tasks in cooperation with other players. Now the complex and highly interactive nature of this type of game can often lead players to feel as if they’re in some important sense separate from the world outside of the game.
These types of video games are commonly known as MMO RPGs, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Now, Dr. Snodgrass and his research team noticed that when players became very, very involved when playing World of Warcraft for a short to medium period of time, after they finished play, they reported high levels of stress relief and tension relief. However, Dr. Snodgrass and his team also noted that if a player played World of Warcraft, became very immersed, and then played for a longer period of time, they actually reported less stress relief or even increases in stress. So Dr. Snodgrass and his team noticed this phenomenon happening so often, they labeled it as an immersive experience. And when a player becomes deeply immersed in a game like World of Warcraft, or any other game, for that matter, they can often lead players to feel as if they’re so involved with their character that they forget the world outside of the game and can report positive and negative stress relief and tension relief or gain depending on how long they play for.
So quick little recap. Some video games can improve various skills, like spatial skills, problem-solving, and persistence, and some can put you into a trance-like state that alleviates stress and tension in small to medium doses. However, some of the negative effects that video games can and do induce certainly disheartened me when I was doing my search. This study features 172 high school students each playing a violent video game, such as GTA, or Grand Theft Auto, or a non-violent video game, such as 3-D minigolf or pinball.
They played this game for 35 minutes, and were told that they could snack from a bowl of M&Ms as they played. However, they were warned that eating too many of them was bad for their health. Their level of self-control was measured by whether they just couldn’t resist grabbing a fist full of those sweet little chocolaty goodness pellets and ramming them straight down their throat, or whether they did the impossible and only ate two or three at a time. It shocks me just thinking about it and I honestly believe those people should have movies based on them.
After finishing play, gamers head to answer some questions. On a one to seven scale, completely agree to completely disagree, participants answered questions like, “Insulting a classmate is okay because physically hurting them is far worse.” These types of questions are designed to measure something called moral disengagement, or in layman’s terms, getting people to think of their behavior in relative terms. This experiment concluded with a test that was designed to measure aggression.
Players took part in a competitive reaction task, so many fancy words in this study, or a small game, where the winner of each round was allowed to blast the loser with some loud and very unpleasant noise. Their level of aggression was measured by how long and how loud the winners played this sound. Now the results were probably what you would expect, but surprisingly consistent across the board. The people who played the violent video game, GTA, Grand Theft Auto, reported higher levels of aggression, moral disengagement, and less self-control than the people who played the non-violent video game, 3-D minigolf or pinball, who, I will state again, ate an impossibly small number of M&Ms, like less than a kilogram. How is that even possible?
And this last study proves that when the media claims that playing video games leads to violence, as it does so often, the claims themselves actually lead to violence. Bare with me a second. Dr. Mario Vance conducted a 7-year-long study that measured the levels of aggression in more than 1,000 volunteers from gaming communities across the world. And the results show that increases in overall aggression and violent tendencies started when participants viewed a news or media story that claimed with usually no evidence that playing video games caused you to become an irrevocably violent murderer. Dr. Mario Vance has stated before that the mainstream media has never liked video games, but it’s getting a bit silly now, because whenever someone does a violent thing and it turns out they have played video games before in the past, even if it was Legends of Zelda as a kid, they are obviously a murderer and should never be touched or gone near.
So, from these various studies, I tried to come to a definite conclusion – video games are good for you, or video games are bad for you. And then it hit me. The problem is that people are looking for this definite yes or no answer when there isn’t one.
Video games alone don’t cause people to become more violent and do violent things, but they also don’t cause you to become more “smarterererer.” But, then again, these days when we have such immersive and wonderful devices, like the Oculus Rift, which is a virtual reality headset that places a screen directly in front of your eyes and allows you to be inside and control the character, you have to wonder what the effects of puzzle and violent video games, like Portal 2 or Grand Theft Auto, will be. When we’re killing people in such great levels of immersion but solving puzzles in that level of immersion, too, you have to wonder if humanity will just kind of desensitize ourselves even more to this kind of violence, or whether we will just become a much more clever people. All speculation aside though, video games are a truly wonderous invention.
They can transport us to a different, more vibrant world, let us do things that we’d otherwise dream is impossible, and are arguably the single greatest invokers of emotion as we become the people who can make friendships, get betrayed, go on killing sprees, solve puzzles, uncover ancient artifacts, and walk away from a really impressive explosion wearing awesome looking sunglasses in slow motion. But when you are playing video games, there are three super important things that you have to remember. One, have fun. Two, play in moderation.
And three, get that final boss. Thank you.