The Cutting Edge: Is our generation poisoning itself with video games?

September 20, 2010 12:51 pmComments OffViews: 5

The Columbine High School massacre was a result of the violent video games the students were playing. Our nation’s youth have more mental health issues than generations prior because they waste their days alone in dark virtual worlds.

These stories, and others like it, have been presented on the evening news time and time again. Are adults simply finding an outlet for their natural fears against video games? Or, are these harsh accusations against our generation’s favorite pastime justified?

Evidence that these concerns may be valid comes from research by Dr. Patrick Markey at Villanova University and his wife, Dr. Charlotte Markey at Rutgers-Camden. They have found that teens who play violent video games display higher levels of hostility and aggressive thinking and behavior than those who do not. Although the average person is affected only mildly, if at all, their research indicates that individuals with personalities already prone to aggression are significantly susceptible to video game-induced hostility. This supports, in part, the Columbine hypothesis.

Psychological researchers at Denison University have also shown that video games can lead to poorer academic achievement. After four months of measuring the academic activities of gamers and non-gamers, it was found that gamers spent significantly less time on school assignments at home. They also demonstrated notably lower reading and writing scores overall than those without game consoles.

If individuals neglect school to play video games, then might they also neglect their friends and family?

Indeed, research at Brigham Young University by Dr. Laura Walker found that as a person’s time spent gaming increased, the quality of their relationships with peers and family members declined. Greater gaming frequency was also related to higher levels of drug use in young adults, and diminished self-esteem in females.

Fortunately, there is a brighter side to video game play. According to scientists at the University of Rochester, avid gamers demonstrate higher scores on a number of cognitive performance tests measuring mental rotation, spatial memory and multitasking skills. These assessments are important components of many intelligence tests.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have also found that video games can augment individuals’ split-second decision making. Participants who played a fast-paced action game for a total of 50 hours showed a 25% increase in reaction times on a number of snap judgments compared to a control group. Furthermore, fast-paced gamers were just as accurate in their decisions as their counterparts, despite their impressive speed.

But do the skills video games enhance offer any real value off the couch?

James Rosser Jr., M.D. and colleagues at the Beth Israel Medical Center provide evidence that the games may provide significant value. That is, they gave 33 surgeons a computer-based surgical skills training test, and then had each of them play video games for a half hour. Remarkably, the surgeons who were in the top third for video game performance made 47 percent fewer errors, performed tasks 39 percent faster, and scored 41 percent better overall on the surgical assessment. It seems that video games may improve skills critical to the very survival of surgery patients.

What is one to make of this conflicting evidence? To play or not to play video games?

Let’s be honest. If you want to play video games, you are going to, even if I tell you it will result in the Russians abducting all of your friends tonight. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that video games, for better or worse, may significantly impact your mental health, cognitive abilities, and social relationships. It may, in reality, be more than just a game.

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