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Video Games: Why Their Benefits Outweigh Concern over Violence

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Video Games: Why Their Benefits Outweigh Concern over Violence Video games are rapidly becoming one the most common forms of electronic entertainment and are played by both children and adults. Recently, there have been several investigations into the possible effects gaming may have on the development of children’s mental faculties as well as how they might affect a gamer’s emotional disposition following gameplay. Much of this research has painted video games in a negative light asserting that the playing of violent video games leads to an increase of aggressive or antisocial behavior. Though this is important research, it fails to encompass broader questions of effects of different types of games that necessitate different styles of play or even different material within a game that could produce different behavioral outcomes. Moreover, because of the popularity of video games there is a substantial economic component to the question of the utility of video games. Finally, there are several educational and other miscellaneous personal benefits of gaming that often go under reported or are simply ignored.

After compiling evidence and applying common sense we can plainly see that video games offer benefits that far outweigh their disadvantages. First, and quite possibly the easiest impact of video games to quantify, is that of their effect on the economy. In 2012, there were on average 6 video, computer, or digital games sold every second in the United States (ESA). This statistic means that even at a low price video games are able to have a large impact on the economy. Also in 2012, video game software sales in the United States were worth a total of $6.7 billion, computer game sales were worth $380 million, video game consoles were worth $5.9 billion digital game content was worth $5.9 billion, all of these and other sectors of the video game market came together to be worth an overall $21 billion (ESA). These numbers are certainly significant and represent the increase in the market share that video games are now claiming on the entertainment market. This growth is expected to continue 5% annually through 2015.

Moreover, in 2009 the entertainment software industry added $5 billion to the United States GDP alone (ESA). Part of video games’ sizeable impact on the economy is their ability to create opportunities for employment. “Currently, video game companies directly and indirectly employ more than 120,000 people in 34 states.” And there average pay is around $90,000 annually resulting in a total of $2.9 billion paid to employees of video game companies (ESA). Furthermore, “lawmakers across the country are introducing tax incentive laws into their state legislatures with the hope of attracting game companies that fuel the economy. Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana are just a few of the states that have proposed and passed legislation offering incentives to the video game industry.” (ESA). These tax incentives will only help to continue to grow the industry and enable it to produce a higher quality product at a higher volume enabling it to grow its market share even further.

Also, if our elected officials can see that there is benefit to these programs and are willing to invest our states’ and country’s future in then maybe we too should begin to examine the positive benefits of the industry as a whole instead of focusing solely on limited research which links specific violent content within video games with a short lived increase in aggressive behavior immediately following gameplay. At times, video games are associated with violent behavior but this is a misnomer and does not take into account all types of games and their content. A recent study was performed and, “Results revealed that video games with proscocial content increased helpful and decreased hurtful behaviors in a short term experimental context with children” (Muniba,, Anderson, & Gentile, 2012). This research is significant because many of the critics of video games tend to focus on the harms that result from gameplay of violent video games. This research allows us to see that video games are not inherently good nor bad but merely a vehicle through which content travels and that the content of the video game is what is important when determining its effects on human cognition and emotion. This means that we are able to use video games as a way to help enhance the human brain.

Ultimately, video games can produce pro-social or anti-social results depending on their content which allows us to see that it is a matter of careful regulation and individual responsibility to monitor what games we allow ourselves and our children to play, taking special care to ensure that the content is appropriate rather than categorically banning them as mind-numbing trash that makes our society a more dangerous place to live. In addition, a study found that “aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and heart rate initially increased after violent video game play. Second, results of the delay condition revealed that the increase in aggressive feelings and aggressive thoughts lasted less than 4 min, whereas heart rate and aggressive behavior lasted 4–9 min.” (Bartlett). This short term effect makes it difficult to ascribe a correlation between violent video games and highly violent behavior. This means that those who assert that mass shootings such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or others are results of violent video game play confuses association with causation.

Typically, these shooters had some level of preexisting mental instability that resulted in their heinous crimes. It would be difficult to prove a causal link between the 4-9 minutes of aggressive behavior post violent game play and the rampages that these individuals went on which lasted for a much more extended period of time. In other words, it would be problematic to say that video games directly result in heinous, violent crime. Another common concern based on misconception is that video games have no benefit for human mental faculties and many times are described as lazy or corrosive of the human brain. Contrary to this position, Jason Allaire, an associate professor in the department of psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, asserted “Whether it’s a specially manufactured game or something like ‘World of Warcraft,’ games are cognitively complex and require mental energy and abilities to play them…Whenever you do anything that requires mental energy, you’re exercising your abilities — it’s just like if you exercise your muscles, you get stronger”(Guarini).

Some recent research confirmed this idea, “play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception” (Nauert). The study concluded that those who played first person shooter video games had an increased ability to process information in a three dimensional space similar to the effects produced by academic courses designed to enhance these same skills. While this higher order understanding of three dimensional space was limited to first person shooter games, playing strategic video games were found to “help children develop problem-solving skills,” (Nauert). The study further concluded that students benefited from increases in creativity from playing any kind of video game, including ones with violent content, but did not benefit in the same way from using other forms of technology such as computers or cell phones. In another study conducted by German scientists, subjects were asked to play “Super Mario 64” for thirty minutes a day over two months and a separate control group did not play video games at all.

At the end of the two month period the subjects’ brains were examined via MRI and researchers found that “the gaming group had a rise in gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum — areas of the brain responsible for spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills in the hands.” This led the researchers to believe that video games could serve as a valuable tool for treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s (Guarini). Moreover, the study found that video games are able to improve the player’s mood, increase relaxation, and decrease anxiety. “If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider,” (Nauert). The research also theorized that playing video games aids in teaching the player in how to cope with failure. This assertion is based on the idea that because those who play video games face repeated failure in their attempts to progress through games they will build a resilience that they can look to in their everyday lives.

In another counter to the common stereotype of the gaming community, the study found that gamers are not as isolated as one might think. “More than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games” (Nauert). In essence, multiplayer games are communities where players must make quick assessments of trustworthiness and evaluate decisions for group leadership. Finally, the study concluded that “educators are currently redesigning classroom experiences, integrating video games that can shift the way the next generation of teachers and students approach learning” and that doctors are now implementing video games in an effort to improve their patient’s health.

The article closed by urging “teams of psychologists, clinicians and game designers work together to develop approaches to mental health care that integrate video game playing with traditional therapy.” (Nauert). In conclusion, video games are sometimes portrayed as dangerous because of their relationship to short term increases in aggressive behavior, however such concerns are overblown and ignore the multiple benefits of video games. Taken in aggregate, the ability of video games to be used in education and therapy as well as their economic earning potential place them in a unique position our society should take advantage of rather than shun as dangerous.

Works Cited
Saleem, Muniba, Craig A. Anderson, and Douglas A. Gentile. “Effects Of Prosocial, Neutral, And Violent Video Games On Children’s Helpful And Hurtful Behaviors.” Aggressive Behavior 38.4 (2012): 281-287. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014. De Simone, J. J. “What Is Good Can Also Be Bad: The Prosocial And Antisocial In-Game Behaviors Of Young Video Game Players.” Atlantic Journal Of Communication 21.3 (2013): 149-163. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Apr. 2014. Nauert, Rick. “Video Games Can Help Boost Social, Memory & Cognitive Skills.” American Psychological Association. November 26, 2013. Web. 4 April 2014. Entertainment Software Association. “Games: Improving the Economy.” et al 2014. Wed. 4 April 2014. Sestir, Mark, Barthalow, Bruce. “Violent and Nonviolent Video Games Produce Opposing Effects on Aggressive and Prosocial Outcomes.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (2010): 934–942. Web. 4 April 2014. Guarini, Drew. “9 Ways Video Games Can Actually Be Good For You.” HuffingtonPost. 11 November 2013. Web. 6 April 2014.

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