Playing video games improves concentration and mood – and other such justifications teenagers amuse themselves with

Dr Ankit Sharma

Senior Resident (DM Onco-Anesthesia)

Dr BRA IRCH, AIIMS, New Delhi

In order to become a strong, prosperous country, and to live up to the stereotypical notions regarding academics, India as a nation has had a habit of putting a ban on anything remotely hinting to be a distraction from studies. At least that’s what the author likes to believe. It was porn in 2015, PUBG in 2020 and logical thinking during every single Cricket World Cup and well, the time of elections. Unfortunately, we’re here to discuss only the least interesting thing of the three – videogames.

Disclaimer: All the following ‘expert’ commentary comes to you from someone who has finished Super Mario and Contra once each in his life (may or may not have used cheat codes for Mario) and still moves the control/remote in the direction of jump while making the game character (eg Super Mario) jump across an obstacle. So, all the criticism for the unscientific/unbelievable nature of this piece must be directed at the Editor. He should have given it to someone with far more experience in playing video games for hours on end, for example: even at work, like some politicians. [1]

In today’s era, young and old alike have ready access to video games, including

electronic/digital games played on their phones, computers or home consoles,  tablets and the web. Here’s a food-for-thought: picture a video-game addict. If you don’t identify yourself as one, you’re probably imagining a spectacled, borderline obese boy sitting in his mother’s basement swearing into his headphones while empty packs of chips and cans of unhealthy drinks lay on the floor. If you identify as a video-games enthusiast, you may picture Carry Minati – young, rich, somewhat hygienic-looking but still swearing into his headphones. That’s probably just the stereotype. But is there more to videogames than what meets the eye?

There may be a bias among readers about the ill effects of video games, especially the violent ones including PUBG, Contra, WWE, or, ahem, Duck Shooting. The plethora of studies that have focused on measures that attempt to demonstrate causal relationships between violent videogames and aggression, have not produced similar results. Some have simply shrugged off [2], some have given damning evidence to correlate [3] while overall the picture looks like that violent video games may only serve to ‘unearth’ such behavior in inherently violent individuals. These results may be taken with a pinch of salt because we are still unsure about whether there are specific individual traits that make some people prefer violent video games, or is it simply a way to temporarily disconnect from reality and indulge in a more free, expressive and uninhibited virtual world. [4]

There have also been suggestions of diminished social competence, increased loneliness, and lower self-esteem in individuals who indulge in ‘pathological gaming’ (defined as ‘the persistent and recurrent inability to control excessive gaming habits despite associated social and/or emotional problems’ and not ‘those who can’t even get a decent score in Candy Crush’) Findings suggest that lower psychosocial well-being was more likely to be a cause rather than a consequence of pathological gaming. [5,6]

Video games have been linked with ‘flourishing mental health’, although the term means more in a mental health sense than getting a promotion at your job or getting straight As in your term exams. Huppert et al [7] defined ‘flourish’ as more than the absence of disorder with flourishing conceived as the opposite of mental disorder rather than its mere absence. So, we have established two things so far. Firstly, there must have been some perceived benefits of playing video games that have prompted such research and secondly, things do not make much sense to medical fraternity unless they have a fancy term for it, which can be defined in complex, intellectual terms (such as “not merely an absence of”). And here I was, thinking of extra advantages of video games being limited to help you slack off domestic chores, and possibly making you look good as a father (to justify family planning, or lack thereof).

Moderate videogame play has been linked with emotional stability [8] and reducing emotional disturbances in children [9]. Factors such as ‘letting off steam’ or simple relaxation of mind and body as with any other hobby seem to be a factor here, and not simply the hypothesis of having a brag-worthy high score in Subway Surfer. In another study, depressed mood has been found to be significantly lower in moderate players of videogames compared to those who “never” play videogames and those who play videogames to excess [10]. Studies have linked videogame playing to skill acquisition [11] as well. That’s perhaps one of the reasons that Tetris shall always remain the video game with peak parental-approval.

In terms of flourishing, a review article assessed effect of videogames in terms of Seligman’s PERMA model [12], e g., Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. While the accomplishment/progress over PERMA model may multi-factorial and subjective, a review paper has presented literature to evidence how moderate levels of videogame play can have a positive influence on well-being, including improved mood, reduced emotional disturbance, improve emotion regulation, relaxation, and stress reduction. Notably, moderate play has been found to be better than either excessive play or a lack of play, and the genre or type of game may not play a substantial role in the outcome. [13]

The ‘bias’ in taking a dismissive and alarmed view of violent video games must be discarded, as there were violent people with sociopathic behavior even before the era of video games, and actual manifestation of such behavior may have something to do with gun control rather than video games. In terms of ‘copying’ actions, cinema and TV have had a far bigger effect than video games which continue to be a niche activity when compared to the universal appeal of cinema. Probably more people have seen Scarface or Gangs Of Wasseypur than who have played Max Payne, and blaming one-off incidents of violence on video games seems like blaming organized crime on Mario Puzo.

Of course, video games have their limits in having a positive effect. Playing a game of ‘Online Darts’ will not make you a genius at trigonometry, no more than working at a superstore can make you good at algebra. While we may suggest taking the reports of negative effect of video games with a pinch of salt, we also need to consider limiting the time spent over video games. There is a serious risk of such indulgence making you emotionally unstable and socially unproductive. If you agree with my parents, it will also “make your eyes pop out”. There is no literature pertaining to that, except parental logic.

1. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/technology/5-times-politicians-caught-playing-4768862

2. Shibuya, A., Sakamoto, A., Ihori, N., and Yukawa, S. (2008). The effects of the presence and contexts of videogame violence on children: a longitudinal study in Japan. Simul. Gaming 39, 528–539. doi: 10.1177/1046878107306670

3. Möller, I., and Krahé, B. (2009). Exposure to violent videogames and aggression in German adolescents: a longitudinal analysis. Aggress. Behav. 35, 75–89. doi: 10.1002/ab.20290

4. Przybylski, A. K., Ryan, R. M., and Rigby, C. S. (2009a). The motivating role of violence in video games. Personal. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 35, 243–259. doi: 10.1177/0146167208327216

5. Lemmens, J., Valkenburg, P., and Peter, J. (2011). Psychosocial causes and consequences of pathological gaming. Comput. Human Behav. 27, 144–152. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.07.015

6. Chak, K., and Leung, L. (2004). Shyness and locus of control as predictors of internet addiction and internet use. Cyberpsychol. Behav. 7, 559–570. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2004.7.559

7. Huppert, F., and So, T. T. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Soc. Indic. Res. 110, 837–861. doi: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7

8. Przybylski, A. K., Weinstein, N., Murrayama, K., Lynch, M. F., and Ryan, R. M. (2011). The ideal self at play: the appeal of video games that let you be all you can be. Pscyhol. Sci. 23, 69–76. doi: 10.1177/0956797611418676

9. Hull, K. (2009). Computer/Video Games as a Play Therapy Tool in Reducing Emotional Disturbances in Children. Doctoral dissertation, UMI Number: 3380362, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.

10. Durkin, K., and Barber, B. (2002). Not so doomed: computer game play and positive adolescent development. J. Appl. Dev. Psychol. 23, 373–392. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(02)00124-7

11. Gee, J. P. (2008). “Learning and games,” in The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning, ed. K. Salen (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 21–40.

12. Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well- being. New York: Free Press.

13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00260

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.