A healthy, scientific view on gaming

We’ve all heard the arguments set out by opponents of video games (yes, those Scrooges!)

kid-gone-crazyGames are said to rot the brain, making kids hyperactive, lazy, obese or aggressive. In recent years, a lot of scientific study has been conducted to find a basis for these claims, with mixed results. As a scientist myself, I often wonder about the practices in these studies. How fair are the results obtained and interpreted, for example from a statistics viewpoint, or when it comes to leading questions?

I was surprised when I ran into this link on Sciencealert, referred to work of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, over in Australia. These people were interested in looking at games from a well-being point of view, and wondered if games can contribute positively to young people’s mental health.

Their key findings as outlined in their literature survey shed a rather more positive light on gaming and its effects on mental health:

  • There are many creative, social and emotional benefits from playing videogames, including violent games (Kutner & Olson 2008).
  • Although ‘excessive’ gamers showed mild increases in problematic behaviors (such as somatic symptoms; anxiety and insomnia; social dysfunction, and general mental health status), it was nongamers who were associated with the poorest mental health correlates (Allahverdipour et al. 2010).
  • Frequency of play does not significantly relate to body mass index or academic grade point average (Wack & Tentelett-Dunn 2009)
  • Videogames have been found to be an effective play therapy tool. Children can be helped to change their views of themselves and the world around through metaphors in games, e.g., ‘the force’ in Lego Star Wars, gaining ‘attributes’ in SSX-3 (snowboarding), and conquering ‘quests’ in RuneScape (Hull 2009).

Happy kidThey go on to discuss aspects like Positive Emotional Impact, Healthy Relationships & Social Capital and Self Esteem. I can recommend reading this to anyone in the business of developing games for kids, or those looking at it from the mental health and addictions angle.

The authors are fair enough to mention that “excessive video game play and technology use is not good for mental health and we acknowledge that excessive play is associated with negative outcomes, such as anxiety and insomnia,” but I find the results of their investigation refreshing over the whole. Results from many different scientific studies are compiled and together, show a nuanced view.

The take-away conclusions in the Sciencealert post are:

  • Moderate (non-excessive) levels of playing are associated with positive emotions and improved mood, improved emotion regulation and emotional stability and the reduction of emotional disturbances;
  • Playing video games is a healthy means of relaxation, stress reduction and socializing; and
  • People who play video games in moderation have significantly less depressed mood and higher self-esteem (compared to those who don’t play or who play excessively).

In other words: we should treat gaming as any other hobby — to be pursued in moderation and considered a healthy way to relax and develop ourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll work a little on my own well-being . . .

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