Do you find yourself spending hours playing games, be it on the computer, PlayStation 4 or your smartphone? Always intending to play for “just 15 minutes” but somehow, day has turned to night and your entire weekend has been spent in front of the screen?
While we’re all guilty of spending way too much time swapping coloured sweets on Candy Crush or destroying creeps on Dota, we all know the negative effects of too much gaming.
But can gaming actually be good for you?
In this article, we explore both the pros and cons of gaming so you can decide how much time you should spend on playing games.
The benefits of gaming
Playing games isn’t necessarily all bad. There is growing evidence that gaming could be beneficial to you, from improving cognitive function to slowing down the ageing process. We explore some of the advantages of gaming below.
#1. It may improve your memory and other cognitive abilities
In addition to puzzles and riddles, playing video games may also help improve your memory and fine motor skills as it trains specific brain regions. This is especially the case for action game players who need to recognise gaming patterns and remember the objectives, characters and the functions of items in each game.
This causes the brain to be constantly active and ultimately boosts your memory and other cognitive skills.
#2. It helps to ease pain
Do you remember distracting yourself from pain by paying attention to something else such as watching a Korean drama or listening to your favourite songs?
Well, gaming does more than just distract you.
It actually helps your brain produce an analgesic (pain-killing) response, which enables your body to release pain-curbing endorphins. The more immersive the game, the more effective it is to distract you from pain, whether you’re suffering from a serious medical condition or an agonising heartbreak.
#3. It helps you make decisions faster
Action game players are often faced with spontaneous interactions that require them to think and act speedily. For instance, when playing a first-person shooter game, players would constantly be attacked by rapid-fire and unpredictable threats. Players have to react quickly or risk losing a life.
This ability to make speedy decisions without the loss of precision is what researchers call the probabilistic inference skill. It was found that action games helped to improve a gamer’s probabilistic inference, which is especially good if you have to decide between a fish or chicken burger in 5 seconds!
#4. It may slow down the ageing process
As we get older, our brains slowly start to deteriorate and it gets harder to remember things. However, studies have shown that video games might be able to help.
The University of California, San Francisco, has designed a video game specially for older players. The game, Neuroracer, requires players to manoeuvre a car whilst conducting other tasks.
The game designers found that after 12 hours of gaming, the older players managed to improve their performance and were able to beat 20-year-olds at the game. Through hours of gaming exposure, the team managed to improve their memory and attention span of these older players.
#5. It may improve dyslexia
Research has found that dyslexia could be caused by attention deficit within a person and playing video games may help with this. According to a study that was conducted on a group of 10-year-olds, the children improved their reading speed and accuracy after playing 12 hours of action video games.
Researchers believe that this is possible as video games are often fast-paced and require players to focus in order to win. Depending on the type of game, players would need to concentrate on what they are doing: looking out for attackers, shooting enemies, getting equipment ready, etc. As a result, the mind becomes trained to be more alert and attention deficiency may be reduced.
The negative effects of gaming
Extreme gaming has serious consequences — take it from this man from China who became paralysed from waist down after playing games for 20 hours consecutively. In fact, gaming addiction has become so widespread that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is trying to classify gaming disorder as a mental health condition.
Here are some of the dangers of excessive gaming.
#1. It may cause insomnia
Adequate amount of sleep is essential in order for your brain and body to be productive during the day. However, excessive gaming, especially before bed, can cause you to experience insomnia and sleep deprivation.
According to research, this is mainly due to the increased blood pressure from playing video games, which lasts hours after you’ve stopped playing the game. Unnatural light emission from screens is also another major factor, as it stops your body from producing melatonin (a sleep hormone).
#2. You may develop aggressive behaviours
It has been shown that exposure to violent video games is positively correlated to an increase in aggressive behaviour and a decrease in empathy and prosocial behaviour. Participants in studies were more likely to administer electric shocks or noise blasts to partners (signs of aggressive behaviour) and were less likely to donate money or help a victim of a staged violent episode (indicators of a person lacking prosocial behaviour).
While playing games is unlikely to cause you to go on a killing rampage, you may, however, develop a little aggression. You could become easily irritable and restless, and may find yourself lashing out at people when they don’t act according to your favour.
#3. You could be more likely to develop mental health issues
Playing games can be a great way to reduce stress and take your mind off things, especially if you’ve had a particularly long day and want a break.
However, instead of giving yourself a mental boost, a study has shown that action video games could increase the risk of mental health issues. This is because these action video games could cause a reduction of grey matter in the hippocampus, and a low amount of grey matter in this part of the brain is related to depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
#4. It could negatively impact your performance at school
We completely understand that there are some days when you need to take a chill pill and forget about all the workload that awaits. Sometimes, procrastination takes over. And that’s perfectly normal.
However, being too nonchalant about your work can be destructive. Does the phrase “one more game” seem all too familiar? While it is easy to ignore assignments by being too absorbed with your video games, this will just make things harder for you in the long run. If this goes on, you could end up getting poor grades or even failing an entire subject!
#5. You interact less with the people around you
While platforms such as Steam and Discord make it easy for you to interact and connect widely across the globe, being too absorbed in your online world could affect your relationships with your loved ones.
When you lock yourself in the room and forget the rest of the world (we know it can be cold and dark outside), this also means that you are locking people out of your life. By being too engaged with your multimedia tech, you will lose precious engagement with your family members. This can leave them feeling neglected and ultimately, destroy your relationship.
As you can see, gaming isn’t all bad or all good. The truth is that it can be both beneficial and harmful to you, depending on how excessive your gaming habits are. Always practise moderation and take regular breaks in between games to ensure that it doesn’t disrupt your studies and your social life. After all, it really is just a game.