Video games are becoming a common modern element in today’s society, and while their popularity grows, so does the need to research their psychological effects on the player. Unfortunately, researchers generally focus on the negative effects such as increased aggression, and because of that it can be easy to forget that video games are actually quite beneficial, “First, the overwhelming majority of players describe game play as a positive emotional experience” (Oswald, Prorock, and Murphy 10). Since video games receive such negative stigma from the media, there has been the most research done on the frustration-aggression theory. This theory says that once an individual becomes frustrated, aggression is inevitable (Breuer, Scharkow, and Quandt 3).
Research on this matter has shown that this is not always the case due to the fact that frustration, associated with losing, is a common element of a video game. This means that a player more or less just becomes used to this “frustration.” In fact Video games provide boosts in emotional and social health. Video games also provide educational benefits such as increased skills in math, science, cooperation, and decision making. Middle-aged and older adults are also turning to casual video games as a way of keeping their brains in the best shape. Americans shouldn’t be so quick to deem video games as nothing but violence causing and time consuming. Instead of causing violent outbreaks, video games give Americans a boost in many different mental areas.
Video games are beginning to be recognized for their educational benefits due to new research done on the positive effects of gaming. Learning experiences from games that create motivational cognitive features that help to promote persistence in school as well as creating more cooperative students. This means that students are less likely to give up in the face of a challenge, “Using a meta-analysis, Vogel et al. (2006) examined 32 empirical studies and concluded that educational games in classrooms helped students gain cognitively and show significantly higher performance compared to traditional instruction” (Evans et al 100).
These games have also shown to increase achievement in science and mathematical areas through cooperative game play versus competitive gameplay. Individuals who had played a violent video game by cooperating with another player instead of competing with them, were much more cooperative towards other players. This cooperative game play is characterized by goals that are linked by requiring one player to help another before reaching their goal (Greitemeyer and Cox 224) Against popular belief, recreational video game play also helps to increase these mathematical skills by providing challenges that grow in difficulty as the player progresses (Evans et al 101).
What’s more, video games can also be used to teach advanced skills that transfer out of video game context in a short period of time. The skills gained from these games have a lasting effect on the player. In fact, the spatial skill improvements that come from shooter games are comparable to the boosts in the same skills obtained from university-level courses (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3). Video games help the education system with learning and cooperation skills, and they help to significantly increase cognitive skills such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), art, and general problem solving. STEM areas of expertise have been repeatedly linked to long-term career success and are predicted to be especially critical in the next century (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3).
This goes hand-in-hand with the problem solving skills that the player also receives from the puzzles within the games (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 4). Video games also are beginning to be associated with an additional cognitive benefit: enhanced creativity. Research on this potential benefit has shown that regardless of whether or not the game is violent, video games enhance children’s creative capacities (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 4). All of this means that video games are quite valuable to the scholarly community. Video games are generally looked at in a negative light, but “those in the shooter video game condition show faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation abilities” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3).
Children who are praised for being smart as a fact, instead of being praised for how hard they worked, develop an entity theory of intelligence. This makes kids believe that intelligence is nothing more than a trait, and if you don’t have it, it isn’t malleable. Those children that are praised by their efforts develop an incremental theory of intelligence instead, this means that they believe their intelligence is something that they can grow and develop (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 5). Video games provide the ideal environment to acquire this incremental theory of intelligence due to the fact that games provide the player with solid and immediate feedback of their efforts. Games even use failure as a motivational tool used to push the player toward large-scale success. Unlike the common belief, “these experiences of failure do not lead to anger, frustration, or sadness, although players often do feel these negative emotions intermittently” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 6).
In addition, video games provide children with the same emotional themes that they get from playing with friends and family. Video game play allows kids to experiment with real life social feelings and issues. This interactive make-believe play helps children to deal with negative feelings, and to help them arrive at a pleasant solution for themselves (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 2). In fact, those who play games with civic experiences, like helping townsfolk, are more likely to play active roles in social and civic movements in their real lives (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 8). More specifically, playing games that tended to be more social and casual led to improved “helping” behaviors, “and longitudinal effects were also found, in that children who played more prosocial games at the beginning of the school year were more likely to exhibit helpful behaviors later that year” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 8).
Thanks to the interactive storylines within video games, “Gaming may be among the most efficient and effective means by which children and youth generate positive feelings” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 6). It is important for all human beings to experience positive emotions on a daily basis. Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions shows that having positive emotions helps to broaden the behaviors that may create social relationships that give support while pursuing ones goals, and with handling failure. These positive emotions, according to Fredrickson, also help prevent and get rid of the effects of negative emotions.(the benefits 7).Video games are generally, on an unconscious level, pursued to satisfy the three basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Oswald, Prorock, and Murphy 8). This means that positive emotions help to keep people in the best state of mind, and overall happier, “If playing games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 7).
Video games also have a further effect on health rather than just providing the player with happiness. All of the cognitive advantages that I listed above create significant changes in neural processing and efficiency. A recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study showed that the attention mechanisms in the brain were less active in non-gamers than they were in those that played video games regularly (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3). Changes like this in neural processing help to transfer the cognitive skills gained through gaming into real life situations. For example, practitioners in the medical field have begun to use video games to help improve their health outcomes. They do this by creating video games that allow the patients to “defeat” their ailments within the video game realm,
Perhaps the most celebrated success story of a game that had a significant impact on health-related behaviors is the case of Re-Mission (Kato, Cole, Bradlyn, & Pollock, 2008), a video game designed for child cancer patients. By allowing the player to control a nanobot who shoots cancer cells, overcomes bacterial infections, and manages signs of nausea and constipation (common barriers to cancer patients’ treatment adherence), the game aimed to teach children how best to adhere to their cancer treatments (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 9).
Most research done by psychologists has been on the perceived negative effects of video games; violence, addiction, and depression. However, in order to fully understand what video games do to the human mind, we must also examine its benefits. Not only does research need to be done on the positive side of video games, but also on the effects of different genres of video games, “One can no more say what the effects of video games are, than one can say what the effects of food are” (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3). Video games have become increasingly complex in nature, and are beginning to show that they do in fact provide the player with many benefits, “Contrary to conventional beliefs that playing video games is intellectually lazy and sedating, it turns out that playing these games promotes a wide range of cognitive skills (Granic, Lobel, and Engels 3). The most important aspect of their benefits is that video games are valuable to the educational system.
Video games give children a boost in cooperation, problem-solving, artistic ability, and STEM skills while providing them with an enjoyable method of learning. So enjoyable in fact that these games help to keep the students, along with any other players, in good spirits. These positive emotions are key in keeping them happy as well as healthy. This is why it is becoming common in the medical field for hospitals to use video games to help their patients feel as if they are destroying the illness inside of them. Seniors also have found that they receive their own benefits from playing casual based video games. When senior citizens play casual puzzle games they are actually helping to improve their memory, and keeping their mind from slowing down. (Whitbourne et al. 892). Video games provide players with so much more than just a sense of comfort and enjoyment. Video games give the player enhanced life skills, from cognitive, to emotional, to social.
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