Video Games: They’re not all bad!

Video games and technology are constantly in the news, but not always for positive reasons. We are constantly hearing about their negative impact and, admittedly, some valid concerns do exist. However, just like anything else, it might be best to place video games under the huge heading of “Too Much of a Good Thing = Bad.”

Before we start on video games, we must admit that other items belonging in this category include foods, diets, beauty aids (for men and women), exercise, affluence, work ethic…shall I continue? Maybe not. I think my point has been made.

As discussed by Daniel Goleman in his book, Focus: The hidden driver of excellence, there are many instances where video games improve focus and attention, and despite distractions. The journal Nature assembled six experts to determine benefits vs harms. Findings included:
• Eleven-year-olds with ADHD in the Netherlands, after just eight one-hour sessions, were able to focus despite distractions, and not just while playing the video games.
• Games that offer increasingly harder cognitive challenges drive positive brain changes.
• Games like auto races and rapid-fire battle produces “enhancements in visual attention, speed of processing information, object tracking, and switching from one mental task to another.”
• Various games “improve visual acuity and spatial perception, attention switching, decision-making, and the ability to track objects.”
• “Kids who play games that require cooperation show helpfulness in the course of a day.”

Negative results were also noted; some of those include:
• “When 3,034 Singaporean children and adolescents were followed for two years, those who became extreme gamers showed increases in anxiety, depression, and social phobia, and a drop in grades.”
• Individuals who spend an inordinate amount of time on video games do not develop skills necessary for a social world or romantic life.
• Not all of the skills developed while playing video games “necessarily transfer well to life outside the video screen.”
• Children who have been the victim of physical abuse at home may be more prone to increased low-level aggression after playing violent games.
• Games involving killing “encourage hostile attribution bias…and [children playing those games] show lessened concern when witnessing people being mean, as in bullying.”

The debate can continue and each side can amass data to support their personal bias. There is one piece of data that strikes a cord for me: The “recent generations raised on games and otherwise glued to video screens [display] a massive difference in how their brains are plastically engaged with life….The long-term question is what such games will do to their neural wiring, and so to the social fabric—and how this might either develop new strengths or warp healthy development.”

The final answer seems to be: WARNING: This game may be hazardous to your health.

It wasn’t so long ago that similar warnings did not appear on cigarette packages, and many people today cannot imagine that smokers of yesteryear did not fully realize the negative health implications associated with the habit. But, it’s true. Not everyone fully realized the hugely negative potential.

My suggestion? Realize that too much of a good thing can easily results in something bad. Aim for balance, no matter your personal bias.

Susie Wolbe, Ed.D., CALT

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