Since its jump from the arcades to the home console system, video gaming has survived heavy stereotyping. It has been cited as a source of and associated with obesity, violence, stereotyping and carelessness. Though it has become a multi-billion dollar industry, it still remains difficult for video gaming to move completely out of the dark light that is being shined on it. There are countless benefits like enhanced brain functioning, improved physical ability and real-life applications attributed to playing these games. There is even educational value in them, but the industry is still fighting to show how the benefits might outweigh the possible drawbacks.
Video games have similar themes often found in other mediums such as books, television and movies. They all have the potential to express excessive violence, but video games have been scrutinized due to their interactivity and seemingly significant influence on the mind. Not only can players learn violence, but games serve as practice grounds for violent behavior. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that by playing violent video games, an individual’s brain showed emotional arousal while also showing signs of decreased inhibition and self-control. Other research shows differing results. “The violent action games that often worry parents most had the strongest beneficial effect on the brain” (Hotz).
Activities like learning to read or to play the piano strengthen and change the structure of one’s brain, but video games also have this affect (Hotz). Just like different exercises enhance certain parts of one’s body, different game types can alter different parts of the brain. Electronic games have been reported to improve hand-eye coordination, boost night vision, enhance creativity and improve decision making speed (Allen-West and Hotz). Hotz’s article also stated that while there were many positive gains to be made from gaming, there was a correlation between neurotic gaming and obesity.
Many gamers do spend hours in front of their televisions playing games while neglecting to include physical activity in some part of their days. As addicting and as popular as many games are, it is easy to link game playing to the overweight trend plaguing America’s youth. However, there is an entire genre of games related to health and fitness that encourage players to move around, getting plenty of exercise. Game systems like the Wii and the X-Box Connect are dependent on players’ movements, and are being used in doctors’ offices for rehabilitation of patients ranging from children, to soldiers and the elderly (Smith). Gym teachers have been including the Wii in their regimen as a way to keep children interested in fitness, and people have been using it at home to train with an assortment of exercise games from yoga to aerobics (Smith). The possibilities for adults are endless when it comes to the real-life applications of video games.
The same might not hold true for most children, who play solely for entertainment while not fully being able to distinguish realistic video game worlds and characters from the world they live in. This poses a serious problem when it comes to violence in electronic gaming. Because video games are an interactive (as opposed to passive) medium, a decision process is constantly going on whenever a player decides to venture into a certain area or kill another character. While playing a game, the rules of that game world are followed, but because consequences in these games are not real, the rules of the game world may be similar but are exaggerated. A character can be killed, but may come back to life as the game rules allow, and young players may become desensitized to death and violence as they practice extreme conflict resolution skills in the form of killing other players and characters. An article entitled “Video Gaming: Playing with Ethics…” posted on the Santa Clara University website, ethics section, posed the following questions:
Are video games a form of speech, and if so, do they come under the protection of the right to free speech? Should we try to regulate this “speech” if it degrades women? If it leads to violence? How can we defend the access of adults to whatever forms of speech they choose to hear while simultaneously protecting children from exposure, especially when gaming is such a popular activity for kids? Should it be a crime to sell games with adult content to children? Should content be regulated (Santa Clara University)?
In 2005, the state of California passed a law that prohibited the sale of games that promoted graphic violence to individuals under the age of eighteen without their parents’ consent (Dreilinger). In 2011, the Supreme Court proclaimed this California law unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment’s protection of free expression (Dreilinger). According to Dillinger’s post, the basis for the law was that fantasizing about unethical behavior lead to unethical behavior, but public health officials supported the ruling by the Supreme Court, contending that there was no evidence to back the claim. The article then asks, does it make sense to ban the sale of nude magazines to children while allowing them to buy games in which they can torture and kill.
Video games have many beneficial, real-life applications outside of pleasure and being time fillers. They can help improve mental functioning, enhance physical attributes, and teach. Conversely, there are always multiple aspects to any issue, and electronic games are no different. The debilitative habits and modes of thought that can form as a result of excessive playing, can lead to extreme trouble in the real world. Heinous acts such as the Columbine shooting have been linked to video games, but at the same time, one must also understand that video games are a form of entertainment. Though, like all forms of entertainment, video games have an influence on those who choose to enjoy or abuse them, individuals decide to make the choices that they do.