A bit of balance in gaming goes a long way, studies find
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014 06:00 am
Oxford University has published a study showing that teens who play less than an hour of video games a day are more well-adjusted than those who play for three hours or more daily. The study surveyed 5,000 young people in the U.K., all of whom were between the ages of 10 and 15, looking at the positive and negative effects of gaming. Participants were asked to report on their level of empathy, hyperactivity, sociability, and overall satisfaction with their lives.
Not surprisingly, those who played video games for shorter stints reported feeling higher levels of empathy, greater sociability, and stronger overall satisfaction with their lives. These positive effects have less to do with video games themselves, but more to do with the balance a young person has in his or her life. Well-adjusted teens don’t spend the majority of their free time plugged into a video game. They get outside, they are active, they have jobs, they spend time with friends in the community. If these staples for a balanced life are in place, combined with a supportive, nurturing family, playing one hour of video games a day cannot possibly undo all the benefits of the other factors.
The contrary is equally true. The Oxford study found that young people who reported gaming for three hours or more a day had higher levels of detrimental effects, having missed out, they speculate, on other enriching activities. Still, the authors of the study caution that playing excessive video games is not as harmful as not having a supportive peer group and community, extracurricular involvement, and a nurturing family. They also postulate that teens who play long stints of M-rated video games are likely exposed to inappropriate content designed for adults.
On that note, another large-scale study released this month acts as a warning to parents and gamers regarding a video game’s rating. Dartmouth University conducted a four-year study of a random sampling of 5,000 teenagers answering interview questions over the telephone. They found that teens who repeatedly played M-rated games, specifically games with violent, anti-social characters like Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt, were more likely to, over time, engage in equally high-risk behaviours. The study goes beyond the well-documented tie between violent video games and aggression. The Dartmouth study is the first to show a connection between risk-glorifying games and high-risk behaviours such as alcohol use, delinquency, and risky sexual activity.
Once again, one would think this would be common sense. After all, video games have ratings for a reason, including information as to why a particular game is rated M. Yet this still isn’t a great gauge of just how damaging a game might be. For instance, the Mass Effect trilogy all are rated M, citing a list of reasons for such a rating. Yet all of the violence, language, or sexual themes are contextually justified – none are gratuitously inserted. And the games themselves emphasize exploration and character development, not simply killing bad guys and making big things go boom. Compare this to games like Call of Juarez or Wolfenstein where the violence and blood often seem over-the-top and unnecessary.
This can all come down to a couple of simple suggestions: Gamers, strike a balance between screen time and outside time, virtual friend time and face-to-face friend time, solitude and time with family. Parents, trust your instincts with regards to the type and duration of gaming activities.
A good rule of thumb comes from a Kurt Vonnegut quote, cited in the Dartmouth study by its lead author, Professor Jay Hull: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Wise words.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.