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The Health Effects of Video Games; Negative Effects of Video Games

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For almost eight decades, video games have been prevalent. In the most recent decade, pc (personal computer) and console gaming have become more popular amongst teenagers, along with the excessive amount of time they are being played. Throughout the years there has been a huge debate on whether these video games are doing more harm than good. Many researchers have claimed that video games could potentially lead to addiction, lack of physical activity, and worsen already existing mental disorders upon teenagers who play them. However, without supporting evidence, it can be easily be implied that they are a positive influence, in a medical sense. Thus, warping society’s view on how video games can affect the player and create a false narrative on the actual dangers of excessive video game playing.

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Before delving into the dangers of video games, it is important to discuss how they can actually benefit players, health-wise, with regular gameplay. In an article by the University of Toronto, whose study was led by psychology researchers, found that “[o]ne of the benefits of playing action games may be an enhanced ability to precisely learn the dynamics of new sensorimotor tasks”. These skills being learned are the same that surgeons must-have when performing laparoscopic surgery, which involves a small camera being inserted into the body that allows the surgeon to use high precision tools inside the abdominal cavity via remote control. In addition to this, several studies have found that playing video games may offer some cognitive benefits; leading some researchers to advocate for the regular play of video games. Peter Gray Ph.D., an academic scholar and research professor of psychology for Boston College, wrote an article for Psychology Today explaining how “video gameplay can improve basic mental abilities” . He goes on to summarize recent research that had non-gamers participate in consistent playing an action video game. These action video games often involve rapid movement and decision making as well as multitasking. The findings of this study allowed researchers to conclude “that those who play the video game improve on measures of basic perceptual and cognitive abilities while those in the control group do not”. Although research like this paints a narrative that all video games positively affect those who play because of their history of enhancing cognitive abilities such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making, it is important not to let these findings overshadow the research that proves the negative consequences of excessive gaming.

In 2017, it was reported that video gamers collectively spend around 3 billion hours a week playing and in the United States, 150 million people play video games habitually every week . This amount of unrestricted gaming has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify a new related disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), called “gaming disorder”. The WHO, who is an active member of the United Nations Development Group, defines gaming disorder like this:

Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

Furthermore, this gaming-related addiction is also included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disease (DSM-5), which is used by mental health specialists to diagnose mental disorders and illnesses. Physician and Harvard Medical Instructor, Ranna Parekh, goes on to explain that the “DSM-5 includes substance-related addictive disorders, such as alcohol, tobacco, stimulants, marijuana and opioids” . It is apparent that excessive online gaming has become such an issue that the addiction to it has become comparable to that of gambling and drug abuse. In 2019, a class-action lawsuit was proposed against the video game company, Epic Games, for their highly popular and addicting game “Fortnite”. USA Today covered this story by contacting the law firm that is representing the two parents behind the lawsuit who claim that the action-filled game is “as addictive, and potentially harmful, as cocaine. The game, which was partly designed by psychologists and statisticians, includes features that offer rewards that manipulate the player into always wanting more. Games like these that offer such tempting rewards train the brain to release the “feel good” hormone, dopamine. This dopamine release encourages the brain to keep playing because of the satisfaction that is obtained. The constant release of this hormone when playing video games can lead to an eventual addiction and lack of self-control in players, this possibility multiplies when factoring in children and teenagers. These young people are even more susceptible to this due to the lack of development in the self-control sector of their brains.

The majority of those who play video games, play them on consoles or pcs. Most of the games played are action or sport themed and consist of the gamer playing on a controller or keyboard. Only a small percentage of games actually require the user to be active and involved in exercise. Therefore, the same number of hours a teenager chooses to spend in front of a screen is the same amount of time they aren’t participating in physical activity. This start of a sedentary lifestyle could be detrimental to teenagers or anyone of any age. Sedentary behavior, as described by the Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN), is “any waking behavior characterized by any energy expenditure ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents, while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture” . Editor, Erin Michos M.D., from John Hopkins Medicine, published an article explaining the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. She tells how people endanger themselves by putting themselves in risk of “health outcomes including heart disease , Type 2 diabetes and cancer” which if extensive enough, could lead to death The substantial time spent in the same positions or without movement could even be lead to thrombosis. Thrombosis happens when a blood clot gets caught in a vital vein, this will stop blood flow to other parts of the body and can even cause an obstruction to an artery. The National Center of Biotechnology (NCBI) released a case study about a man presenting with leg pain and swelling after spending almost a quarter of the day in bed playing video games, after taking a closer look, doctors confirmed he had extensive deep venous thrombosis. Furthermore, the case study concluded that:

With the growing popularity of video games, the burden of this presentation of venous thrombosis is likely to increase. Further studies are needed to estimate the degree of risk associated with prolonged periods of playing video games, and education for preventing venous thrombosis should be provided to gamers. 

In an article by Medical Xpress, Dr.Mark Griffith, who has studied the effects of video games for 30 years, discusses the negative effects of video game playing. He goes on to say “[v]ideo gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view” . This further proving that video games unlock the same part of the brain that other gambling entertainment does. He even goes on to explain how the percentage of players with a compulsive video game problem is very small, however, those who do struggle with this often “have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism”. This is not the only claim that video games can augment pre-existing mental disorders. In the following text, Cheryl Olson discusses how participating in the excessive play of violent video games affect players by pointing at that “heavy play of violent video games (two hours-plus per day) was associated with a high number of depressive symptoms” . Although said video games aren’t the direct cause of depression in players, it’s clear that participating in the excessive play of them can worsen already existing symptoms and could cause players to fall into a deeper depression. On top of all of this, children who spend more than half of their free time playing these games have shown to exhibit more emotional and behavioral issues . In an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, when discussing children, they state that:

The authors identified depression, anxiety, social phobias and lower school performance as likely outcomes of problem gaming. Those who stopped being pathological gamers ended up with lower levels of these same symptoms, but still higher levels than the control group of children who never became pathological gamers.

When unmonitored, it’s apparent that gaming can cause issues with various mental disorders and create future problems for teenagers and even children.

As proven by many sources, video games can have multiple effects on teenagers and others whether those being of a positive or negative outcome. However, with more in-depth research in the future, doctors will be able to confidently determine whether or not video gaming should be deterred or incentivised. In the meantime, players and parents should be more aware of the time being spent on video games and how it is affecting them. One can conclude that those who do decide to spend an unconstrained time on video games are more likely to be subjected to the physical and mental repercussions.        

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