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The Impact of Video Games on Those Who Play Them

Introduction

Video gaming has become a very popular pastime in the contemporary world (Granic et al. 66). Therefore, it is pivotal to investigate the possible influences of video gaming on players. This paper provides a review of scholarly articles pertaining to the outlined topic. The main terms, ideas and theories used in these articles are discussed, and the opinions of different scholars and the areas of their agreement/disagreement are investigated.

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Terms, Ideas and Theories Identified as Relevant

There are several terms relevant for the current topic; these are related to personal characteristics, traits and behaviors which are hypothesized to have an association with exposure to video games. Phenomena denoted by terms such as aggression, including trait/state aggression; social behaviors; stress; mental health; cognitive and social skills; motivation; emotions; gender and age, etc., all may be correlated to video gaming (Granic et al. 67-68; Greitemeyer and Mügge 585; Ferguson et al. 770, 778; Kardefelt-Winther 121). However, these terms are often non-standardized, and many studies re stated to have faults pertaining to poorly defined variables of low validity, to not distinguishing between important characteristics (such as normal/adaptive vs. pathological aggression), etc. (Ferguson et al. 778).

Several ideas about the impact of gaming on characteristics and behaviors of gamers are considered relevant. For instance, it is hypothesized that games may increase the levels of aggression of gamers (Greitemeyer and Mügge 579), although other researchers state that only correlational and not causal connection has been found (so it might be that violent games increase aggression, or that aggressive people tend to play violent games more, or both), and that this connection vanishes once other factors are taken into account (Ferguson et al. 774-776). Other researchers state that gaming might have a positive impact on gamers, enhancing their cognitive and social skills, motivation, and emotional states (Granic et al. 66).

There are several theories that may be relevant for the current topic. Researchers cite the General Aggression Model, Bandura’s social learning theory, social information-processing model (qtd. in Greitemeyer and Mügge 585), various theories of play, such as Piaget’s, Vygotsky’s, etc. (qtd. in Granic et al. 67), as relevant to the current topic.

Areas of Controversy

There are numerous areas of controversy pertaining to the connection between gaming and the characteristics and behaviors of gamers. One of the main areas among these pertains to the hypothesized link between an individual’s aggression and gaming. For example, Greitemeyer and Mügge in their meta-analysis of 98 different studies state that ties between aggression and gaming have often been reported in studies of various design, from correlational to longitudinal and experimental, which, according to the authors, allows for concluding that “there is indeed a causal relationship between video game play and social outcomes,” including aggression (581, 585).

The experiments by Yoon and Vargas suggest that the manner in which players are represented in games may affect their behaviors; more aggressive behaviors may be expected in certain cases (1043-1044). Simultaneously, in a very high-quality study by Ferguson et al., preferences of violent video games were significantly correlated to trait aggression (i.e. to the aggression which is a constant part of one’s character), to gender, and to catharsis-seeking (the desire to vent one’s stress) (774); whereas real-life delinquent and bullying behaviors were not significantly correlated to violent video game exposure, but were significantly (p<.001) correlated to stress and trait aggression (775).

Ferguson et al. also point out the numerous methodological problems related to measuring the impact of video gaming; in particular, it is stated that measures of low validity are often used; that studies are usually correlational, which does not permit for drawing causal inference; and that it is generally very difficult due to many reasons (including ethical) to design studies which would e.g. test whether violent games indeed increase pathological aggression (765-767). Thus, the authors state that there is a bias in the literature, and that the possible adverse implications of playing video games tend to be overestimated (Ferguson et al. 765-767).

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Also, while some researchers focus on the negative consequences of gaming (Greitemeyer and Mügge 585; Kardefelt-Winther 121), others state that there is also a variety of possible positive results of video games (Granic et al. 66). In particular, Granic et al. in their literature review state that exposure to video games might permit for developing spatial skills, the skills of rapid and efficient problem-solving and multitasking, the persistence in the face of failure; that they help to increase mood, assist gamers in relaxing and getting rid of stress and anxiety, etc. (68-74).

The Responses of Scholars to Each Other, and the Areas of Agreement and Disagreement

When it comes to assessing the effect of video games on the psychology and behaviors of gamers, most authors tend to agree with other scholars who have a similar position, and disagree with those whose position is different. As has previously been stressed, many researchers state that gaming has an adverse impact on gamers, promoting negative social behaviors and aggression (Greitemeyer and Mügge 585; Kardefelt-Winther 121-122).

Simultaneously, other scholars thoroughly argue that such claims have poor grounds, relying on methods which are correlational in nature and do not allow for concluding the existence of causal relationships or affirming their direction; it is also stressed that such studies often use bivariate designs, which leads to highly corrupted results, because numerous factors are not taken into account – e.g., that males are generally more aggressive and also tend to play video games more – and that including such factors as gender into analytical tests often makes the variance in aggression explained by gaming small in magnitude and statistically non-significant (Ferguson et al. 778). Their other colleagues also focus on the possible positive effects of playing video games (Granic et al. 68-74), some of which were mentioned above.

Interestingly, those researchers who focus on the possible adverse outcomes of video gaming also sometimes take the criticism to a more personal level, asserting that the authors who “continue to dispute that there is a link between violent video game play and aggression… have a vested interest in violent video games because playing these games is an important part of their identity” (Greitemeyer and Mügge 585). This may very well be true; however, the comments about serious methodological problems of research of the impact of video gaming on aggression, such as those pointed out by Ferguson et al. (765-767, 777-779), appear to be well-grounded nonetheless.

There seem to be few areas in which all the researchers agree when it comes to video games. However, it should be noted that perhaps the effects of different video games may be different, depending on the particular features of concrete video games that people play. As Granic et al. observe, video games are very diverse, they differ on multiple important dimensions (including the degree and quality of social interaction involved, the complexity, the aggressiveness, etc.), can be of various genres; creating a comprehensive taxonomy of video games is stated to be an exceedingly difficult, if not an impossible, task (67-68). It seems that even the style in which a particular game is played might affect the person who plays (Yoon and Vargas 1043). Therefore, it appears clear that different games could induce different reactions and outcomes in various players, and some of these reactions and outcomes may be positive, whereas others might be negative.

Further Research

Researchers recommend that further studies investigate the impact of video gaming on people using better methodologies – in particular, utilizing more valid and more specific measures of aggression and other possible adverse effects attributed to gaming, distinguish between normal/adaptive aggression and pathological aggression, using multivariate rather than bivariate analytical procedures, etc. (Ferguson et al. 778). It is also advised to better investigate the possible positive effects of video gaming on people (Granic et al. 66).

This, it may be concluded that further studies of gaming are needed. Ideally, such studies would distinguish between different types of video games, and investigate the impact of various elements of such games on players. Nevertheless, it seems practically impossible to isolate such elements; but classifying games into different types (however difficult it is) and researching their effects separately appears paramount. To give an analogy, it would be odd to study the impact of reading printed text on individuals, without taking into account what types of text they read – scientific journals, classical literature, textbooks, “yellow press,” or diaries of serial murders. It also seems reasonable to take into account the age; it might be that fully mature individuals are e.g. less impacted by violence and heavy atmosphere in some video games than kids at the age of 6, for example.

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Conclusion

On the whole, whereas the literature on the impact of video gaming is plentiful, there is little certainty about its effects on gamers. Further, more detailed and methodologically precise studies are needed to better and with greater certainty identify the outcomes of video gaming on individuals.

Works Cited

Granic, Isabela, et al. “The Benefits of Playing Video Games.” American Psychologist, vol. 69, no. 1, 2014, pp. 66-78.

Greitemeyer, Tobias, and Dirk O. Mügge. “Video Games Do Affect Social Outcomes: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Violent and Prosocial Video Game Play.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 5, 2014, pp. 578-589.

Ferguson, Christopher J., et al. “Violent Video Games, Catharsis Seeking, Bullying, and Delinquency: A Multivariate Analysis of Effects.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 60, no. 5, 2014, pp. 764-784.

Kardefelt-Winther, Daniel. “Problematizing Excessive Online Gaming and Its Psychological Predictors.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 31, no. 1, 2014, pp. 118-122.

Yoon, Gunwoo, and Patrick T. Vargas. “Know Thy Avatar: The Unintended Effect of Virtual-Self Representation on Behavior.” Psychological Science, vol. 25, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1043-1045.

Works Consulted

Bleakley, Chris M., et al. “Gaming for Health: A Systematic Review of the Physical and Cognitive Effects of Interactive Computer Games in Older Adults.” Journal of Applied Gerontology, vol. 34, no. 3, 2015, pp. NP166-NP189.

Dolgov, Igor, et al. “Effects of Cooperative Gaming and Avatar Customization on Subsequent Spontaneous Helping Behavior.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 33, 2014, pp. 49-55.

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Przybylski, Andrew K. “Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment.” Pediatrics, vol. 134, no. 3, 2014, e716-e722.

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