Are video games dangerous?

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Are video games dangerous?
Are video games dangerous?

Contrary to stereotypes, media hysteria and political reprimands, video games not only do not spoil the character, but also develop the brain, improve vision and even help science. True, only if they do not cause pathological dependence.

video games

Today, the average age of a gamer is, according to various estimates, from 33 to 42 years, despite the stereotype of teenagers who are addicted to computer games. Like everything new, games managed to arouse huge discontent among the older generation at one time, but now we are approaching such a historical stage when mature people themselves spend hours at a console or in front of a computer screen, exterminating monsters. The initial panic, fueled by alarmist headlines about the dangers of video games, is gradually giving way to public acceptance of the new phenomenon. But the consequences of this panic reaction still have to be fought.

A new wave of interest in the topic was provoked by the recent and as always careless statement by US President Donald Trump, who accused video games of the latest spike in teenage violence - a mass shooting at a school in Florida: "There is so much violence in games!" - he said at a meeting dedicated to security in educational institutions. Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Cruz, who shot the students of his former school, was really addicted to video games and played, according to neighbors, 15 hours a day.

The hysteria over video game violence began with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and continues to this day, but the trend to blame teenage violence on the media began long before that. Back in the 1940s, the mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, scolded the pinball board game (an analogue version of the popular arcade toy) for its criminal origins. Many politicians did this, mostly conservatives - Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and others.

Scientific denials that video games increase violent tendencies emerged in the mid-2000s. At first, it was statistics that unequivocally showed that the vast majority of teenagers who are addicted to games are not inclined to antisocial behavior and that, despite the growing popularity of games, crime in the world is falling within the framework of a global trend. By 2015, in developed countries, half of the adult population belonged to gamers, and in Japan - as much as 60% of citizens. But in countries that strictly restrict the circulation of firearms (for example, in the same Japan), in recent years there has not been a single incident similar to the American school shootings.


After sociologists, psychologists joined the study of the effect of video games on the psyche, measuring the level of aggression in people who play often and do not play at all, as well as before and after a long game session. In 2011, summarizing research data, the US Supreme Court ruled untenable the assumption of a link between violence in games and violent tendencies in gamers. "Sometimes a game is just a game," said Sherrill Olsen, a Harvard physician and one of the gaming industry's foremost defenders against media and politicians, in an interview. Her numerous articles have described the exact opposite effects: Teenage gamers interviewed by Olsen showed fantastic increases in cognitive skills, the ability to think creatively, and talked about how the ability to have a bloodbath in fictional cities of Grand Theft Auto allows them to throw out their frustration and calm down in real life. life.

Brain gym

Around the mid-2010s, doctors and neuroscientists joined the study of the impact of video games on humans, for whom the game space turned out to be not only a subject of research, but also a powerful new tool. So, scientists have proven that, contrary to popular stereotype, games do not spoil eyesight - although a gamer spends a lot of time in front of a flickering screen. The gaming experience (especially the experience of playing first-person shooters such as Unreal Tournament and Call of Duty) improves the ability to distinguish between shades of gray, which will not hurt at all in everyday life: for example, in a situation when you are driving on a snow-covered track in a cloudy day. In addition, the ability to distinguish between small objects is improving among fans of online games, so now developers and doctors are trying to create a game for the visually impaired. Probably, the positive effect of the game on vision is the result of training the visual cortex of the brain: it learns to correctly recognize the signals coming along the optic nerve and compensate for an insufficiently clear picture.

It also turned out that people who take games seriously are much more attentive than others - at least they do better on tests for resolving conflicts between form and content. In such tests, subjects are shown words written in colored letters on the screen. The word "blue" is in green, the word "yellow" is in red, and so on. The task of the participant in the experiment is to name the font color. The inconsistency causes many to make mistakes or respond with delays, but people with gaming experience do it much faster.

In other attention tests, avid gamers show results comparable to those of military special forces. The test with floating color spots that change color is indicative. An ordinary person is able to track the color change of one spot, a maximum of three, and gamers are able to track six or seven at once. Gamers show equally impressive results in spatial thinking tasks and many others. The neuroscientists who conducted the research simultaneously scanned the brains of the participants in the experiment and found that game lovers (who play at least 10-15 hours a week) work more actively in the parietal and frontal cortex, as well as the frontal part of the parietal gyrus; all of these areas of the brain are associated with concentration.


These findings not only justify the passion for video games, but also open up a new area of ​​their application: the development of cognitive skills. Perhaps in the future we will take up the joystick to become more collected, quick-witted or see better. True, for this you have to bridge the gap between entertainment and benefit. Games are popular because they are fun; their plot, mechanics, rating system and other components make a person stay in the game for hours. Experienced toys designed to train cognitive skills and vision are terribly boring so far.

Big Science Tool

In the past two decades, scientists have stopped viewing video games as entertainment (albeit potentially good for the brain) and have begun to view them as a powerful (and potentially beneficial to all of humanity) force. Indeed, online games are huge, sometimes with millions of users, social platforms, where each participant connects for the sole purpose of using their intellectual abilities. In 2011, users of the online game Foldit predicted the spatial structure of a protein more accurately than students and faculty at leading US universities, armed with special software. Gamers had to correct the result only to the extent that the game mechanics dictated. A year later, gamers found an exoplanet in a curious four-star system using the Planet Hunters game - and are still discovering new exoplanets.


Explaining why scientists need the help of netizens, neuroscientist Erinma Ochu says: “Our brains are geared towards recognizing patterns, and they do it better than computers. With the help of computer game developers, thousands of people can be involved in data processing. " Every week, humanity spends three billion hours on games: if even a tiny part of the "machine time" of the brain of gamers is directed to solving scientific problems, there will be a huge breakthrough. The main task of scientists is to reduce to the limit the probability of error by untrained users, to simplify tasks as much as possible and to make games interesting.

Perhaps the best example of this challenge is the collaboration between the Human Protein Atlas and the popular MMORPG Eve Online. Rather than creating a new game to process data, the biologists at Human Protein Atlas have added a science minigame to the hugely popular online multiplayer game EVE Online. It was assumed that EVE Online players are the right support group for scientists: this game is considered one of the most difficult in its category and requires attention and the ability to work with large amounts of data.


We found the right incentive: the time spent in the mini-game is counted as points for increasing the character's level. The task of gamers was reduced to finding proteins in photographs. Scientists could not process an array of 13 million images on their own, and it was technically impossible to entrust this to the pattern recognition algorithm. In the first four months, gamers processed a third of this array, allowing scientists to clarify the role of thousands of proteins, including those specific to cancer.

Everything is good in moderation

Despite all of the above, WHO is going to include addiction to computer games in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in mid-2018. “Gambling disorder is included in the draft of the revised 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as an example of the behavior of gambling addicts, which is characterized by impaired control over game processes, an increase in the priority of games in comparison with other types of activities, to such an extent that the game process begins to prevail over other interests and daily activities, as well as the continuation or increase in the scale of the game process, despite the negative consequences that arise,”explained Tariq Yazarevich, WHO spokesman at the beginning of the year.

Video games are addictive because they are designed to be. Whole teams of development companies are working to ensure that the user does not have the desire to click the "Exit" button. The most dangerous are apparently massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). Like any addiction, gambling interferes with life, and sometimes kills: the story of a Chinese woman who died after three days of playing World of Warcraft, and a particularly widely reported case of a three-year-old girl who died of exhaustion due to the fact that her mother was without during breaks I played WoW. According to experts, the addiction to computer games becomes pathological in 0, 2-3% of gamers.

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