Is Video Gaming the Enemy?

Are video games the enemy? Are they destroying a generation of kids? Have they already done untold damage to young minds? The arguments that rage over the subject are often as violent as the games being debated. There are those determined that video games cause anti-social behaviours, and then there are those who point to the fact that all the research that has been done so far has proved inconclusive.

What cannot be denied is that gaming is massive. The number of active gamers worldwide will rise to more than 2.7 billion in 2021, up from 1.8 billion in 2014 and 2.3 billion in 2018. (statistica). It is the dominant form of entertainment today, replacing the television and long-gone board game. Home computers and hand held devices are now commonplace and arcades seem quaint by comparison.

As real-life hobbies wither and conversations about Fortnite or Minecraft dominate the dinner table, it’s no wonder parents, in particular, are worried about the effect online obsessions are having on growing brains.

The World Health Organisation has now recognised gaming addiction as a mental health condition – though not without criticism and scepticism from those experts and gamers who felt the decision had been made without good evidence. They fear, too, that the classification is born of that moral panic caused by an overreaction to the arrival of new technologies. Certainly, the majority of those who play will not become addicted; what research we do have suggests only 1-3 per cent will develop a problematic habit. But when they do get trapped, it’s hard to break out again. In South Korea, for example, a whole cohort of young men have retreated from the real world and live entirely online: the hikikomori. They don’t leave their rooms for months on end and have basically traded their futures for online activity. Admittedly, this is not caused by the games, but the games give these recluses somewhere to hide.

Equally, we know only too well that the games we play – whether as children or adults – are designed to be as addictive as possible. The persuasive technology behind the games casts a spell that’s hard for anyone, least of all kids, to resist.

But it’s not all bad. Video games also have many benefits. They are undeniably cognitively stimulating in a good way. They encourage problem solving, collaborative behaviour and empathy. In fact, the playing of certain games has been shown to boost cognitive abilities in the same way that learning to play an instrument does. The virtual field of play also allows children to find a sense of competence and mastery, and autonomy. Gamers can discover what their best can be – and translate that into the real world.

The answer, obviously, is moderation. There are rules that can mitigate the bad effects and help manage a child’s video game behaviour. No electronics in the bedroom, for example. And clearly definitely limits should be set on use. The onus must be on parents to moderate their child’s play and to make sure their kids know how to play safely. There’s nothing to stop parents from playing, too – which then transforms the tenor of the video gaming experience. Instead of a solitary adventure – one to be slightly ashamed of - it becomes one that the whole family can share at the dinner table with nary an eye-roll to be seen.

In which case, what are you waiting for? If you want to protect your child, you need to be at their side on the pixelated battlefield, or on hand with the TNT in Minecraft. Whatever you do, don’t log off – log on.

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