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Video Games: Helping us in ways we never thought of

This is a paper I wrote a few years ago about the effects games have on us, and how they can save the world.

Better Games Equal Better Brains:

 The Role of Gaming In Our Society

From Pong to Kong, even jamming to a song, the lure of video games is ever present in our society. Virtual gaming has, since it’s inception in the late 70’s, created a cult-like following of people from all walks of life.  Whether you are a young child or middle-aged adult, scientist or fireman, there is almost guaranteed to be a video game suited for you.  However, the industry has fallen under much scrutiny as to whether or not the games are socially and physically detrimental.  The claims, although true in some individual cases, are often misinformed.  Research both shows that the social stigma surrounding video games is statistically false; and supports the notion that they are beneficial to our development.  We need to utilize this fascinating new medium to educate the population, whether for military training, stimulating the ill, strengthening our work force or furthering the educational benefits in the school system.

At the turn of the millennium the U.S Armed Forces began studies highlighting the effectiveness of virtual training.  Data from these tests show how video games enhance the brain’s executive control, the ability to interact with stimuli in the outside world, by increasing neural activity and synchronization.  Through the use of realistic simulations, researchers “have discovered that video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people that are non-game players” (Perez in Freeman).  Signs of pronounced brain plasticity in gamers has led military personnel to implement game-like simulators into training regimens.  For example, the Office of Naval Research uses a “…virtual environment to develop adaptability within team dynamics” (Freeman).  With this ability, soldiers can gain first hand experience in situations that would otherwise remain foreign.  The player must use his/her individual skill sets in conjunction with artificially intelligent avatars to complete missions.  These tests help soldiers adjust to evolving conditions on the warfront and are cost-effective training methods.

A study conducted by scientists at the University of Utrecht suggests that video game usage amongst the working class provides positive mental reinforcement.  To complete Professor Jeffrey Goldstein’s report a Dutch insurance firm was chosen and the employees divided into groups; one received an hour of game time a day and another that was allotted no time.  The results were measured against how they felt about their individual performance and the job. “The groups that played games showed improvement on both of these measures,” (BBC) says Professor Jeffrey Goldstein, lead researcher on the project. “The results suggest that, instead of games being a waste of time at work, they might help personal productivity and make people feel better about their job” (BBC).  Video games seamlessly bridge the gap between work and play, allowing for an efficient working environment.  These conditions require individual and group productivity as well as high morale, which gaming promotes.

As the workplace adapts to new technologies and ideas, so must the classroom. To better prepare students for a tech-savvy world, many educators are incorporating virtual learning programs into their curricula. BECTA, or the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, conducted a survey of teachers using subject specific learning games.

“Teachers in the study found that use of the games could provide motivation, develop skills and encourage collaboration.  The motivating power of games and their ability to encourage cooperation were felt to support the work of schools in developing independent but social individuals.” (Kirriemuir)

After playing these games students showed a noticeable increase in their “fluid intelligence…once thought to be genetically innate” (Kanan).  This strengthening of the student’s ability to learn new cognitive tasks through gaming develops a routine for strong problem solving skills.

According to Dr. John Kirriemuir, founder of Virtual World Watch the use of videogames as an educational tool is essential.  In his article “Video Gaming, Education and Digital Learning Technologies: Relevance and Opportunities,” Dr. Kirriemuir states that gaming helps increase extended memory retention, motivation and attention span.

“For example, one of the most popular video games is that of Pokémon, in which players collect a menagerie of monsters. Pokémon is played by millions of people, mainly children, on handheld and television-based consoles.  Players enthusiastically learn a large amount of information during play, such as the fighting and defensive attributes of each monster, and the likely outcome of the interaction (through battles) of these attributes” (Kirriemuir).

Information acquisition games, like Pokémon, are vital for our future scholars because they require the mind to think outside the box. In the classroom this will help students problem solve and interact.  By improving our cognition, we are better able to retain sizeable amounts of data.  Developing this awareness at a young age could be essential in skilled job training later in life and rendering a more educated population.

“Games provide players with urgent optimism, social fabric, blissful motivation, and epic meaning, which helps us reach our fullest potential” (McGonigal).  These indicators have become more abundant in the past twenty years because of rapid commercial success in the industry, mainly due to a boom in gaming systems in the 80’s.  People are playing now more than ever, in fact; approximately three billion hours a week are spent playing virtual games globally.  If this time were to be invested in programs such as Jane McGonigal’s World Without Oil and Super Shocked, which let players decide how to fix real world problems through simulations, we would likely be more informed and pro-active about cultured issues. World Without Oil, a simulated world is running out of resources and you must manage your intake and output.  In this game, you are provided news reports, gas prices, and other sorts of information necessary to create a new leading energy source.  By the end, users develop a stronger sense of fiscal management, organization skills and spatial recognition. Super Shocked, however, allots you 23 years to save humans from extinction.  It is up to you to consolidate the remaining resources available and supervise the overall condition of the population.  If you play and pass the missions, the World Bank will “certify you as social innovator, prepared with skills like local insight, knowledge networking, sustainability, vision and resourcefulness” (McGonigal 71).  Achieving this level of success helps direct the player to apply the practices learned in real life situations.

Video games present a unique mental challenge, but also test and improve the player’s manual dexterity.  Many top-rated commercial games, such as Tetris, require keen hand-eye coordination and endurance.  As the game progresses through different levels the difficulty increases, calling for quicker reaction times and accuracy. Developing strong physical prowess coupled with mental stamina pushes players to the edge of their abilities, allowing them to learn at their fullest potential.  Tests conducted by Richard Haier, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Irvine, tracked cerebral glucose metabolic rates in the brains of Tetris players using specialized scanners. He found that after a month of regular play, the subjects showed a decrease in energy consumption (cerebral glucose metabolic rate) amidst higher overall scores.  He noted that as players cognitive abilities increased, their motor skills equally developed.

Gee, a researcher on how video games affect children addressed in his book Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul the effects that we receive from playing games.  Like Kirriemuir, Gee suggests that video games have a use other than simple enjoyment.  Gee believes different types of games can promote deep learning:

Good games create deep learning, learning that is better than what we often see today in our schools.  Pleasure and learning: For most people these two don’t seem to go together.  But that is a mistruth we have picked up at school, where we have been taught that pleasure is fun and leaning is work, and, thus, that work is not fun (Gee, 2004)

This deeper learning is the goldmine that researchers have been striking at.  According to Gee people assume that video games in the school system are a distraction.  As he suggests, when used together, this combination can create a whole new classroom environment.

Some people say that laughter is the best medicine, but medical researchers are now finding out that video games might be a more plausible “cure”.  Delving into a complex game not only helps restore physical strength and coordination in ill patients, it can help alleviate stress and discomfort.  Physiotherapists, such as Mark Griffiths from the Nottingham Trent University, are utilizing this idea to help nurture recovery by drawing attention away from the source of the problem.  According to Professor Griffiths,

“Studies show that children undergoing chemotherapy and treatment for sickle cell anemia had benefited from being given games to distract them…they needed less pain relief and had less nausea and lower blood pressure than those who were simply told to rest after their treatments.”

This research has paved the way for other medical professionals to examine the positive effects of gaming on the human psyche and healing process.  As virtual technology matures, the possibility to assist patients without destructive medications and procedures becomes more and more viable.

There is no denying that video games can instigate negative side effects such as computer vision syndrome, aggressive behavior and a pathological preoccupation that can lead to an isolated, sedentary life.  When abused, video games present a health risk to the user, especially younger children who are more impressionable to media.  The virtual game industry needs to do a better job of conveying health risks associated with its product to the consumer.  However, the video games themselves are not the source of the issue, rather, bad habits, poor regulation by parents and/or the user and outside psychological factors are to blame.

As virtual games become more developed and refined, the use of intense lighting effects has increased dramatically.  Overexposure can cause people to feel symptoms similar to computer vision syndrome, a complication caused by the eyes’ inability to maintain focus on pixilated images.  Headaches, burning and/or itchy eyes and blurry vision are some of the signs of this ailment.  On occasion, photosensitive epileptics will have a seizure after a short period of game play.  Although overexposure to flashing lights is a very realistic, yet minor threat, there are many ways to help prevent discomfort.  By taking frequent breaks, maintaining a comfortable distance from the screen, playing in a well lit room and limiting overall play, you can greatly decrease your risk of injury. Do guns kill people? Or do people kill people?  This argument follows the same logic in that the user must take accountability for their health. Besides, the first block of text in every video game as sanctioned by the US Federal Court denotes a seizure warning.

After the Columbine shootings in 1999, video game violence has become one of the most controversial issues in American pop-culture.  Whether it is the likes of Mortal Kombat or the infamous Grand Theft Auto series, virtual gaming has encompassed and in many cases profited off simulated violence. As of 2008, ten of the top twenty best-selling game titles in the US contained instances of violent action.  When young kids have access to games that involve violence, they often become desensitized which “can have deleterious social consequences such as reducing inhibitions against behaving aggressively” (Bartholow).  Many players may view material in games and not understand the ramifications of repeating in-game violence.  “Drawing upon symbolic interactionism, we find that individuals make sense of the world around them by using the meanings that the members of society have come to share” (Dietz 1).  Also, according to a 2009 study, when blood and gore are present in video games there is a measurable increase in arousal and hostility.  However, most games are not this extreme.  And it is not as if, classroom games would not incorporate killing zombies or people for that matter.

Although there are many reports that suggest a link between video games and violence in the United States, there is no empirical evidence that supports the claim.  In fact, there is more information that highlights the decline in violence as more violent games are released.  The FBI website contains a section denoted Crime In The United States that reads, “the arrest rate for juvenile murders has fallen 71.9% between 1995 and 2008.  The arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes has declined 49.3%” (FBI).  These statistics work in conjunction with data from the Entertainment Software Association’s website that show a 400% increase in game sales within the same time frame.  To put it in simple terms, total crime levels have dropped by nearly in half while video game sales have quadrupled.  Violent video games act as a positive outlet for normal aggressive tendencies, especially amongst male users.  If anything, virtual gaming has done wonders for the youth of this country.

I first chose this topic for my research paper because of all the negative connotations and remarks being made about games.  Absurd remarks such as video games causing children to become violent animals and video games making children lazy and anti-social.  These claims are both exaggerative and ridiculous.  Actions are always up to the individual, not the system or game the individual is playing.  I felt a call to action that prompted me to write for the voice of video games.  Not only are video games in the classroom an interesting topic but it is incredibly relevant because of the developing technologies that can promote the education of all youth in America.  For example, imagine if every grade-schooler came home after school, and for homework could play a game that would increase their academic ability.  For instance say a history game.  A game that follows the adventures of such leaders like Alexander the Great, Napoleon, King Louis, or even Lewis and Clark.  The first hand experience that each child receives is unfathomable.

Someday, children that haven’t even been born yet will be running the world.  This composites emotion that simply cannot be put into words.  If in any way, we can affect the children of today and better prepare them for their future roles, why not?  Has it not been the goal and dream of every workingman and woman to work through their lives just to give their child a better shot than they had?  As society invents new technologies, a glimmer of that original dream can still be seen.  This evinces hope for each American that still believes in the dream.  After each page that I read from authors that have been studying this same material, I feel a bond created.  I can only hope this work can “contribute to authors of the past” (Postman 70).  These aspirations may be too extreme, but at least this paper can attempt to strengthen the bond.

Initially, I can admit, my view of video games was very narrow.  I believed that games could help people.  But I had no idea how.  After my research, I was able to widen my view of the topic and come to a realization.  While some video games have to ability to help students learn, other games merely focus on entertainment.  This is the largest problem occurring in video game society.  If a game does not have a meaningful duty or purpose, then it can be considered wasteful.  This can be compared to the way televisions highest ratings are reality shows.  People stare mindlessly at their screens, trying to solve problems that do not exist!  If by some miracle, we can change the view of video games in our society, and get gamers to focus on real life problems.  Problems that do not concern mystic worlds, dungeons, or underwater levels.  My understanding of this topic has increase dramatically.  And with every article, paper, book, and website I read concerning video games, it can only grow.

With the incorporation of this new dimension of technology: our military training, stimulation of ill, work force, and educational system will be stronger then ever.  Military training capability is dramatically increased with improvement of team dynamics and first hand experience.  The work force’s motivational, productive, and efficient techniques have the potential to skyrocket.  After cognition in the classroom is incorporated into the educational system, students will be able to retain sizeable amounts of data with much less difficulty.  Our hospitals are benefitted from the alleviation of stress and discomfort in their patients as well as the restoration of strength and coordination.  These benefits are too dramatic to ignore.  Thus we must draw on this new channel and integrate it into our society to expand, farther then anyone ever has ever imagined.

Works Cited

Bartholow, Bruce D. “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.” Chronic Violent Video Game Exposure and Desensitization to Violence: Behavioral and Event-related Brain Potential Data 206.4989 (2002). Print.

Cannon, Christopher. “Training Fluid Intelligence.” UCSD/CSE Site. 22 Mar. 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2011. <http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~ckanan/FluidIntelligence.html&gt;.

Dietz, Tracy L. “An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior.” Sex Roles 38 (1998): 1-18. Print.

F, B. I. “FBI — Crime Statistics.” FBI — Homepage. 02 Feb. 1995. Web. 17 Mar. 2011. <http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats&gt;.

Freeman, Bob. “Defense.gov News Article: Researchers Examine Video Gaming’s Benefits.” The Official Home of the Department of Defense. 25 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2011. <http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=57695&gt;.

Gee, James Paul. “Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines.” E-Learning 2.1 (2005): 5-23. Print.

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