Updated: Apr 13, 2021
By Esteban Diaz, Community Youth Services (CYS) Project Lead
Many have heard the common concerns people have about video games; they will cause players to become more violent, they are pointless, gaming leads to social isolation, or that games are purely for entertainment, to name a few. Without ever interrogating the research behind these notions, many people never learn how gaming can provide youth and adults opportunities for self-reassurance, relief, education, and socialization. To explore the restorative properties of gaming, let’s explore the origins of gaming and dispel commonly-held cultural beliefs about video gaming and gamers.
The first-ever video game was released in 1972 (its precursor, Tennis for Two, in 1958), developed by physicist William Higinbotham. Higinbotham created Pong, a tennis-style game developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory to entertain, captivate, and educate visitors! This history shows the original intent of video games: to entice the general populace to be entertained and inspired by technology and science.
The gaming world has progressed immensely since the dawn of Pong with the availability of consoles like Playstation 5, the Xbox series X/S, consumer gaming PCs, and even AR/VR devices (like the Oculus Quest 2) all thrusting us into the next evolution of tech. Despite these advances, the mainstream narrative continues to depict video games as inherently bad. In an effort to break the stigma of gaming, it’s important to look into research about video gaming to differentiate between facts and fear-based messaging:
False: Video games can cause violent behavior and exacerbate mental illness in their players. This claim has actually been disproven by a 2019 study led by researcher Simone Kühn. Research suggests that the majority of kids who play video games do not engage in antisocial or violent acts. What is a high-risk factor for influencing youth violence is the quality of life at home.
True: Many gamers form positive bonds and friendships with one another, gaining emotional support and a sense of connection. Since many video games are multiplayer, this enables people across the country and world to play with one another. Think Fortnite, Rocket League, or World of Warcraft. Many people end up creating strong IRL (in real life) friendships.
False: Most video gamers are young, straight, White teenage boys. About half of all Americans (youth and adults) play video games in some form. Secondly, 45% of gamers are women according to a 2019 study, however, young girls, report less access to video games than young boys. Slightly more LGBTQ+ consumers play video games than their cis- and hetero- peers. And, Black and Latinx youth are more likely to play video games than their White counterparts.
True: Video games can be used as a method to reduce symptoms of depression. A study conducted by researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, found among a group of clinically depressed individuals, fast-paced action video games improved subjective cognitive ability, lowered self-reported rumination, and improved trail making performance among its participants, and elevation of mood (Kühn et al., 2018).
True: The puzzle element in many video games can challenge and effectively improve a player's cognition, specifically executive functioning. Games such as Tetris, the Portal series, or even more modern-day role-playing games (RPGs) like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have been using puzzles to stimulate players' minds to think differently, solve problems creatively, and allow them to grow.
Like any recreational hobby, there are many resources for parents and guardians to understand youth gaming culture and how to help their children and teens make positive and secure decisions when gaming. Examples of such guides include how to play games like Fortnite safely, what healthy gaming habits look like, addiction recovery for youth, and safety tips on navigating online friendships. Experiencing harassment while gaming? Gamers can contact the Games and Online Harassment Hotline for support over the phone by texting “SUPPORT” to 23368.
Video gaming can provide meaningful, interactive experiences for youth and is a big part of American culture. Each gamer is their own person and is unique in their own way, but it's important to understand the research behind gaming and not stigmatize players or demonize the culture. Video games can serve to promote healthy social-emotional development and can be used as effective tools in modern-day positive youth development.
Kühn, S., Berna, F., Lüdtke, T., Gallinat, J., & Moritz, S. (2018, February 12). Fighting depression: Action video gameplay may reduce rumination and increase subjective and objective cognition in depressed patients. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816361/
Kühn, S., Kugler, D., Schmalen, K., Weichenberger, M., Witt, C., & Gallinat, J. (2018). Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0031-7.pdf?origin=ppub
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