Video games pose questions about long-term effects on mind

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Video games pose questions about long-term effects on mind

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Video games pose questions about long-term effects on psychology
Monday, October 7, 2013
Sarah Cohen

Late Sept. 16, gamers gathered at the SouthPointe Pavilion’s Gamestop in light rain, awaiting the midnight release of “Grand Theft Auto V,” a role-playing game centered around bank heists, street crime and auto theft. A line outside one of Lincoln’s other Gamestops snaked around a corridor in Gateway Mall, where hundreds showed up to buy the fastest-selling game in history.

New book releases, once-in-a-lifetime concerts and the newest Apple product launches are no longer the only mediums scoring massive online pre-orders. “Grand Theft Auto V” broke sales records worldwide, becoming the fastest-ever entertainment product to make an estimated $1 billion in sales, reaching the figure just three days after its release. By the end of September, VGChartz reported that “Grand Theft Auto V” holds the No. 1 spot as most popular video game on the market worldwide, with more than 15 million copies sold.

Games such as these have a strong presence on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and in Nebraska as a whole, as seen in local sales and the many representative student organizations that exist on campus. But players and critics alike debate the long-term effects that could result from a gaming habit.

The Electronic Gaming Club is an organization of students affiliated with Heartland eSports that gathers a few times each semester to host gaming-related events. ESports refers to competitive gaming on various consoles, including personal computers. The groups hold casual gaming tournaments and competitions in addition to viewing parties for national eSports tournaments that take place around the world.

According to Scott Barrett, a graduate research assistant in the behavioral neuroscience psychology department and the club’s president, “Halo” and other competitive fighting games have long been a hit among college students. Recently, he said, that trend has regained popularity with computer-based titles such as “StarCraft II” and “League of Legends.”

Barrett, who said he plays video games anywhere from five to 10 hours a week, views video games like any other form of entertainment. He acknowledges there is a wide spectrum of maturity involved in video gaming. In terms of video game addiction, Barrett believes it’s very possible to become addicted to video games, as some people have difficulty controlling how much time they spend playing them at the expense of fulfilling their responsibilities in life. Barrett notes, however, that those individuals are in the vast minority of the people who are playing video games. What makes video games a little different in a lot of people’s minds, according to Barrett, is the perception that only kids are playing video games. But he said that simply isn’t true nowadays.

Sophomore computer science major Lucas Holloway, who is president of the UNL Game Developers Club, said video games can be a recreational and healthy form of entertainment for people of all ages.

The more-than-a-dozen members of the Game Developers Club meet once a week and work on creating a computer game. Most of the people in this club, including Holloway, are computer science majors with the intention of entering the video game development industry.

Holloway said he looks for artistic aspects and exceptional design quality in the video games he chooses to play. Holloway looks at the video game industry as an expression of art and elite technical development.

“(It’s) just like in certain television shows and books,” Holloway said. “Controversial questions like the portrayal of women, graphic content and various morally questionable situations are all present. But that’s not to say these video games don’t have a place in mature entertainment.”

While video gaming is gaining increasing popularity among adolescents and young adults, the psychological and developmental effects of this recreational activity have often been called into question.

Phil Chalmers, who calls himself America’s leading authority on juvenile homicide and juvenile mass murder, has often warned against the negative effects of violent video games. Through studying youth culture, behavior and entertainment for the last 25 years and interviewing more than 200 teen killers, he wrote the book, “Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer.” The book details the 10 causes, 20 warning signs and six triggers associated with teen murder.

“It’s never just one thing,” Chalmers said. “I agree that teen murder is a multiple-cause crime, but time and time again exposure to violent video games is a reoccurring factor in a substantial amount of the interviews I’ve conducted with teen murderers.”

Violent entertainment in the form of media, movies, music and video gaming ranks among the second most common cause of teen violence and homicide in Chalmers’ book.

“I would say the most dangerous of the violent entertainment is violent video games,” Chalmers said. “I think a lot of parents are uneducated about the effects of the violent video games they unknowingly purchase for their kids.”

Chalmers believes society should crack down on video games rated “M” for mature and that no person younger than 18 should be in possession of these video games. With the way technology has developed, Chalmers says, the video game platform has changed tremendously to a much more aggressive, violent and extreme experience.

“I am not saying if you play ‘Modern Warfare,’ you’re going to kill people,” Chalmers said. “That would not be a fair statement, but if you kill people, you’re playing ‘Modern Warfare.’ Violent media is a very big part of real-life violence, and we can’t keep looking the other way.”

A Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2009 conducted a study titled “The Effects of Prosocial Video Games on Prosocial Behaviors: International Evidence From Correlational, Longitudinal, and Experimental Studies” which measured prosocial behaviors and traits in adolescence who played violent video games versus prosocial games.

Prosocial behavior is defined as willingness to help, cooperation and sharing, empathy and emotional awareness. The study concluded that while prosocial game exposure positively relates to prosocial behaviors and traits, violent game play was negatively related to the prosocial behaviors. The study also concluded a correlation with increased aggression among the adolescents who played violent video games.

Craig Anderson of the American Psychological Association and co-author of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin wrote a science brief titled “Video Games: Myths, Facts and Unanswered Questions.” The brief concludes high levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, as well as violent crime behaviors such as assault and robbery.

Despite law enforcement and psychologist reports of a correlation between violent video games and negative behaviors, Barrett said video games have also been documented to improve cognitive problem-solving skills. Companies such as Lumosity are making an industry out of computer games that test the brain and several research institutes are devoted to developing video games for educational and learning purposes.

Without question, Barrett said, buzz about the latest video game or console won’t die down anytime soon. But other aspects of gaming aren’t so black and white.

“For me, ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ is just another instance of mature entertainment that surely has questionable content within the game,” Barrett said. “But that’s for the user and consumer to decide.”

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