Battlefield for the Mind:
There is so much controversy over the positive and the negative effects of mental health and video games. One study says they are bad, while another says they are good. We can go back and forth on either side all day long. Like with everything in life, there are extremes in everything we do, not just video games.
Mental health is a serious and complex issue. Video games are not the answer or solution to how it affects our minds and our thinking. They can be a tool or a weapon, helpful or harmful, fun or an addiction. Or they can be a safe escape from life’s worries and cares for a brief moment or they can be just another prison we get trapped into.
I would like to look at both sides without any bias toward the subject one way or the other. (Remember, I enjoy playing video games) So I want to be fair.
What is Mental Health?
According to Wikipedia, mental health is defined as a level of psychological well-being,or an absence of mental illness. Mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and create a balance between life’s activities and efforts to achieve, “Nirvana: perfect harmony”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the mental well-being of an individual also encompasses the reality of our abilities, coping with the normal stresses of life (Good luck with this one), doing productive work and contributing to our communities.
There you have it. Follow these guidelines and you will be okay. You will have peace and have the ability to handle whatever life hurdles put in your path.
HOG WASH!!! All the components of healthy mental health are significant and important. They are also forms of pressure. And who gets to set these standards. We are all different and unique.
- The pressure of, “Am I living up to the best of my talents or abilities?”
- The pressure of “Am I dealing with all the stressors in my life correctly (A lot of times I don’t): My wife, my kids, my grandkids, my job, my co-workers, my relationship with God, how I think or what I do. It is everywhere”.
It never stops. Some people use alcohol, drugs, sex, their families, a garden, a church, a good book, a movie, and yes, some even use video games to just escape the pressures of life. Even if only for a few minutes.
Sometimes we just need an escape. I don’t mean avoiding our families, or our co-workers, or even a stranger in the grocery store. I am not talking about isolating ourselves from the world. However, sometimes even isolation can be beneficial to our mental fitness.
We just need a release from the pressures of life once in a while. Something not defined by a definition or another study on how we should live.
Sometimes, WE just need a BREAK!!!
Positive effects of Video Games on our Minds.
More than 150 million people in the United States play video games regularly, or for at least 3 hours per week. The average American gamer is a 35-year-old adult, with 72 percent of gamers aged 18 or older. In addition, 71% of parents indicate video games have a positive influence on their children’s lives.
This is a lot of people spending time playing video games on regular basis. If so many are doing this, then, how is it affecting our mental health? Is it doing more harm than good?
1. 3D video games could increase memory capacity:
In a 2015 study in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the University of California, Irvine recruited 69 participants, a third to play Super Mario 3D World for two weeks, another third to played Angry Birds, and the rest played nothing.
Because of the experiences and the 3D virtual environments of the games, the gamers did better on follow-up memory tasks, while the others showed no improvement.
Not feeling like I am losing my memory always makes me feel better mentally and not quite as old as I sometimes feel.
2. Gaming for pain relief:
A 2012 literature review in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the 38 studies examined, video games improved the health outcomes of 195 patients on every front, including psychological and physical therapy.
For me, a video game can take my mind off my pain, even if for a brief period. If I’m not thinking about my pain, then I feel better, mentally and physically.
3. There is evidence video games help dyslexic kids improve their reading:
A 2013 study published in Cell investigated the effect that playing action games, like ‘Rayman, Raving Rabbids’, could help dyslexic children aged 7 to 13 year read faster, with no loss in accuracy.
The researchers think that the fast pace in these games helped the kids increase their attention spans, although this hypothesis is yet to be tested.
This must be a breath of fresh air for parents of dyslexic kids. Anything that helps kids feel better about themselves, especially mentally is a win-win for parents and their kids.
4. Tetris (A classic) could help limit trauma:
Last year, 37 patients that arrived at a hospital emergency department in Oxford, UK, most were in a traffic accident. They were randomly selected to play 20 minutes of Tetris.
Another 34 patients didn’t get to play the game but were asked to log their activity by doing things such as texting, crosswords puzzles, and reading.
The Tetris players had significantly fewer flashbacks to the traumatic than those that didn’t – about 62 percent less on average.
Some video games (Not all, it can depend on the game) can help people who have experienced psychological trauma and help in their mental health.
5. Some research shows video games might make you smarter:
A study published in PLoS ONE in 2013, says that your cognition might be enhanced when you just start up your Xbox or PlayStation.
The researchers took five groups of non-gamers and made them play a phone game for one hour a day over four weeks. They found that all video games, both action, and non-action games improved cognitive functions.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I feel smarter, I feel better. I think better. I’m more confident in handling life and whatever it throws at me.
6. Gaming may increase brain matter:
And finally – a 2014 study published in Molecular Psychiatry by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany found that playing Super Mario 64 caused an increase in the size of brain regions. Specifically, the bits of the brain responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills.
As I’m getting older, this is good news for me. I need a larger brain capacity, the more the better. I’m not quite as sharp as I use to be.
So, a bigger brain, having fun, learning new things always helps my mental health.
You know my motto, “Let’s Game!!!”
Negative effects of Video Games on our Minds.
Can Video Games reshape our Brains?
Research has shown playing a video game can produce negative changes in the brain and cognition skills.
One part of the brain that is affected is the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps people to orient themselves (spatial memory) and to remember past experiences (episodic memory).
Another region of the brain is the striatum, which counterbalances the hippocampus. It has an area known as the caudate nucleus that acts as a kind of “autopilot” – getting us home from work, for example, and telling us when it’s time to eat, drink, have sex, and do other things that keep us alive and happy.
A study by the University of Montreal in Molecular Psychiatry investigated the role of these two regions in the brain in determining whether playing video games boosted brain power. (I need all the boost I can get)
After participants had played a total of 90 hours of video games, the researchers used neuroimaging to scan the brains of the players and compare them to non-players.
There was evidence that shooter games (again depending on the game choice) can cause atrophy in the hippocampus. Evidently, the more use of the caudate nucleus, the less use of the hippocampus and as a result, the hippocampus showed signs of atrophy.
This is important because people with lower amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus are known to be at increased risk of developing depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s disease.
For now, I just want to look at how video games can negatively affect our teenagers, kids, and younger adults mental health. This seems to be where most of the paranoia exists, our youth. Are we creating monsters if we let our kids be monsters in a virtual world? I don’t have an answer, but I want to address all sides of this controversial subject.
All these factors can affect anybody’s mental health, young or old.
1. Increasing Aggressive Behavior:
Video games with violence can lead to aggressive behavior. So can playing football or dodgeball (This was brutal in high school). Can it desensitize kids to violence? But so can just watching TV. Studies have shown that people who like playing first-person shooter games are likely to adopt a detached view of the society (Remember, we are talking about a game). They may develop aggressive thoughts and tendencies.
Just because your kid is playing WWI or Star Wars games, does not mean they are going to be violent.
2. Social Isolation:
Another negative effect of a video game is gamers are spending too much time playing games. Video games are making people socially isolated. Gamers who play too much video games (Remember, there needs to be a balance) are less likely to indulge in extracurricular activities like reading, writing and participating in sports. All players don’t fit into this category. I know I don’t.
3. Teaches Wrong Values:
Besides violent behavior, a video game also teaches wrong values. I think this is a cop-out of our culture. My values are not based on a game I play, whether it be chess, pretend cowboys and indians, or a war hero, or a cartoon character in Mario Brothers. Values should not come from a fantasy world, but from the people in our lives.
4. Poor Academic Performance:
This is one of the serious effects of video games on teens/ kids. Playing long hours (key point-no one should be playing long hours of anything) of video games can affect a student’s performance in school.
5. Adverse Effects on Health:
Excessive gaming can have adverse effects on the one’s health. Gamers, by spending too much time playing video games, do not participate in activities that can keep them healthy and fit. It leads to obesity, muscular, skeletal and postural disorders, video-induced seizures, nerve compression and numbness in hands, elbows, and shoulders.
All this is true, but these problems were here before video games ever appeared. Have they made them worse? They could, but there are other factors involved as well.
As we can see, video games can have harmful effects of to our mental health and well being. When gaming becomes an addiction, it is no longer fun. It becomes a crutch.
This is not just a problem for kids or teenagers. It can affect anyone. As with anything in life, we need balance and common sense.
Who does this effect? Everyone.
- Younger adults
- Middle-aged adults
- Older adults
With over 150 million people spending some time playing, video games affect almost everyone. Even if you don’t play yourself, odds are you know somebody who does play them. It may be a child, a grandchild, a parent, a spouse, a brother or sister, a friend, a co-worker, and yes, even a grandpa like myself. GAME ON!
What does all this mean?
Mental health is very serious and should never be taken lightly. Further, studies and research should always be part of the Video Gaming industry, both the positives and the negatives. Everything we do affects the way we feel and the way we think. For these reasons, we need to be careful how we apply this new technology called Video Games to our lives.
We have to use some common sense as well.
Claiming Video Games to be a tool of Satan is problematic on so many levels. Can they be harmful? Of course, they can, but so can anything we do, if we take it to the extreme or abuse it. I believe we especially need to be diligent in what we let our youth see and do. But as for older adults, I don’t see the same negatives you might see in kids. Just my opinion.
We have to honest and realize there are benefits of video games as well. Our military, our hospitals, our schools, and our homes are areas where video gaming has had a positive effect on our lives. I love it when my granddaughter, Sierra, comes to visit and we stay up late at night and talk and play video games. She seems to love it too.
I hope this post has been helpful and informative. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.
johnny, the gray wolf.