Nature’s Neuroscientific Review Of Games

By John Walker on November 23rd, 2011 at 11:05 am.

8/10

The presence of videogaming matters in scientific papers has, of late, become a somewhat depressing prospect. With both formerly respectable/respected scientists making unsupported claims without evidence, and published papers basing conclusions on woeful errors and contradictions, the one place where you’d think you could look for balanced, reasoned thought on a subject sometimes seems to have abandoned us. But there is light. Nature, surely the most respected and popular scientific journal, has published a “Viewpoint” discussion on the subject of gaming’s effect on the brain in its Nature Reviews Neuroscience journal. Brains On Video Games is a collection of leading experts looking at the published material and discussing the matter with open minds.

Things begin with a discussion of the positive effects of gaming, starting with a perspective from Professor of Psychology at the University of Geneva and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, Daphne Bavelier, along with C. Shawn Green, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and faculty member of the Games+Learning Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Although the popular media has a strong tendency to produce breathless headlines about the effects (or lack of effects) of video games, it is worth noting that the term ‘video games’ is far from a single construct and thus, has almost no scientific predictive power. One can no more say what the effects of video games are, than one can say what the effects of food are. There are millions of individual games, hundreds of distinct genres and subgenres, and they can be played on computers, consoles, hand-held devices and cell phones. Simply put, if one wants to know what the effects of video games are, the devil is in the details.”

Just to see the subject not trivialised in the opening moments is worryingly refreshing. They go on to point out that the majority of the studies have focused on action games, ignoring vast swathes of what gaming offers, but then observe that these action studies have shown that “playing this type of game results in a wide range of behavioural benefits, including enhancements in low-level vision, visual attention, speed of processing and statistical inference, among others.” In fact, they add,

“Properly controlled training studies have repeatedly demonstrated a causal link between video game playing and enhanced abilities.”

Doug Hyun Hun (Professor of Psychiatry at the Chung Ang University Hospital, and Director of online game clinic and research centre of the same) and Perry F. Renshaw (Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and Director of Magnetic Resonance Imagining for the Brain Institute of the same) point out that while studies have shown improvements in visuo-spatial capacity, visual acuity, task switching, decision making and object tracking in healthy individuals, those studies also have weaknesses, and most significantly, when non-gamers are recruited for tests, they don’t tend to show enhanced performance on “higher level reasoning and problem solving tasks.”

Michael M. Merzenich, Emeritus Professor in the W. M. Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California observes that some games can “be expected to drive positive neurological changes in the brain systems”. He adds,

“There is growing direct evidence that intensive use of video games results in significant generalized improvements in cognitive function. Video games are controlled training regimens delivered in highly motivating behavioural contexts. The documented gains in processing speed, attentional control, memory, and cognitive and social control that result from playing specific games are expected. Because behavioural changes arise from brain changes, it is also no surprse that performance improvements are paralleled by enduring phsyical and functional neurological remodelling.”

He adds that regular gaming by children has been shown to cause a downturn in academic achievement, citing the time spent gaming being “stolen” from time spent reading and studying.

Finally there’s Douglas A. Gentile, Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology at Iowa State University, where he also directs the Media Research Laboratory. He mentions Bavelier and Green’s research into action games, once again listing all the discovered benefits, especially perceptual and attentional skills. However, he observes that these skills are not necessarily transferable.

“One recent study, for example, found that although experienced video gamers were better at spatial navigation in computer-mediated tasks than non-experienced players, they were not better at the same type of navigation in a real-world environment.”

He also mentions studies appearing that demonstrate that social gaming leads, in only the short-term, to more “helping” behaviour, while violent gaming leads to more “harmful” behaviour. And adds, “In a longitudinal study, we found that children who played more pro-social games early in a school year demonstrated increased helpful behaviours later in the school year.”

So there’s the positive. But what about the negative? Bavelier and Green say there is “no doubt” that violent video games can lead to increases in measures of aggressive thoughts. However, the say, the subtleties of this are mostly lost. “Violent video games alone are unlikely to turn a child with no other risk factors into a maniacal killer. However, in children with many risk factors, the size of the effect may be sufficient to have practical negative consequences.”

They point out again that the matter of “reduced attention” is also a matter of nuance. No, games certainly don’t lower one’s ability to “rapidly and efficiently filter visual distractors” – in fact they greatly enhance it. But studies are showing that gaming may make it harder to pay longer-term attention, say in class. They say, it’s impossible to say that games do one thing or the other, but rather they have a myriad of behavioural effects.

Han and Renshaw take the somewhat peculiar route of quoting three or four exceptional stories of those with “internet addiction”, which appears to conflate gaming with gambling, as their evidence for negative effects of gaming. None of these are studies, of course, but rather anecdotal examples of individuals with complex backgrounds beyond their time spent gambling or gaming. But they conclude that, “We believe that there is strong evidence in support of the view that excessive internet use or game play is associated with adverse consequences on behaviour in some indivuduals.”

Merzenich discusses the potential negative effects on cognition of intensive game playing. He says,

“Fast action games, on a play level that applies to the average regular gamer, has been shown to contribute to an increase in ADHD-related behaviours.”

He then repeats his point that time spent gaming is time spent not studying, and that heavy game play is “inversely correlated with academic, occupational and social success.” And adds that violent games, which he unhelpfully delineates as being “particularly addictive”, can reduce empathy, and reduce the stress associated with observing or initiating anti-social actions – in other words, desensitising. He also firmly believes that games can be addictive, and recognises the issues of the “special destructive class of neurological and social burdens” that accompany this.

Gentile takes a different view, pointing out that if the positive effects of gaming are learning effects, then we can learn the wrong things. “Whatever we practice repeatedly affects the brain, and if we practice aggressive ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, then we will get better at those.” He notes that violent games don’t necessarily cause violent behaviours, “because human aggression is complex and multi-causal.” However, he adds that there is a “hostile attribution bias” that is increased by violent gaming, which causes a player to become more biased toward attributing hostile intentions to others’ actions. Most damningly, he adds,

“The most comprehensive meta-analysis conducted to date included 136 papers detailing 381 independent tests of association conduction on 130,296 research participants. The analyses found that violent game play led to significant increases in desensitisation, physiological arousal, aggressive cognition and aggressive behaviour. By contrast, pro-social behaviour was decreased.”

The size of these effects, however, is a matter of some disagreement Gentile continues, especially whether it’s of sufficient practical significance. There is much weaker evidence that gaming can cause criminal or serious violence, but much stronger that it causes low-level, everyday aggression.

The discussion continues on much further, going on to look at evidence for gaming addiction, gaming as an educational tool, and what challenges lie ahead for researchers in this field. But I’ve already nicked quite enough from the paper, frankly.

So what can we conclude from this? I think the most crucial aspect to get a grip of is the complexity involved. While it is obviously the wont of newspapers and TV news to grab a wildly generalising headline, it is never appropriate to say, “Games Do X”. Games, as many of the discussion’s authors point out, are multifarious and nuanced. “Games” don’t do anything in particular. But types of games, even specific games, have specific effects, both positive and negative. The broad consensus appears to be that games can improve our perceptional skills, but that this can have a detrimental effect on our ability to pay long-term attention. It’s also agreed across the board that violent gaming can influence aggressive behaviour in players. However, as must always be understood when discussing these matters, the severity of these effects are extremely under-studied and currently unknown. Yes, gaming may increase bias toward aggression, but the question we, and the wider press, always forget to ask is: by how much? And that’s crucial. Scientists will measure for a change in something and look for a cause, but where they say “increase” we tend to hear, “devastating change”. They could just as easily mean, “negligible increase, but increase all the same”, and it’s crucial that we remember to ask first.

Although, as Douglas A. Gentile points out in his comments about how aggressive changes appear to be only low-level, and not criminal levels of violence, that’s not to diminish the significance either.

“As a developmental psychologist, I care deeply about this everyday aggression (verbal, relational and physical), whereas critics of the research seem to be mostly interested in criminal violence.”

It really is time for a sensible, calm reaction to the facts. We obviously won’t get it from our tabloid newspapers, who will continue to screech horror and nonsense, but we also must challenge ourselves and not assume the worst when we see a study reporting negative findings. We are guilty of a form of inverse sensationalism, where we’re too quick to dismiss criticism. That’s obviously not helped when a frustrating volume of that criticism is so poor, but again, it’s about rising above it to seek the truth.

Big thanks to Laura for getting us the full paper, and Bad Bonobo for alerting us.

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67 Comments »

  1. caddyB says:

    I told my mother about this. She told me even if I had increased cognitive capacity, I was still a lonely asocial guy doomed to fail in the real world.

    • Braveheart says:

      From experience, I’d wager your mother was right.

    • Hanban says:

      It would be more likely of you to fail from the Pygmalion effect of your mother’s expectations of you. The best course of action is of course to murder her and proceed out into the world and excel.

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      Gap Gen says:

      Your mother knows exactly how to increase your emotional awareness and build the confidence necessary to grow socially, huh? Parents are the best.

    • Symitri says:

      This is why I always choose the renegade option when talking to people.

    • caddyB says:

      Funny thing is I’m 24 years old, I have a somewhat respectable income.
      Granted, it could probably be better, but I spend most of my days at university or playing games so it’s not like I’ve tried and failed.

    • atticus says:

      Seems like parents like to judge their offspring by what they do on their spare time. I’m 29, with a well paid job in management, a girlfriend and a car and a house of my own, but that’s doesn’t really count.

      “YOU SPENT THE WEEKEND PLAYING COMPUTERGAMES?! WHAT ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF MORON?!” my father will exclaim at regular intervals, as time not spent on chopping wood, hunting deer or fishing is time wasted. Sigh…

      @Symitri: I loled :)

    • NathanH says:

      I’m sure my mother would like to criticize my excessive gaming, but her 90 hours of Terraria would undermine her point somewhat.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      “I told my mother about this. She told me even if I had increased cognitive capacity, I was still a lonely asocial guy doomed to fail in the real world.”

      Hmm. Seems like the blame lies somewhere other than games in this case.

    • RebelMoogle says:

      Wow. Thank you for reminding me that I have open-minded intelligent parents that support me no matter what and try to understand why I am so fascinated in game development.

      I should be thankful.

      Maybe this is the reason I have strong self-esteem and am truly proud of working on games. And that I stand up for my beliefs but also like open-minded discussions.

      If my parents have tought me one thing, it is that open communicaton is very very important.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      chopping wood, hunting deer or fishing is time wasted

      Skyrim?

    • jhng says:

      Actually, among my friends (early/mid 30s), there’s a slight correlation in favour of keen gamers being more professionally successful — not universal by any means, but certainly the high flyers have a greater likelihood to be geeks, essentially, and often gamers.

  2. parm says:

    Making use of Mrs Walker’s academic journal access, are we? :)

    Interesting points. Now if only that silly Mr Vaz would pay attention. He’s at it again you know. Although Tom Watson’s smackdown at the end is particularly great.

  3. faelnor says:

    Everything is said.

  4. Sheng-ji says:

    One thing really not emphasised here, but critical is that these changes are not permanent. Just as the Mozart effect lasts only an hour or so, these changes only last during a time of your life where you are gaming enough to experience them.

    • Zetetic says:

      It’s not emphasised, because it’s something you’ve made up. Whilst there are short term changes in, say, aggression (simply because of fairly base physiological arousal for one thing) there are also seemingly longer term cognitive and behavioural changes. As the article makes clear with reference with longitudinal studies.

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    Gap Gen says:

    Interesting. The point that games are a highly diverse medium is noteable. I wonder what effect playing Minecraft for a long time has over, say, a fast shooter. It’s certainly nice to separate level-headed research-led discussion from ranting in the media (and it’s a damn shame that Susan Greenfield has fallen into the latter camp).

    I think these sorts of reviews are useful partly to explore mitigating any negative effects of games. My attention span is awful, and I suspect it’s partly due to computers (largely the internet, too) although there are all sorts of other things that have affected my life too (like growing up while my mother deteriorated due to MS) so it’s difficult to tell how games affected my own personal development separate from other factors. It’s highly likely that they helped me escape from the shitness of things going on around me as a teenager.

    • jackelope says:

      Minecraft for a year would cause extreme OCD and an inability to think of anything but how to better arrange virtual blocks.

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      FriendlyFire says:

      More importantly, this review bases itself on past research and yet (unless it’s more explicitly detailed than the quotes we have here) after the initial point that games are extremely broad and can’t really be lumped all in the same boat, they proceed to analyze games as a whole for the rest of the article.

      I honestly cannot believe that playing an RPG, an RTS or a FPS develops the same kind of skills, nor can I believe that you’d get more aggressive even if just playing non-violent games (of which there are *many* and not all casual). I wouldn’t be surprised that many/most of the studies used concentrated on FPS/TPS action/shooting games, which tend to be amongst the most popular and controversial.

  6. Magnetude says:

    Bravo on the alt-text, John

  7. OJSlaughter says:

    The Meta-Analysis is irrelevant as it will be based on the studies we have already dismissed: especially if it is about violent video games (we all know the history there)…

    To be honest, I don’t care :S

    • whiskeyriver says:

      I did psych in college & my final thesis was on possible negative media effects. Part of the discussion brought in games research and what I saw – across all media – was that the effect sizes were waaaaay to small to support the claims researchers were making.

      Whether it be negative news, “disturbing” films or violent games the only claim I saw as supportable by evidence was: If you have other problems these things might not be advisable.

      In all cases media was a much smaller effect than socio-economic, family or medical factors.

    • Zetetic says:

      Well, thank goodness for that, surely? It’d be absolutely terrifying, given the obviously relatively huge amount of time we spend being affected by SES, familial environment and so on if media didn’t produce much weaker effects on cognition and behaviour overall!

  8. Jumwa says:

    So in the end, I suppose, we learn that gaming can subtly influence us in minor ways. Not too much unalike how reading some Ayn Rand can turn certain danger-zone people into more negative individuals who now have an ‘ideology’ to back up their sociopathy.

    I’ve been as critical as anyone over the anti-gaming rhetoric and careless, irresponsible studies. Though I have worried that a steady influx of war games help trivialize and further militarize the mentality of a public that doesn’t much seem to care about foreign wars that devastate innocent civilian populations. Much as I worry about Hollywood movies of the same type doing likewise.

    That’s a content issue, and not me worrying about any specific effect games have themselves.

    Of course, I consider myself well capable of playing these sorts of games and not suffering the same effects, so perhaps I should place the same faith in others as I do in myself.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I have worried that a steady influx of war games help trivialize and further militarize the mentality of a public that doesn’t much seem to care about foreign wars that devastate innocent civilian populations”

      I don’t think you can really blame gaming for that. We had a lot more wars before we invented the computer, and if anything people gave a lot less of a shit. If anything we’re actually more concerned about foreign wars than we ever have been in the past, but I think that’s more likely down to modern media meaning we can get instant images and reports from said war, rather than relying on letters from a man with bizarre facial hair who went to the front as a ‘bit of an adventure’.

    • Jumwa says:

      As I said, I worry about it in the same way as I do movies. I tried to stress I don’t see it as a video game specific issue and more of a cultural one.

      Being just north of the USA, we get inundated a lot by the culture from down south, and it’s taken a rather nasty turn in recent times (recent being the last decade or so, give or take). So as I said, it’s more me fretting about cultural shifts than anything video game specific.

      But yes, you’re right that on a grand historical scale we are living in a better age regarding warfare and loss of life due to it. For the first time in recorded history, the 20th century saw a continued downturn in the number of deaths to such things. However, it’s not a gain I’d like to see slip from us at all, and any deaths to such state violence is too much for me. So I fret.

    • Zetetic says:

      There’s this relatively old thread in the forums about the ‘morality’ of modern videogames, whether they express a morality and what effect this might have on the viewer.

      In which archonsod does claim that no work has ever changed his views, which I think many (including Mr Walker) would vehemently disagree with. What I think is interesting here is not only whether games, with their ongoing peculiar markets, are particularly jingoistic, but if they’re particularly suitable for engendering complex attitude change.

      (Which I hope they are, because they’re an interestingly interactive kind of media unlike others in a very important way. I’d be interested if the Nature article touches on this.)

  9. telpscorei says:

    Has there been a study looking into the effects of regularly practicing and playing American Football in highschool and into college?

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Yes, sports scientists have quite conclusively proven that the pro’s of controlled competitive sport far outweigh the cons, which tends to be injuries as opposed to academic failings.

      The image of the jock who excels at spending time on sports practice while ignoring his schoolwork is a bit of a trope – in real life athletes across all sports show almost identical academic trends as non athletes i.e if 20% of the general population would fail an exam and 10% would get a top score, athletes would show the exact same distribution.

    • Christian O. says:

      @Sheng-ji

      Any findings in regards to the impact of competitive sports on aggressive behaviour and desensitization?

  10. Cooper says:

    The question I haven’t seen properly answered RE: Violent games, is the import of the social aspect.

    Log into any random CoD server (especially on X-Box) and the level of verbal aggression (and especially the consistent homophobic, racist, sexist comments) is pretty disturbing. An arena like that can’t but exacerbate, I would assume, an assumption that such actions are somehow acceptable.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I would say it depends. You will usually have two kinds, the ones who are taken into the action and general swearing, and are compelled to regress and participate in it, while they wouldn’t behave this way, in real life, in front of the same persons.
      And a bunch of teenagers who would actually insult you that way in public. (Note, I’m not that strict on the age span of “teenager”)

    • kimadactyl says:

      Agreed. I have a feeling these spaces make wholey unacceptable things acceptable to kids, at the wrong age, with noone around to correct them.

    • Josh W says:

      I would probably be desensetised to aggressive behaviour after listening to a few hours of that too.

  11. birdman says:

    I love this article.
    I’m sure the write up was great. But after reading the article I am now inspired to do some research in this area if I ever get the chance.

  12. KingCathcart says:

    I did try and read the whole article but for some unexplainable reason I found my attention span exceed about 2/3rds of the way through and moved on.

  13. Erucan says:

    I agree with Douglas on this. It’s rather easy to try to find links to criminal behaviour instead of finding overall behaviour changes. I’m not quite certain though that the changes to behaviour is from single player (the game itself) or multiplayer (other people). Is this behaviour resulted from group pressure to comform into certain verbal ticks and “man” behaviour or trying to imitate from what you’ve seen the characters do.

    More studies should be focused on games, not only action games but maybe the entire plethora of choices. Even if the results are bad or good, we should study more on player controlled images influences.

  14. Binary77 says:

    This makes one wonder what kinds of adults/kids they used for some of their control group studies? Because there is always the fact that people with conditions such as ADHD/aggressive tendencies may just be more attracted to games as a form of expression & interaction that they cannot get elsewhere. Were these people ALREADY gamers?

    I’m now 27 years old (male), but i’m pretty sure that i’ve always had a short atttention span & a penchant for mild destruction – long before i ever played Moonstone on the family Amiga.

    • Zetetic says:

      Longitudinal studies can tackle this to a degree, allowing one to examine if there’s a preference for games in one defined group or another, and then also allowing one to examine if over time there is a change associated with gaming or otherwise.

      This is generally how the aggression-producing effects of various forms of violent media have been shown, alongside the fact that already aggressive individuals will tend select such media.

  15. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Just a question:

    So, studies that reveal benefits in gaming but with glaring contradictions and reduced control groups are good science, while studies revealing the bad about gaming with glaring contradictions and reduced control groups are not?

    I’m expecting more of anyone willing to just diss science when it doesn’t fit their interests, or praising it when it does.

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      LTK says:

      I don’t see how your comment is in any way appropriate for this article.

  16. Zetetic says:

    A month-and-a-half ago, I wrote what increasingly (I fear) became a short philippic against John in the forums, and my worries about his reporting of the psychology surrounding video gaming and the misrepresentation of what it was actually concerned with and real problems involved.

    For once, I feel remarkably prescient (and, yes, a bit horribly smug) and relieved that Mr. Walker has taken the path indicated by the article above. I still think there’s a slightly disconcerting bias in the writing – he’s much more concerned with debating the demonstration and strength of negative effects than positive ones – but it’s a vast improvement over where the bouts with the Baroness were taking him.

    • formivore says:

      By including the magic words “size of the effect”, John’s article is more interested in getting at the truth than half of the health reporting I read in the New York Times. I guess that is the benefit of writing for a blog instead of a general audience. I appreciate John writing this even if the only conclusion I took is that the research is mixed and preliminary. I continue to believe that the effect of gaming on violent behaviour is pretty much a red herring.

      It would have been interesting to hear more about the research of addictiveness, but John only mentions that one case study.

    • bill says:

      It’s much easier for US to talk rationally and fairly about the issue when THEY are talking rationally and fairly about it.

      When you have people making outrageous and unsupported claims it’s natural to respond in a much stronger and more dogmatic fashion. Hence we get the us and them effect, where gamers feel compelled to defend every game and gamer in every situation.

      I’m sure there are many minor positive and negative and neutral effects from gaming, as there are from everything else we consume and do in our lives – but like comic books, tv, movies, and rock and roll before them, I suspect it’ll all even out and only really be of interest at an academic level.

      Except when taken to extremes, and we’ve always known that too much of anything is a bad idea. (except marmalade).

      Changes in society are constant and multitudinous, and everything effects us in some way… that’s life.

  17. Wulf says:

    Meh. I wrote up a really thoughtful reply to this, but it was deleted by the spam filter.

    http://pastebin.com/p09JuD7V – If you want to read it.

    (I think it’s worth reading, since I think that one moment of actually seeing a suicide implied in an MMORPG, of all places, is something that needs to be known and understood, and all the thoughts I have surrounding that.)

    • Zetetic says:

      I think your main thrust – that games whose narrative and mechanics seem to encourage violence (‘violent games’?) are liable to encourage violence – seems both reasonable and well-supported by current evidence, albeit with the vast number of interactions and limited effect size and so on.

    • Josh W says:

      I can understand that, it reminds me of how much of action movies (especially cheap ones) is put into justifying how horrible these people are, so that the main-fighter-man can kill them. There’s a lot of stuff not about selling his heroism or his cause, which would force you to consider whether the ends are worth it, but in dehumanising those he will be fighting, or showing why they need to be stopped.

      This (pretty conservative) rational for violence is a dodgy one, because it’s intentionally designed towards “any mercy is too good for them”. A better model for violence in games, is to split it into two sets, on one side, with more pathos and so on, is to make it an extreme act, that is to be moderated where possible, and only justified by extreme objectives. This tends to fit very well with those stealth/combat games, where non-violent or non-lethal solutions can be found.

      The other is to make it something intentionally chosen by all participents, like TF2 or serious sam (in a way), everyone’s in on the violence, and so it’s fair game.

      There’s also the seriously dehumanised dead space type “sympathy + put them out of their misery” model or “desperation lashing out” model. I’m undecided on this front, because it often really engages with a certain form of violence, putting in consequences and so on as a part of the horror context, and although it seems dodgy to me, I’m not much of a horror games fan, so I should probably disqualify myself from judging it!

  18. sonofsanta says:

    I’m honestly not sure I can comprehend the wonder that is Proper Discussion after these last few months. I’m not sure I can even comprehend everything they talk about, but I am immensely relieved that someone outside Castle Shotgun is finally taking the topic seriously.

    Seriously, though, I’m amazed that more people haven’t cottoned on to the “lots of people have been doing it for 30 years and we’re all still fine” argument as a wonderful counterpoint to any and all claims of videogames being especially harmful. Sure, they have their downsides, as does anything indulged in excess, but there’s obviously nothing in particular about gaming that would make it stand out from other pastimes.

    • Zetetic says:

      That’s not a counter-argument to the real issues under discussion, at best it’s a counter-argument to the extremist loons that distract from competent research and considered conclusions. I’ve attempted to address this in the forum post I linked to above – in short the effects are, as John states in this article, likely be relatively subtle and highly dependent on interactions with personality and other environmental factors.

      There are obvious reasons why we might expect gaming to be a ‘special’ kind of media – interactivity, and why media consumption might well be different from other pastimes – it usually involves narrative, almost invariably involves communication of a viewpoint and commonly implicitly or explicitly endorses or rejects kinds of behaviour. They’re both reasonable avenues of research.

    • Wulf says:

      I’d make the argument that there’s a correlation between growing violence in entertainment and growing violence in culture, due to the entertainment industry (all of it, not just games) telling us over a prolonged experience that violence is completely okay.

      I’m not saying games make us violent, as I explained in my post above, but I am saying that through the entertainment industry we’ve become incredibly desensitised to violence, which is turning off a lot of our inner conscience switches. The entertainment industry never wants to show us the potential, absolutely horrifying consequences of violence, since that would disturb and upset people, and thus it wouldn’t be popular. No one has the balls for that. But therein lies the problem.

      The rise of violence in entertainment, and violence in culture, have both been rising at a steady rate, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two are rising in tandem, either. I think that the more sorts of violence that we’re told are okay to experience, the more violent culture becomes as a whole, and this rests upon the heads of the entertainment industry in general.

    • Zetetic says:

      Wulf, I think that your final claim is very difficult to actually substantiate in itself.

      Firstly, I think the claim that our (? Western, British or American, perhaps?) culture is more violent is not well supported over the last few decades, but I’m not even entirely sure what you mean by this – that more acts occur in our society, or that more people are exposed to it or somesuch I presume.

      Secondly, I don’t there’s a clear causal process here even if there really is a correlation – if we just treat the claim as violence and depictions of violence are rising in tandem, then that hardly seems surprising – we would expect our cultural products to reflect our experience.

  19. Wezz6400 says:

    It’s good to see such an unbiased and open article on this issue on a gaming site. It shows that there are reasonable people in this community who can discuss things with an open mind and are willing to listen to things that they do not particularly like.

    Both science and gaming (both gross generalisations) show their best side here, that’s a good thing to see. Maybe it can lead to constructive criticism in the future, which could improve games. I’m not saying games are currently “wrong” or “bad”, but I’d argue that there’s always room for improvement, especially if there’s still so much research to be done.

    • Zetetic says:

      The practical implications of such research are interesting, and I think clearly interact with how one values freedom of expression and so on.

      I think such research, and it’s careful reporting, might well be useful to parents and so forth and as aid in decision-making. And even to States, to an extent, when coming up with rating systems that further help people make decisions for themselves and their younglings. (I, and I think many here, worry about the possibility of censorship.)

      I might even hope that makers of faceless-foreign-horde-manshoot of next year might consider the implications of their work; but frankly I might have hoped that they’d consider the narrative and message of their work like any real author – almost separate to the behavioural effects it might engender. I can’t imagine they will, particularly when if there’s any psychological knowledge that such people are interested in, it’s related to encouraging purchase after purchase.

    • kimadactyl says:

      I’d say it’s pretty biased (I mean, bias is fine, don’t get me wrong) – apart from anything else 99% of us don’t have access to the article to check for ourselves :p

  20. kimadactyl says:

    “None of these are studies, of course, but rather anecdotal examples of individuals with complex backgrounds beyond their time spent gambling or gaming”

    If the interviews were conducted by the people who wrote the paper, this is a study – it’s called qualitative phenomenological research. The aim isn’t to come up with a stat, it’s to shed light on an issue in interesting and illuminating ways. If this is the case, this paragraph is hugely biased (as is the article in general, i mean fair enough, but this is the most extreme example).

    If not apologies but I hate quant bias :p

  21. kimadactyl says:

    Comment got eaten, apologies if this double posts

    “None of these are studies, of course, but rather anecdotal examples of individuals with complex backgrounds beyond their time spent gambling or gaming”

    This is called qualitative/phenomenological research. I think it’s pretty dismissive to say it’s not a study without explaining why, especially given you didn’t link any of the articles. There’s other biases here but this is the most glaring.

  22. perablenta says:

    Let me tell you something after about 16 years of games (on Sega, PS 1 and PC, in that order)

    1. “reduced attention” it’s not a total factor in the total sum of your life’s actions, I personally have noticed and am aware of my “reduced attention” when studying, doing repetitive tasks, BUT not at all while listening to my teachers at school and later in college, or any task that required even a little of imagination or personal involvement.
    My conclusion, as a well educated 23 year old, was that gaming only made me more selective of the way I used my minds resources and at tasks I liked I used them all at ones I don’t i run on autopilot.
    This is also correlated to a more and more specific taste in games and movies for example. *Today it takes me mere 1 – 2 seconds to tell you if a movie is A or B class or if I would play that game or not. This can also be contributed to a lot of experience with each, but without comparison to other people with similar age and gaming age I can’t say for sure which is it.

    2. ”enhanced abilities” yes. On my own I have noticed not just faster visual processing (as mentioned above*) that comes with playing FPS games, especially online MP modes, but also a far more analytical approach to every decision that I have to make in life. When playing sandbox open ended strategy or simulator games(Cesar, Tropico, Anno, Settlers type games) you have to keep juggling anywhere from 5 – 20 aspects of the game at the same time, equivalent to making a lego on a boat while riding 10 m waves while blindfolded.
    Also ad :
    Better hand – eye coordination,
    faster problem solving,
    more often out of the box thinking and
    expanded memory.

    3. ”desensitising” and ”reduce empathy”. I agree and disagree on this point.
    Yes, I have noticed my self, that I have become desensitised and even have reduced empathy for other people, BUT not all other people. For strangers, people I have little contact with, even my relatives that I only ”know of” and not ”know them” I have extremely little empathy. ”extremely little” as in even if I saw them run down in front of me by a car I would call for help, help them my self but would otherwise not be emotionally moved in anyway. As for people close to me, people I know very well like me parents, close my relatives, grandmother, grandfather, old childhood friends, long time girlfriends I have full empathy and am not desensitised from them even a little.
    Now there is a quote from Yoda in Star Wars that I like to follow in these things: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

    4. ”human aggression”, as long as you as a person know that your killing bits of data, textures, simulated imaginary constructs, you will be fine. As long as you know that after you hit the exit and shot down your game that your not in the game anymore you can’t possible transfer aggression in a game to any live beings around you.
    I would like to say that since games only look a little bit like real life and are in 99% of time massively obviously made up ( Shooting some one with a RPG from 2 m away, leaping onto a dragon and slamming your enchanted sword in his fire breathing head, fighting daemons, undead, dwarfs, elfs, orcs, and 1000 other creatures from books, myths and legends) you will have a hard time transferring aggression to real life.
    But now take a look on your TV where you see real, flesh and blood children, man, woman killing, maiming, butchering, and doing all sorts of other not normal behavior while living in their worlds that look 100% like your own. Now you tell me what is more likely to make you be aggression.
    Something that looks barely real that even a 5 year old can see its not real, or something that looks 100% real.

    Only thing I can ad is that all this is only a fraction of the life that influences you from the moment your conceived, even in your mother’s womb your still influenced by the world around you. To say games do this or that and make you do this or that is kinda incredibly closed minded.

  23. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    The bit in here that surprised me was the increased tendency of perceiving others intents as hostile by people who play violent games. Such a tendency seems a lot harder to gauge in yourself than other supposed effects of violent games, such as increased aggression or decreased empathy. I have a hard time reading people’s intentions myself, which really made me wonder if this has been affecting me.