So we’ve just been through Black Friday, and we’re on the eve of Cyber Monday. It’s all about shopping for those who can afford it, and at the top of many a list, here on the East End, as well as across America and worldwide, are all kinds of video games. It’s as good a time as any to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of the decades-old video game craze.
For the uninitiated, some brief background: there are plenty of free video games – just download them on a PC or smartphone, and they’re yours. Purchase of video games since the early 2000s is mostly through online distributors over the broadband internet.
Increasingly common, as a method of selling games, is digital distribution by the ever-powerful, internet business titans such as Game, Amazon.com, PlayStation Store, GamesStop and a few others. Long gone are the optical discs, magnetic storage, flash memory cards, and ROM cartridges that first brought us video games back in the 1980s.
Interestingly, the progress of video game technology has had much to do with most of the advances of technology in general. In other words, video game R&D consistently brings overall internet technology to higher levels.
Now we have platforms entirely devoted to video games, such as Origin and Steam, to name only two. These offer centralized services, where one can purchase and download digital content for one’s own PC, or even specific video game consoles.
Yet, with all the truly incredible improvement in what is now a huge, global industry, we’re only beginning to understand the effect of this growth that still gains inadequate attention: the impact of video games on children’s brains, intelligence and mental health.
The Early Intervention Research Group reviews surveys and other data on this question. They find that children aged 2-4 spend an average of 20 minutes per day on video games; kids 5-8 play an average of 40 minutes per day; and 8-12 year-olds play video games an average of 80 minutes per day.
The Early Intervention Research Group finds that there is little research on the effect of popular video games on the developing brains of children. The research that has been done shows quite a positive and beneficial effect of video games and apps on brain development if the games are interactive and educational. On the other hand, video games that are exclusively entertaining or violent have a clearly negative effect of child brain development.
One highly regarded study finds that educational video games that involve movement and exercise, called “exergames,” can improve overall, main functions of the brain, and even improve kids’ decision-making.
Another study on “characters” in educational games concluded that creating a strong bond with in-game characters can improve a child’s learning.
Yet another study on educational games found they help kids learn coding, literacy and math skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to watch educational video games and other programs with their children, citing the above studies and others. The academy encourages “interaction” with children during their game time, with parents or other adults asking questions and praising correct answers, which significantly helps their children or students learn better from the program.
The respected nonprofit organization Healthy Gamer maintains a platform designed to help the internet generation to succeed. They define their mission as helping people on the internet take control of their mental health.
On their website, Healthy Gamer stands for the proposition that video games are not inherently evil. Excessive use of video games, however, can lead to addiction, and their worrisome and daunting list of video games’ negative effects can be summarized as follows: dopamine addiction, reduction in motivation, escapism and getting “stuck in life,” poor academic or professional performance, poor mental health, relationship issues, social disconnection, emotional suppression, repetitive-stress injuries, and exposure to toxic gaming environments.
With all these findings considered, still much is unknown. Most research has been with young kids and adolescents. Very little is known of the impact of video games on middle childhood (ages 6-12.) Pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals in the U.S. urge more studies for this fragile age group.
But there’s one Big Brother world power that’s not waiting for more research. In early October, the Chinese Communist regime, through one of its “newspapers,” pronounced video games to be “spiritual opium.” Is this a case of the proverbial, broken clock telling the correct time twice each day?
This pronouncement is the latest in China’s crackdown on technology companies, according to the Associated Press. Tech firms’ ubiquitous messaging, payments and gaming services, growing facts of life in the U.S. and Western society in general, have far too much influence on the Chinese people, their government has decreed.
The AP goes on to report that gaming giant Tencent, whose online multiplayer game Honor of Kings enjoys enormous popularity globally, as well as the gaming firm NetEase, issued curbs on gaming time for minors in China within hours of the Chinese Communist regime’s pronouncement.
Talk about getting the message.
Then, according to a “notice” from Beijing’s National Press and Publication Administration, minors in China can play video games only 8-9 p.m. on Fridays, weekends and public holidays. Children under the age of 12 are banned entirely from making in-game purchases.
With millions of children in China now prohibited from playing online games for more than three hours per week, the video game industry suffers its harshest restrictions ever, and many predict there’s more to come out of Beijing.
But when it comes to Western society, the technology sector well knows “how the West is won.” Yet another, new cutting-edge video game technology that utilizes “virtual reality” increasingly gains in popularity. Tech companies continue to think far out of the box, and astonishingly huge fortunes are made every day by entrepreneurs, tech geeks, college students and ordinary people with extraordinary ideas. But will the cost on our society and particularly on our kids at the altar of tech turn out to be far higher than all this is worth?
Our cherished, high-tech gaming adventure, or misadventure, may well bring us to a place envisioned by T.S. Elliot not too long ago: “And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”
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