The Joystick Generation

The video game industry is growing and so is the amount of time kids are spending with a controller in their hands. In a report, 86% of parents claimed that their kids play an average of 3 hours a day or more.

For over 10 years, scientists have told us that action video game players exhibit better visual attention, motor control abilities, enhanced multitasking skills and better memory. However, it really depends on how the games are being played.

A new Canadian study published in Molecular Psychiatry that human-computer interactions, such as playing video games, can have a negative impact on the brain. Players who use their brain’s autopilot and reward system to navigate will experience grey matter loss in their hippocampus after playing action video games for 90 hours. The hippocampus is the key structure involved in spatial memory (orientation) and episodic memory (autobiographical events) within the brain. Games are only beneficial for spatial learners who use their hippocampus to navigate as their grey matter do increase after playing for the same amount of time. The hippocampus is a structure that plays an important role in human’s cognitive health.

While many parents see benefits in gaming, the activity should not be at the expense of face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers who play a pivotal role in promoting a teen’s learning and healthy development. Kids who indulge excessively in video games have less time to socialise. Social skills are an important part of child development and social skill deficiency can cause emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems with high levels of anxiety or anger. Animosity, which was found to be detrimental to social skills, was also a significant outcome of video gaming (Shao et al., 2004). Parents could join the kids in their games. This would encourage communication, bonding and also prevent unsafe online behaviour and risks the kids are exposed to when playing unsupervised. Parents need to play an important role by setting clear rules about appropriate content, how much time is too much and be in the know about their kids’ online friends. Children as young as three are reported to be at risk of being groomed by online predators.

Games do come with a high price when one is addicted. The World Health Organization officially added video game addiction to its International Classification of Diseases in May. The disorder is characterised by “impaired control over gaming” and increased priority given to video games over other daily activities. Addiction to games can also induce repetitive strain injuries, skin disorders, sleep disorder, obesity, provoked seizures in patients with epilepsy, auditory problems and visual hallucinations. In some extreme cases, deaths have resulted from excessive video game playing.

According to medical experts, sitting still for prolonged hours playing video games may increase people’s risk of deep vein thrombosis. A young man in New Zealand developed life-threatening blood clots in his leg after four days of playing PlayStation games.

In Thailand, a 17- year-old video game addict, was found slumped dead on his computer after suffering a stroke after having all-night gaming sessions during his school holidays.

In 2005, a 28-year-old man died in South Korea after playing online games for 50 hours without a break. In another report,  a 32-year-old male gamer was found dead at a Taiwanese Internet cafe following a non-stop three-day gaming session. This followed the death of another male gamer who died in Taipei at the start of the year following a five-day gaming binge. Louis O’Neill, a 24-year-old football coach, was given leave of absence from his job in 2020 during the country’s coronavirus lockdown. Within a week of lockdown, he retreated into a world of video games and died from blood clot after playing video games excessively.

Games have its benefits but we need to educate gamers about the potential dangers.