Play more video games
From left to right, freshman Matthew Martinez, Chazz Young, Trevin McConnell, and Dale Fredricks play video games in Horton Hall. The Chimes opinions editor Conrad Frommelt argues for the positive benefits of playing video games in moderation. | Katie Evensen/THE CHIMES
Growing up, I was a pretty shy kid. Looking back, I bet I had some mild form of social anxiety that hindered my ability and desire to make friends. So I spent most of my free time in elementary school in front of a screen, saving numerous fictional worlds from dragons instead of outside with the other kids. But my mom was determined that I would not become “one of those 30 year olds who lives in his parents basement and plays video games all day.” So I joined sports teams, after school programs and became more involved in church.
As I have gotten older, my love for video games has not decreased, even if my play time has. In fact, the older I have gotten the more I have become convinced that this seemingly anti-social period of my development actually better equipped me to become socially competent as I grew up. New research published on behalf of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology investigated the effect of video games on social behavior, supports my theory.
A strong connection exists between video games that have pro-social content which encourages sharing, cooperation and empathy and an increase in social skills, emotional health and cognitive ability in the people that play them. Video games which have violent or aggressive content have been correlated with an increase in aggressive and violent behavior. Interestingly, playing violent video games cooperatively actually lessens the negative effects violent video games can have on their players.
The research has also found that the amount of time one spends playing video games has less of an impact on behavior than does the content of the video game being played. While everyone agrees spending the majority of your time playing video games limits your opportunities to cultivate other important skills and friendships, a moderate amount of video game play that includes elements of prosocial content can increase your overall health.
Playing video games can also increase the efficiency of one’s mental processes. Generally, the more you practice a certain skill, say memorizing a set of shapes which open a locked door, the easier it will become to perform that skill in other contexts as well.
Video games use also encourages emotional regulation, delaying gratification and patience. Often the structure of video game levels require the player to fail at achieving a specified objective multiple times before they are successful and generally rewarded. In this way, video games serve as a way to practice how we respond to failure and integrate new information to solve difficult problems.
AN UNFOUNDED MYTH
Contrary to popular belief, and my mother’s fears, the stereotype of a socially isolated, inept nerd who spends most of his or her time alone does not accurately describe those who habitually play video games. In fact, according to summary article published by the American Psychiatric Association, 70 percent of gamers play with a friend, either cooperatively or competitively. In many online video games, social skills — like deciding who to trust, who to follow and who to reject — must be executed quickly and often. Over time, studies have shown that players who engage in virtual social situations end up better able to interact with people outside of video games as well.
Although further investigation into the use of video games for improving mental health and increasing adherence to necessary treatment protocols has been called for, preliminary results have shown video games can have a positive effect in these circumstances.
The general cultural instinct to reject video game playing as a waste of time which creates isolated, socially awkward adults who cannot function in everyday society appears ultimately unfounded. While the content and amount of video game play needs monitoring, the potential for increased health as a result of responsible video game play is encouraging. Perhaps, slaying dragons with friends can actually better prepare us to overcome the scourge of term papers and effectively speak to the representatives at the DMV.