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Video Gaming and Psychology

Posted on: 15 October 2009 at 08:40 SAST

± minute read

Author: Lize Strauss The entertainment industry is one of the fastest growing industries at present, and seen as relatively immune to recession. The US economic downturn after September 11, for example, led to technology demand crashing, while sales of video games increased by 43%. Leading into the current recession, retail sales fell by 0.06% in February, but video games and equipment sales increased by 34% (d_skin, 2009). Much of this can be ascribed to the fact that video games, while initially more expensive, can keep a player busy for more or less 100 hours from start to completion of a game. This means less time for other, expensive entertainment pursuits, which makes financial sense to parents. It also offers an escape, however temporary, from the realities of daily life. Video games appeared as the third fastest growing segment of the entertainment and media market (Scanlon, 2007). The movie Spiderman 3 raked in $59m in the USA on its opening day. Grand Theft Auto IV, a video game, recorded sales of $310 million on its first day.  Already in 2008, monthly game sales were averaging about $1.5 billion per month (d_skin, 2009), with total sales for the year at $21 billion (Ortutay, 2009).

This tremendous wave has created interesting effects in family dynamics. The fastest growing demographic is the 50 year plus group, with the majority of game players between the ages of 18 and 47. Females make up just over 40% of players. And almost a third of parents are now playing video games with their children (d_skin, 2009). The psychological research into the gaming culture rests mainly on game addiction and the impact of violent games on children, but we do not have consensus yet to the full impact. Some studies point to heightened aggression after gameplay, while others have found reduced aggression, since the gameplay allowed the user to ‘purge’ his or her need to act out violently. Other detrimental effects studied include time taken from homework, responsibilities and socialising to invest in gaming, and with adult populations, either time off work or trying to function on two or three hours sleep a night. Relationships may suffer, as gamers prefer to focus their time on gaming rather than interacting with family and friends, leading to decreased social skills. It also affects health:  insufficient breaks during long gameplay, and a preference for instant meals or unhealthy snacking could bring long term problems that can be devastating to the health of the individual. Psychologists have started to explore the detriments, but some benefits are also emerging. Playing games in moderation bring about various positives: improved spatial abilities, improved critical analysis, as well as the ability to develop and implement different strategies simultaneously. Action game players have better visuo-motor skills, like resistance to distraction, heightened sensitivity to information in the peripheral vision and the ability to count briefly presented objects, compared to nonplayers (Green, 2003). These enhanced abilities could be acquired through training with selected video games. The APA (APA, 2008) found that games can improve dexterity and problem solving ability. A study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games were 27% faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37% fewer errors that their non-gaming peers. Neils Clark, author of Game Addiction, perhaps sums it up best (Clark, 2009):   “...people’s lives have been changed by this media. Whether it’s for good or for ill, media has an effect. As a society, we desperately need to understand media’s effect on communities, families, and individuals. Individually, we can choose to inform ourselves, or choose not to. But I’d warn that ignorance invites hazard”. As psychological professionals, our responsibility is to provide people with tools to not only safeguard them from psychological harm, but also improve their quality of life. Be it relationships, health or personal well-being.  The entertainment industry, and specifically the gaming industry is one where our understanding of people is crucial, and it is an imperative that we understand not only the risk inherent in this industry, but also the benefits to be had, in order to equip others to maintain a healthy balance in avoiding the risk and reaping the reward.

APA. 2008. Playing Video Games Offers Learning Across Life Span [online]. APA Press Release. Available from http://www.apa.org/releases/videogamesC08.html  [Accessed 12 October 2009]
Clark, N. 2009. Big Trouble in Little Articles [blog entry]. Neils Clark. Available from http://neilsclark.blogspot.com/2009/10/big-trouble-in-little-articles-ten-game.html [Accessed 12 October 2009]
D_skin. 2009. The Video Game Industry: An $18 Billion Entertainment Juggernaut [online]. d_skin USA. Available from http://www.dskinusa.com/articles/the-video-game-industry.php [Accessed 12 October 2009]
Green, C. 2003. "Action video games modify visual attention". Nature 423: 534–537. doi:10.1038/nature01647. Green & Bavelier
Ortutay, B. 2009. Video game sales top $21 billion in 2008 [online]. Technology & science. Available from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28682836/ [Accessed 12 October 2009]
Scanlon, J. 2007. “Getting Serious About Gaming”. Business Week Online. August 14, 2007

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