You are a hardcore gamer, and you decide to marathon your favorite video game. Your gaming goes from one night to two nights, then that turns into several more. After several days of continuously playing video games, you start to feel pain in your chest and then you remain motionless. This is the story of a young teen named, Piyawat Harikun. Only seventeen years old, Harikun suffered from a stroke and was found dead at his computer desk.
Teenagers are playing video games more and more every year. In 2018, two-thirds of teens, thirteen years or older considers themselves “gamers”. In addition, adolescents ages twelve to fifteen spend about 12.2 hours a week playing video games. Teenagers older than fifteen show even higher amounts of playing video games. Even though video games have a real potential to have a positive impact on teenagers’ growth, they also have some negative effects.
I interviewed a University of Evansville Alumni named Benjamin Horsfall. Horsfall graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Neuroscience and Psychology. He is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University for his master’s degree in Neuroscience. We discussed the effects of video games onto adolescent grow.
Starting off, Benjamin Horsfall discussed some of the misconceptions about playing video games. According to Horsfall, there is no real link to aggressive behavior and playing video games. More than likely, adolescents who play video games and show aggressive behavior already have pre-existing aggression concerns. Though there is not a real link between aggression and playing video games, there is a link between mental health and playing video games.
Anxiety and depression are increasing in adolescents. There are many factors of why this is the case. Current leaps in technology and the prolonged exposure to social media are some of the main factors in adolescent mental health. However, video games and other forms of media have the potential to help. In a way, it is like fighting fire with fire. Using technology and entertainment, in order to help a problem that was probably caused by technology and entertainment.
While talking with Horsfall, we linked video games with other forms of media. One of the first types that came to mind was music. Like music, if an adolescent exposes themselves to entertainment that they enjoy, it does have an effective impact on lowering adolescent anxieties. Video games work in the same way. Video games have to potential to become one of the most effective and overlooked forms of helping teenagers grow. There is one thing that separates video games from any other form of media.
Video games are arguably the most entertaining and relatable form of media for one very important factor. Video games are the only form of multimedia where nearly everything is completely interactive. In a video game, you can escalate the story. You are the main character. You control the world you want to express yourself in. While watching a movie or a show, everything is predetermined, and everything is at the control of the production. In video games, everything is at your disposal. This is why video games have the potential to truly help adolescents grow.
Video games help adolescents choose to express themselves in however they choose to play. An adolescent can express themselves in their own world. Because of the nature of how far video games have come, video games can be very effective with handling adolescent mental health, much like music.
We have already established that video games are the most interactive form of media. This has other implications outside of mental health. Horsfall also discussed the cognitive benefits of playing video games. He stated that there are three areas of cognitive benefits for playing video games. The most obvious cognitive benefit is hand-eye coordination. Video games develop this by teaching the player that they must pay attention to what is happening in game and be familiar with their inputs. Therefore, players gain exponential hand-eye coordination skills quickly. Horsfall’s claim is congruent with a study that suggests playing video games has been compared to the hand-eye coordination of learning how to play the piano.
The second cognitive benefit of playing video games is the increase in memory retention. This is an area that is an oversite for many people. This makes senses after some deliberation. Video games require remembering clear tasks and the inputs associated with them. Playing video games is like bench pressing but for your brain. Video games strengthen the neural circuitry in your brain due to the number of sensations. It forces the player to rely on their memory and tactics into order to succeed. There are actual neurological benefits for playing video games.
The final cognitive benefit on playing video games is the improvement of mood. This benefit that Horsfall stated is self-explanatory. This all ties back to expression of the player. If a teenager really enjoys any type of media, it is going to improve their mood. This also connects to the mental health benefits of playing video games.
There is one more area where video games can impact the growth of teenagers. Video games can have social impacts of teenagers. According to Horsfall, “It’s hard to significantly say the effects of video games on a social impact level”. We concluded that; it completely depends on the genre of the video game.
There are two main types of video games. The most recognizable type of video games are single player experiences. The second and most modern types are multiplayer games. These two different types of video games completely change the impact of teenagers on a social level. In a single player game, you are not interacting with anyone but yourself and the in-game characters. However, multiplayer games allow the player to interact with other players around the world.
A game like a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game requires the player to progress in a game with other players. The experience relies on other player interaction. Another example would be a competitive multiplayer game like Counter Strike. In Counter Strike, there are two teams, and both must either attack or defend. Games like these require players to work together and develop strategies. Being able to successfully pull off a tactic with a team also reinforces the reward systems in your brain. Competitive games have the potential to create and build corroboration skills. Video games have provided a positive experience for many teenagers and as allowed them to grow into adults today. Unfortunately, video games suffer in several negative areas.
Even though competitive video games have the potential to build collaboration skills, they might contribute to lower levels of empathy in adolescents. This was another talking point that Benjamin Horsfall discussed. Horsfall explained that there is not real link between aggressive behavior and playing video games. However, Horsfall also stated that, “There may be a link between pro social behavior and competitiveness…” He elaborates further and explains that competitiveness could have an impact on adolescent empathy. It is hard to pinpoint the cause of something like this. It is possible that competitive video games don’t require experiencing emotion or empathy like in a single player game. Adolescents probably just aren’t as exposed to more empathetic mediums. It is also possible that some adolescents don’t understand some of the more empathetic messaging in noncompetitive games because of their age.
Even though video games have the potential to be very effective for helping the growth of many teenagers, video games are not sunshine and rainbows. Benjamin Horsfall put something in perspective for me that I did not realize. Even though video games and other forms of media are effective in helping a lot of teenagers with their mental health, they are only temporary solutions for any preexisting mental health issues.
Video Games are not going to be the saving grace that will be the definitive solution to positively affect the growth of teenagers. However, video games are steppingstones to finding what helps teenagers. Video games are an effective way to helping teenagers, but it should not be the method of which to strictly rely on. We should not rely strictly on video games because playing video games excessively is another negatively associated area to discuss.
Excessively playing video games can also negatively impact your social skills. There is a real impact on communicating and building relationships in real life. This is congruent to social media and how cell phones have negatively affected teenager’s social skills. When you’re in front of a screen, you do not associate other players with real people. In a video game, you cannot pick up on nonverbal communication and or body language. These areas are essential for human communication. If your only level of communication is at the electronic verbal level, other areas are naturally going to suffer. Excessive video gaming is also connected with video game addiction.
Video games can be highly addictive for people, including teenagers. Talking to Benjamin Horsfall helped illuminate this. According to Horsfall, excessive video gaming is on the same addictive spectrum as gambling addiction. Video games being addictive goes back to the reward system in your brain. Doing well in a video game is very stimulating and like gambling, you just can’t stop when you do well. In addition to this, in many games, there are gambling like games that require real money. These games use many of the same tactics that are used in casinos to make people keep trying, like slot machines.
This addictive nature of playing video games is what happened to Piyawat Harikun. Only seventeen years old, he just couldn’t get enough. If there is anything to learn from Harikun, it is that video games are very fun but should not be abused. Video games are a fantastic way to express yourself and experience narrative storytelling never before seen. However, video games can also be highly addictive and cause many teenagers to potentially put their lives at risk. It is always best to play video games on passed time and casually. If you are showing signs of addictive tendencies with playing video games, consider receiving help before it’s too late.
To summarize, video games have the potential to create a positive impact on teenage growth. It is important to understand that video games are not a definitive answer for mental health. Video games are steppingstones to help many preexisting mental health and social issues. However, video games cannot be the form of media to strictly relay on. Playing games is a temporary solution and should not be taken for granted. The last and arguably the most important take away is that video games can be addictive. Video game addiction is on a very similar spectrum as gambling addiction. As long as a teenager experiences video games at a causal rate, it can be very beneficial for many adolescents to improve their mental health and improve their social behaviors.