Most of you probably remember that there was a huge push in the 2000s to tone down violent content in video games. Do you remember why this push got started in the first place? It came about after a series of mass shootings had devastated the country. People were looking for answers as to why this was happening, and who can blame them?
People ended up fixating on the perceived threat from violent video games, especially on school shooters. The Columbine shooters in particular played a lot of the game “Doom.” Violence and killing are the only real themes of that game, so a lot of well-intentioned people made the conclusion that violent video games were part of the reason teenagers were turning to violence in real life.
I bring all this difficult information up for a reason. My goal is to help deconstruct the narrative for you, because the idea that violent video games lead to violent actions is now an accepted fact by many people. Unfortunately, it’s not actually the truth.
According to Zac Thompson, writing for The Huffington Post: “Studies that looked at gamers and aggression levels over longer periods found no difference between those who play video games and those who don’t. There are no long-term links between consuming violent video games and real-world violence.”
Why does all this matter? Because in some cases, video games have actually been shown to improve a person’s life. However, the worry is that people won’t go looking for this potential benefit because they already believe video games are bad and should be avoided.
Instead, here are some examples of how video games and computerized learning tools might actually improve a person’s life.
Reduce risk of dementia
A recent study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, involved 2,802 healthy older adults who were observed for 10 years. The participant’s average age was 74 at the beginning of the study. Over the course of ten years, 260 cases of dementia were diagnosed.
At the start of the study, participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. Members of three of the groups were taught memory strategies, reasoning strategies or individualized computer processing training. There was a fourth control group who received no training.
The three groups offered training were given 10 initial sessions of training during the first six weeks of the study. Follow-up sessions were offered as well—meaning their training was extensive enough that the participants would’ve been well-versed in their training and given every chance to succeed in using it effectively.
What were the results?
For those who did 13 or more training sessions, risk of dementia for the computerized brain training group was lowest at 5.9 percent, compared to 9.7 percent for the group focusing on memory strategies and 10.1 percent for the memory and reasoning strategy group.
Here’s the issue, however. The research didn’t definitively prove the computerized brain training is the reason this group had the lowest rate of dementia. There’s correlation but no definitive proof of causation, which means the research is promising but inconclusive. More studies are needed.
In order to find the answers we’re looking for, researchers will need willing participants who aren’t afraid of trying new digital techniques. What they’re offering is only going to become more advanced in the future.
Video games and PTSD
As I’ve written before, we normally associate post-traumatic stress disorder with military veterans, and it is most common among that group. However, PTSD can affect anyone, and as a result, video games that have been shown to aid veterans in their recovery could also wind up helping everyday people suffering from the same disease.
A recent exploratory study found that roughly half of all gamers use video games to cope with issues that arose during their military service. Another study found that video games may actually help prevent people from developing PTSD symptoms. The authors found that video game players had fewer intrusive memories and that those memories lasted a shorter period of time.
This is important because, according to the American Psychiatric Association, distressing and intrusive re-experiencing of the trauma are hallmark symptoms of PTSD. Anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression probably knows exactly what this feels like.
Whereas normal people move from one moment in their life to the next, those suffering from mental illness often replay negative events in their minds repeatedly. Anything that helps slow this down or stop it altogether is definitely a blessing.
Although a lot of this research is only in its very early stages, it’s undeniable that video games, screens and computerized learning do have an effect on how our brains operate. Though the effect can be negative, it can also be positive. There are indications that video games can help reduce our stress levels. They can even be used to educate teens about health.
There are many more possibilities, and it will take time to fully grasp exactly how these complex issues work. I only hope that we can all be willing to give them a chance. Sometimes, our preconceived notions about something have to be questioned. Leading a healthy life requires us all to keep an open mind.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.