Ever since smartphones have taken over our lives and the ubiquity of social media has forced us to rethink the way we interact with one another, the fear of what it is doing to us psychologically has remained an important question. Anyone that has kids knows the difficulties of limiting screen time and, coming from an age before the internet even existed, has a belief that all this time spent on gaming and social media must have a negative effect on youth. Of course, time spent online and in gaming, is no longer relegated to those under 18 and the effects, if there are any, can be felt through all age groups.
Gaming has long been considered a near taboo among every generation. Before there was online gaming there were role playing games which caused just as much concern to adults. The downfall of the younger generations was blamed on games such as Dungeons and Dragons where there was a fear that spending too much time in an imaginary world, in particular one that was violent, would have negative real-world effects. None of those fears ever materialized into anything that could be interpreted as severe yet in the age of Xbox and Playstation and iPhones and Facebook, we again look at a doomsday scenario.
Recent studies have begun to take a harder and more intricate look at the psychological impacts of online gaming. The generally accepted consensus to date is that there are some positives from online gaming, such as improved focus, increased multitasking abilities and improvements in working memory. However, the negatives from excessive gaming are also well studied and include measured decreases in educational achievements and lower career opportunities, as well as decreased social functioning in respect to problems with peers and reduced social skills.
This leads to more in depth analysis where online gaming addiction has become a behavioural addiction which compares very closely with gambling addiction. The reasons for excessive online gaming have been traced to craving and loss of control which have led to many negative consequences. The outcomes are somewhat predictable in what one would expect. Low self-esteem, anxiety, aggression, and depression to name but a few.
Aggression has long been the focal point of most studies and modern research has begun to take a deeper, more broad and more technical look at how gaming leads to aggression. P300 testing as part of rigorous studies has become one of the leading areas in this regard. The P300 amplitude is measured by EEG (electroencephalography) and is known to be highly relevant in the decision making process and is apparent in emotional responses, feeling and cognition. It has been used extensively to test aggression responses.
So what have the latest studies shown? One, there is a complex relationship between online gaming and possible negative or positive outcomes. People who play with a primary purpose of distraction are more susceptible to the negative outcomes indicated earlier. Gain-oriented motives, in particular those which favoured social gaming with the intent to improve either their online or real-world status, tended to more immediate positive effects. The problem comes with potentially problematic video game use, or more long term effects like addiction. Pro-social gaming, in this case, is a key indicator of potential problems along with those that had negative outcomes. Thus, both extremes are likely to result in video game addiction and result in a myriad of real-world problems including poor school performance and poor social relationships.
So where does violence and aggression fit into all of this? Well another study delved into the P300 responses of aggressive video games, in particular violent scenes and language. That study found that prosocial gaming had a positive impact on reducing aggressive and violent behaviour with the associated lower P300 amplitudes. The findings found that the reason for the reduction of aggression was attributed to aggressive cognition.that allowed the players to differentiate between aggressive gaming and their behaviours. In effect, the prosocial players were less accurate when tested about the content of violent language and content thereby indicating that they were less aware of the violence. Those that were not aware of the violence were less likely to display aggressive behaviours. In other words, social gamers were more distracted from the violence due to the social nature of the game.
The recent studies show that there are many positive effects of social gaming. These include positive feelings and emotions arising during and after gaming in addition to increased positive effects in real world situations. There is also a reduction in violent behaviour when it comes to social gaming. However, the tradeoff is that it is more likely that gaming addiction will come from social games which will lead to more long term negative effects on school, career and real world social settings.
The studies highlighted many important points and expanded our knowledge of the intricacies of video game use and the psychology behind it. What they have failed to show us is the more detailed analysis into how social gamers go from having immediate positive effects to becoming addicted. Obviously recognizing the motives for gaming and monitoring the behaviour of the players is key to understanding what the most likely outcome is going to be. Addressing the issue before it becomes a serious addiction can be done if enough attention is placed on the individual and trying to remove or better understand the reasons driving the online gaming.