We’ve all seen the same old arguments over whether video games contribute to all of our society’s woes. Like many past-times before them, from rock music to role-playing games, politicians and community busy-bodies always feel the need to find a scapegoat. With the advent of computer games and consoles, it wasn’t long until they were blamed for violence and aggression.
Well, the latest from the halls of academia suggest, as we all expected, that this accusation is a load of garbage.
A study from the Hannover Medical School in Germany decided to compare the brain activity of gamers and non-gamers over time to see if there were any differences. The research group hooked both groups up to MRIs while presenting them with images that would cause emotional areas of the brain to fire up. In addition, each group was given questionnaires to record their feelings. What they discovered was there wasn’t much difference, suggesting there is no long-term decrease in empathy or increase in aggression because of video games.
“We interpret our results as evidence against the desensitization hypothesis and suggest that the impact of violent media on emotional processing may be rather acute and short-lived.”
Why the difference with earlier research and claims?
Dr. Gregor Szycik noted that previous studies only looked at the short-term behavior changes after playing video games, but never checked to see if there were any long-term effects. Instead of observing how people behaved immediately after playing, the Hannover study instead decided to watch brain activity hours later. This process gave them a far better picture of the consequences of gaming’s effects than the previous research. It’s like the difference between shining a light in someone’s eyes and asking if they’re blinded while looking at their pupils… and doing the same, but waiting a few minutes and then measuring changes in their eyes.
As usual, the idea that a hobby or pursuit makes people violent, aggressive monsters proves to be nothing but fearmongering.
Now, that doesn’t mean video games can’t have an effect or that there isn’t a relationship between gaming and personalities. Like previous studies, Dr. Szycik notes that video games may naturally attract people with violent tendencies, acting as an outlet for their aggression. Of course, that doesn’t mean you blame the video game but should instead look at what you can do for those sorts of players. You don’t ban alcohol because some people have abuse problems, so why would you blame video games because some players have behavior problems?
In the end, it’s not the hobby at fault, and this blame game is just the latest in attempts to shift responsibility. Playing video games, or any game, is a great pastime with plenty of positives. As long as you know how not to behave appropriately, gaming won’t make you aggressive or lacking in empathy.
Now game on and be excellent to each other.