The advent of the personal computer was almost as important as the invention of the printing press since it has made information available to far more people than ever before. However, the publicizing of the Internet has brought a paradigm shift that has created a whole new world, and a major push for this technology has been the gaming industry. Businesses, in the beginning, did not need huge processing power or speed, but gaming made demands on machines that induced computer and peripheral manufacturers to develop newer, faster, and more versatile products to feed this market. Once the technology appeared, the business found uses for it, and now we can never go back. Cripple the Internet and half the world would stop and go into virtual shock. Computers, their attached technology, and the Internet control so many things in our lives that if they were now eliminated it would be a catastrophe.
While there are numerous papers on video games and their influence on children and teens, video game culture, and even some on video games as educational tools, there is little about how video games are the driving force behind technological development, second only to war. Numerous studies have been and are being undertaken about video gaming and cyberspace because these things are also changing our society in lesser ways, providing virtual worlds where people can take on different identities and play games in virtual reality against the machine or other players doing the same thing. Video games in public arcades provide access to all kinds of very high-end games and have become places to socialize. Online virtual worlds are also social gathering places, and some, such as Second Life are primarily social gatherings. Video games in the home have sometimes created another family pastime or isolated family members, according to the family situation. Video games have been blamed for violence, crime, and addiction. They have also been introduced into education and psychiatric, psychological, and medical therapy. Video games are a tool, just as radio, television, and movies are. It is how the tool has been used that matters.
With the advent of Pong, the personal computer and the gaming machine became attractive entertainment machines, and now they rival television because they can be interactive, and the players can immerse themselves in the game. It has long been known that the brain cannot tell the difference between a dream and reality, only the mind knows. This is why we can be so deeply affected by movies. The latest video games can rival television and in participating in the actions, the players become even more immersed in the story and action than in the best movies, which are not interactive.
Of course, something this encompassing and immersive can also be habit-forming or even addictive. Addiction depends upon physical or biological reaction and chemical changes, and testing has shown that these chemical changes do take place in video game players, more so in men than in women and the strength of the chemical change varies from person to person as does the length of time the effects last for each player. Since much of the chemical reactions to convincing artificial violence or competition are testosterone-based, the effects can trigger extreme adrenaline rushes. If you add just a little self-delusion, gaming can be addictive.
Another effect of violent video games that is feared is desensitizing of young people to violence. The jury is still out on this one, though research has shown that children exposed to graphic violence tend to be more aggressive for the next half hour or so there is no evidence that violent video games have any lasting psychological effects such as desensitization or increased aggression for gamers. There is an equally strong possibility that playing these games serves to drain off the aggression caused by testosterone, which could explain why more guys find video games satisfying than female players do. In addition, many of the gaming companies are counteracting this by making their graphic depiction of violence visually exciting but not realistic. It seems to not have any effect on the popularity of the games.
One of the interesting positive developments being studied is the creation of new socialization opportunities and milieus. Gamers have parties to share and meet on a website chat board to socialize too. There is a whole cyber-culture developing around multi-user online games. Players exchange stories and strategies and many volunteers create tutorials and mentor newer players. The culture of the games even leaks out into everyday life. The player who have been playing games where teamwork is an essential start to work better in the team in real life, especially in school, The learn to attach value to being part of a team in the game, and the brain, which does not discern any difference here from reality, as in dreams and movies, adds this value concept to the psyche unless contradicted by the mind. So while virtual reality games may be games imitating life, life may take a turn imitating the games.
Another interesting development from games is the cross-pollination among literature, television, movies, games, and even toy action figures for younger kids. While all of this is based upon the profit motives of companies, it still creates connections, and kids perceive these. Myth that gets into games will eventually be discussed and researched. Ancient geography and trades and cultures, as in Bounty Bay, will be checked out. Interest may be sparked in some trade, just because it was interesting in a game. Stories from classics may get read, and the authors may be studied for their creativity. Greek, Roman, and Viking mythology are getting a lot of play in libraries and video stores since they got into the games.
Another benefit is that the player learns to plan since strategy and thinking ahead can make a huge difference in the gameplay. It is not always the fastest or most dexterous that wins. Thinking and problem-solving count for something in most of the best games. The creation of the millions of high-paying computer jobs has raised the geek to the level of the football captain as far as sexiness and eligibility goes, and this too is reflected in the games. Another positive value these games are passing on is that women are equal to men. This is also because other skills besides athletic ability count. However, it is still a socially valuable result.
One thing that cannot be denied is what video games have done for the economies of the developed and developing worlds. This industry employs millions all over the globe to create games, machines, and marketing. While one might think of video games as a non-perishable commodity, the changing technology makes them just that. Some games can no longer be played on today’s machines, and many machines less than ten years old simply cannot carry the processing load of even the simplest of today’s video games. While I stated early that the video gaming industry pushed computer technological development that now provides tremendous power to business computing, it is still pushing development, requiring ever more powerful and faster equipment.
Therefore, we need more programmers, artists, musicians, and engineers to create the games and the machines on which they run. We have the expertly trained and culturally innovative game designers of the developed countries all working at well-paid jobs and even in developing countries, the programmers writing the repetitive code are making more money than ever before was possible for them. The gaming industry just feeds so many different industries that it is an integral part of the current economic well-being of many countries. Even the military has benefitted from games because they use the technology developed for them plus they develop training based upon games.
One new phenomenon is that the proliferation of video games and the connection across cultural and national boundaries has created a new culture belonging exclusively to children. (Prout & James, 1990; Shantz & Hartup, 1992; Zinnecker, 1996; Honig, Leu & Nissen, 1996). It is not that children want to shut adults out, but more that this new culture is far removed from the world of adults. However, the ability to communicate over great distances has fueled this development and it will likely have some positive effects upon the self-esteem levels of kids. They are no longer just being in the stage of becoming adults, but they are valuable members of their cultural communities. What effect this will have upon the rest of society is yet to be seen. However, one could postulate that anything which creates a better climate for children and raises their levels of confidence should be positive.
In looking at all of these factors, we see that video gaming is having a tremendous impact upon our society and it is yet too early to tell what directions this will take. There are the probably bad effects of isolation and addiction, possibly the bad effects of exposure to graphic violence.
Some worry that these games must have some bad effects, just because they are games. However, research is showing that playing games have a positive effect on the cerebral cortex and the development of spatial ability. It was suggested that we should have more games which attract girls as players so help develop more female engineers, scientists, and mathematicians.
There are also other observable positive educational effects in that the stories and themes of the games are leading children to explore their origins in myth and history. They also present an attractive future for employment, which encourages kids to study more. The cultural make-up of the games themselves is also affecting the real world in that values learned in the game, such as cooperation and teamwork, translate into value in the real world. In all, many things learned within these games are having positive effects outside the games.
Finally, the effects upon the world economy are positive, This new industry has spawned many peripheral industries and it also feeds existing industries. This has a positive effect upon both developed and developing countries as the less critical work are outsourced to developing countries, thereby raising their standards of living and the more innovative and creative work is done by the more skilled workers in developed countries.
It is. therefore. impossible to say exactly how video games have affected society, especially since this industry is only 20-odd years old. It is simply too soon to tell, however, it can be certain that some effects will be negative and some positive. Everything depends upon the way we react to these phenomena and the developments they bring. It is hoped that we have learned a bit from experience and will not so easily condemn out of hand that which we do not share with children, else, perhaps we should learn to share it.
Fromme, Johannes, 2008, Computer Games as a Part of Children’s Culture, the international journal of computer game research volume 3, issue 1, Web.
Prout, Alan & Allison James: A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? Provenance, promise and problems. In A. James & A. Prout (Eds.), Constructing and reconstructing childhood. London & New York: Falmer, 1990. 7-34.
Zinnecker, Jürgen: Soziologie der Kindheit oder Sozialisation des Kindes? – Überlegungen zu einem aktuellen Paradigmenstreit. [Sociology of childhood or socialization of the child? – Considerations on a current paradigm dispute.] In M.-S. Honig, H.R. Leu & U. Nissen (Eds.), Kinder und Kindheit. [Children and childhood.] Weinheim & München: Juventa, 1996. 31-54.
Honig, Michael-Sebastian, Hans Rudolf Leu & Ursula Nissen: Kindheit als Sozialisationsphase und als kulturelles Muster. [Childhood as stage of socialization and as cultural pattern.] In M.-S. Honig, H.R. Leu & U. Nissen (Eds.), Kinder und Kindheit. [Children and childhood.] Weinheim & München: Juventa, 1996. 9-29.