Although at the look of it the term ‘video game’ appears to be quite simple, it has been used differently over the years and between different places. In most cases however, the term is used to refer to one-player computer-based games in which situations and opponents are not real but computer-controlled. But advances in imaging technologies, adapting of game titles to computer hardware and porting have revolutionalized the term video game to refer to a wide range of games, whose definition gets even more complicated as new computer hardware and software continue to be developed. Computer-based technology has led to tremendous growth of the video industry in such a way that video games can now be played through practically any computer device that has a screen. The video game has evolved to become the most popular form of entertainment especially with the younger members of modern society; but also bringing along various advantages and disadvantages which both positively and negatively impact on the lives of the young viewers (Wolf 3-4; Berger 12).
Modern video games were first invented by Ralph Baer who developed games that could be displayed on the television screen. Ralph Baer is famed for the creation of the first home-game system known as the Magnavox Odyssey and which went on screen in 1972. Over the years, various types of video games have been developed for different venues each type with its own technologies, market sector, capabilities as well assimilation into the cultural production surrounding each of them. Different types include mainframe games, home video game systems, home computer games, coin-operated video games and the very modern handheld portable games. Coin-operated video games were the first type of video games to have a public exhibition followed by the TV screen based home video games. With the invention and popularity of the home computer in the 1980s, home computer games came into being and have progressively evolved with newer technologies to give rise to the networked online games available today (Wolf 3-21; Berger 12; Vorderer & Bryant 1-2).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Video Games
Psychological research has proved that certain video games can be beneficial to the users, improving gamers’ skillfulness as well as abilities at problem solving. Such attributes have been very helpful to professionals and to students at all levels of learning. A study carried out on a group of surgeons found out that video games help to develop hand skillfulness as well as improve coordination while carrying out certain tasks. Video games especially assist young children in paying attention to details such as sequencing, memorizing and use of strategies. Young children are also given the opportunity to use imagination and eye-hand coordination is greatly improved. Video games are about rules and regulations and can help the player to be very good in sticking to rules and regulations even in real life situations. They also inspire youngsters in game design work. The computer has been designed to process the user’s input, display the action on the screen, as well as respond with certain reactions at instant speed. Because most video games are computer controlled, many of them have been designed in such a way that very fast action and reflexes are required. Video games have also been designed to include utility and educational programs such that gameplay is included in the learning process. This has been done with the intention of making learning more interesting and enjoyable (Schmitt, Video Games; Anonymous, Playing Video Games Offers Learning across Lifespan; Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith & Tosca 35, 40).
When chosen wisely, video games can be a source of pleasure to the player, helping him or her to relax by distracting the mind from dwelling too much upon problems or difficult situations encountered in the course of daily living. Gee describes this type of pleasure by stating that, “Video games can give human beings on whom their magic works a drug-free high.” Complex video games engage the mind in such a way that the player discovers that the simple things of life can have a great wealth of complexity, different problems, possibilities as well as different solutions. Some of the games help to reveal to the player, the complexity and risks of living in this modern world and that life is not about simple rules. Complexity creates sharpness and the desire to have control, order and workable solutions. By creating images, the player is drawn towards reality (Gee 15-17; Berger 12-13; Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith & Tosca 32-33).
Video games can help the player to interact within a wider social realm. Through games, players are enabled to reach places that they would otherwise not be able to reach in real life. This takes place through development of online relationships with others in different parts of the world who together form the gaming community. Exposing young people to good video games exposes them to learning processes that are richer and much deeper than those they receive in school. Learners are also able to have a clear reflection of the various professions represented by the virtual characters in the games for example politician, builder, surgeon, disc jockey, policeman, zookeeper, fireman and the list is endless. Role-playing in video games can also help a young person to develop identity by identifying with their favorite character in the virtual world (Gee 111-114).
To the people who play video games, these types of games can be quite entertaining. Unlike films or television, the content in video games can be modified by the player and may also change as play progresses. In video games, the computer takes the identity of a player making competition in the game possible and raising emotions just as if it were two human beings competing against one another. According to Berger, “The fact that there is competition in games and that one can never tell how a particular game will turn out, gives them a dramatic aspect that players find intriguing and stimulating.” This helps to create a sense of control in the player and also exposes the player to certain level of interaction, competition and challenge. Young children especially, love to be in control while adolescents and young adults get excited about competition and challenge. Depending on the content, video games are capable of adjusting the player’s mood as the game progresses by arousing varied emotions such as curiosity, surprise and suspense among others. Such variation of emotions brings out a sense of entertainment. But arousal can be dangerous if the content of a video game is violent because many young people for example, tend to identify with the role of the heroic attacker in the game. The heroic attacker can be deceiving because he has portrayed as the problem solver in a chaotic situation. When playing a game, every player is motivated by the desire for a positive outcome and for those with low self-esteem; a negative outcome can result in a really bad mood. Positive outcomes on the other hand bring out pleasure (Berger 12-13; Vorderer & Bryant 1-2, 172, 187-188).
Too much of anything can however be dangerous. Majority of children love video games so much that it has to take the intervention of the father or mother to get the child to stop watching. Although certain research has proved that video games are capable of improving eye-coordination in children, improving skills in problem solving as well as the ability of a child’s mind to process information faster, too much of the game can sometimes become a health hazard. Too much playing of video games takes over active pastimes, subsequently reducing physical activity. A child who is always playing video games will have little or no time to engage in active exercise and play and this can lead to overweight problems. Reduced physical fitness can lead to health problems such as heart disease later in life (Anonymous, Are Video Games Bad for me).
Violence has been part of human society throughout history and has today become quite common in homes, in the community, country and the world at large. According to Dowed, Singer & Wilson, “The language and images of violence have taken over what one thinks as our most reasoned, cautious levels of discussion and debate.” Although video games cannot solely be blamed for all the violence that exists in society, they have, to a great extent, exposed young people to more violence. Research on the effects of video games on society has found out that the type of video games that viewers engage in too much can have tremendous effects on their personality or character. Watching too many violent games can for example lead to hostility, un-forgiveness and the tendency to accept violence as a normal way of life. The heroic attacker portrayed in video games can be very influential to the player. Video games that are pro-social can on the other hand help the player to develop better interactive skills. Students who get involved in a lot of pro-social video games will for example be involved in fewer fights with their peers and also tend to be more helpful to others. Video games can be very violent and although it is still not very clear how such violent and disturbing games can affect the human brain, what children spend too much time engaged in can greatly influence their development. Their brains are still young and what impacts on them should be carefully assessed. Research has also shown that a remote relationship exists between violent video games and aggressive behavior. The more young people practice violence in video games, the more likely they get to perform acts of violence or even attribute such hostile intentions to their peers. Such negative stereotypes as racism and sexism can also develop from watching violent video games and as Vorderer and Bryant suggest, “Women are often presented in games as ultra sexual with unrealistic body images and scantily clad” (Anonymous, American Psychological Association; Vorderer & Bryant 73, 172; Anonymous, Are Video games bad for me; Dowed, Singer & Wilson 144-146).
Video games are very involving and can interfere with interpersonal activity in the player. A child or even adult who is spending too much time on video games has little or no time to socialize and form friendships; an aspect that is very essential for personal development. This activity also reduces essential social interactions especially with family and friends. Although playing video games on the internet opens up the player to a wider and more varied social group, this kind of interaction is remotely controlled and cannot compare with interaction in real life situations. For any family or community to coexist harmoniously, there must be a certain degree of interaction that should take place so that all members are able to develop essential social skills. Too much video game affects the development of other essential skills in a child and negatively affects the child’s academic performance. Schmitt explains this development by stating that, “If video games are allowed to dominate a child’s leisure and study time, they can lead to decreased development of skills in music, art and sports. School performance can also be affected if the child neglects reading and homework” (Schmitt, Video Games).
Video games have several dimensions such as the content of the game, amount of time spent playing, what attracts the player’s attention and the ability of the player to control his or her emotions. Based on such assessment, video games cannot be good or bad but rather, have many unexpected effects and can also be very good and powerful educational tools. Video games played together with others can improve the player’s abilities to socialize, solve problems as well as improve his or her reasoning capacity. Because the internet has become an easy market for unfavorable video games, nothing can substitute the fact that parents must get familiar with the type of video games that their children love playing and get personally satisfied that such games are safe and suitable. Parents should also make their children’s video game playing a public scene and such activity should be in the living room rather than in the confinement of the bedroom. This is because ratings on most video games do not fully reveal the real story and the parent should e able to participate in this activity for the sake of their children’s development (Anonymous, Playing Video Games Offers Learning across Lifespan).
Anonymous. “Are Video Games bad for me?” McClatchy – Tribune News Service. Washington: 2008. Web.
Anonymous. “Playing Video Games Offers Learning across Lifespan, Say Studies.” American Psychological Association. Psychology & Psychiatry Journal. Atlanta: 2008: pg. 20. Web.
Berger, Asa Arthur. Video Games: A Popular Culture Phenomenon. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002. 12-13
Dowed, E. Nancy, Singer G. Dorothy and Wilson Fretwell Robin. Handbook of Children, Culture, and Violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2006. 144-146
Gee, Paul James. Why Video Games are good for Your Soul: Pleasure and Learning. Champaign, IL: Common Ground, 2005. 13-15, 11-114
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon, Smith Heide Jonan and Tosca Pajares Susana. Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008. 32-33, 35, 40
Schmitt, B.D. “Video Games.” Parenting.Org. MckessonHBOC Clinical Reference Systems 2001. Web.
Vorderer, Peter and Bryant Jennings. Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences. London, UK: Routledge, 2006. 1-2, 172, 187-188
Wolf, J.P. Mark. The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to PlayStation and Beyond. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2007. 3-4, 5-21