Video Games: How Much is too Much?

The video game industry is consistently growing and isn’t predicted to slow down any time soon. Today, almost every child’s youth will be subject to shaping by technology.

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As a nonparent, I always find myself asking the question, “Who am I to judge if parents let their children play video games for the better part of every day?” I find myself thinking that when I’m a parent, I’m going to insist my child play outside and interact with the outside world. There has to be a reason as to why parents let their children play so many video games. Today, I’m going to answer some of these mind-boggling questions.

The video game industry is consistently growing and isn’t predicted to slow down any time soon. Today, almost every child’s youth will be subject to shaping by technology.

In America, 81% of youths play at least once a month, 8.5% of them are addicted and the average 8- to 12 year-olds now plays 13 hours of video games per week, while the average 13- to 18-year-old plays 14 hours of video games per week.

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I’ve always been fascinated by the number of people, young and old, who are completely obsessed with video games. How can a person be so thoroughly engrossed in a game that has nothing to do with what is actually happening in real life? How does that affect these people in their every day social environments?

Shockingly enough, I am not the only one asking these types of questions. There have been some studies that have shown both negative and positive results regarding video games. We’ll start first with the negatives. It is evident, without scientific research, that this generation of children is already spending less time outside than previous generations.

This in itself harms a child’s social abilities. If a child only has experience playing aggressive video games, it is common that he or she will react to ordinary situations with more aggression than a person who does not indulge in violent video games.

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The research of Brigham Young University undergrad Alex Jensen and his faculty mentor, Laura Walker, suggests that, “It may be that young adults remove themselves from important social settings to play video games, or that people who already struggle with relationships are trying to find other ways to spend their time,” Walker said. “My guess is that it’s some of both and becomes circular.”

Another issue related to violent video games is the way parents allow children to play rated M for mature video games before they come of age. These games are often rated M because they include nudity, violent behavior, or inappropriate language. The question is, “Why would parents allow this if they know that there is a reason their child shouldn’t be playing these games?”

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Whose fault is it that children are playing these games? Should video games put higher restrictions on their games, or should parents merely monitor their children more? There are plenty of favorite games such as FIFA and Madden NFL are not rated M, giving parents the option of not purchasing an explicit title.

Another adverse effect of video games is that people who make video games a high priority in their lives often times do not get a healthy amount of physical activity. This can result in obesity.  According to the CDC, in 2009-2010, 12.1 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese, 18 percent of 6 to 11-year-olds are obese, and 18.4 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds are obese.

The above statistics are particularly shocking to me because, looking back on my childhood, I was the most active during those ages. This could be a result of the changing times in technology or directly my environment growing up. Many of today’s youth would rather play video games or be on their phones rather than participating in the most physical activity.

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Despite all of the quite obvious negative factors associated with video games, there are some positives. The most interesting positive element I have found would be that to play video games, you must first understand the rules of the game. If you break the rules, many times there will be a consequence, much like the real world.

Many gamers also need to know how to multitask while playing video games. According to cognitive scientist Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester, “Results of a study found that people who play video games become more attuned to their environment and able to keep visual tabs on friends in crowds, able to navigate better and better at everyday things like driving and reading the small print.”

During my time researching video games, I asked a variety of people why they enjoyed spending their free time engrossed in such games. The most common answers were either boredom or just simply an escape. Video games give many people an outlet to express themselves in a way that they are not able to in their every day lives.

People who have poor social skills may be excellent at communicating via video games. Firsthand, I have seen video games form unlikely bonds that break stereotypes. The high school quarterback may love playing video games with the nerd who doesn’t seem to have many friends, thus starting a new friendship.

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Video games taking their player out of their typical environment could potentially be a good thing. “East Carolina University published a study that suggests that playing games (like the popular smartphone games Bejeweled® or Bookworm®) for 30 minutes per day can help alleviate clinical depression and anxiety. Not just for the day, but a month later at levels that rival the effectiveness of medication”. The problem with video games start to occur when people are playing them too often. Like anything, there needs to be a limit, all things are bad in abundance.”

This leaves the question being, “How do parents and gamers know how much is too much?” There has been an abundance of research gathered regarding a suggested amount of screen time but hasn’t been one definite answer set. This is mainly because it changes for each person are based on that person’s maturity level.

Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor and researcher, has developed her own list of suggested time limits for video games based upon her own research combined with that of other researchers. The recommended times are as follows:

A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that many youths are playing for more than 50 hours a week, which far exceeds the five hours daily mark. (Oskin, 2012)

It is essential that gamers set limits for themselves so that their gaming does not have adverse effects on their education or professional lives.

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Many active gamers say that their “dream job” would be a professional gamer. The fact of the matter is that most gamers aren’t going to actually make a living from playing video games. Much more goes into being a professional gamer than the average player would think.

These gamers’ lives are centered around video games and often times require a second income. You must have a personality that is attractive to other gamers. You are a full-time entertainer, often on camera for over eight hours at a time. There’s no switching off during this time.

There are a few questions I’m leaving you with today. How are you going to set limits in your own life with, not only video games but media in general? Sit down and actually think about how these games make you feel. Do they have a positive or negative impact on your life? Only you can decide to set limits on the amount of screen time you participate in.