Benefits and Risks of Gaming

Humans tend to fear the unknown. As each generation adopts a new behaviour, adults fear the likelihood that this behaviour will corrupt our youth.  For some time there has been a concern about the use of computer games.  Some students enjoy computer games as a form of relaxation and stimulation however parents tend to be concerned about the amount of time spent gaming (sometimes instead of studying) and about potential dangers associated with exposure to violence.

Like many new technologies, there are positive and negative factors as well as complex societal dynamics associated with gaming. Computer games are not necessarily harmful and some benefits associated with the use of computer games have been identified.  Students experience challenge, mastery, ‘flow’ and gain a sense of self-efficacy from playing computer games. There are indicators that computer game usage can enhance some aspects of cognitive function.  Improved perceptual reasoning, systematic and evaluative processes, problem solving capacities, scientific thinking and metacognitive skills have been associated with computer games.  Skills such as development of technological and programming skills, quick decision making, fast reflexes, eye-hand co-ordination, goal setting strategies and striving for goals are skills that have been developed through the use of computer games.

Some of these benefits are associated with specific professional skills.  The US Air Force identifies young people with rapid response time and excellent eye-hand co-ordination (a result of computer games) as being ideal for flight training.  Surgeons who play computer games have shown improved surgical techniques, especially in suturing and laparoscopy procedures. Socialisation skills have been improved when multiplayer online games have created a group of “cyberfriends” associated with games have provided a focus for discussion with other students.  However there is another side to electronic gaming. Dopamine, a neurochemical released during gaming generates a positive feeling but is also addictive. It is important to consider the following questions when determining whether there may be negative impacts associated with the type or extent of gaming.  Through observations and discussions I suggest exploring the following questions:

  • What types of games are played?
  • What are the content, focus and control factors?
  • For how long are the games played?
  • When are the games played?
  • With whom are the games played?
  • Is the student playing games alone?
  • Are games used in conjunction with other activities?
  • Is electronic gaming balanced by physical and social activities?
  • Does the use of games intrude on other important activities?
  • How much gaming is too much at specific times?
  • Does there appear to be an addictive aspect to the use of games?

© Michele Juratowitch       
michele@clearingskies.com.au