Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is Gaming a Brain Drain?

The Neurology of Gaming
Even though some people say playing video games teaches aggression and might cause some effect on a teenager’s health, video games might actually be good for teenagers. There is plenty of proof that gaming teaches valuable life like perseverance and strategic planning. Video game development companies see the value of gaming and are developing positive and educational uses for gaming.
What happens when I spend time gaming? For one, to be successful I have to learn how to be strategic, think things through, and collaborate with others. Aren’t those important life skills? When playing World of Warcraft if you don’t develop a quick reaction, you will fail. You know going in you are going to fail but you still try again. That teaches perseverance, which is a valuable tool to have in the world.

Game developers understand the draw of games and the disapproval of parents and educators. More and more they are working to develop ways to bring gaming to the classroom. In a Harvard Education Letter, the writer, Robert Rothamn, says since gamers are using their knowledge to solve problems there must be a way to use games for education. The makers of both Halo and World of Warcraft have spent research dollars to figure out how to take design games that work in the classroom but still keep students interested. Unfortunately, those results are still years away.

PopCap is a Seattle-based gaming company. They have spent thousands of dollars testing players. They think their games actually make players happy and calm. The researchers believe “there is a cascade of beneficial biochemical and hormonal effects in people when they are engaged in an activity they perceive of as fun” (Schiesel). A more violent game might have a different result. Or would it if the person playing thought it was fun?

Minecraft is one of the most popular games out there. Over 14-million people have bought the game since it appeared in 2009. I have been playing it for about four years. I have built whole worlds with my friends. In survival mode you have to be very strategic and manage your time or you won’t survive. In creative mode, it is open to whatever you can think of. Both are challenging and both are teaching me to make a plan and execute that plan. Kids and parents know that Minecraft is as educational as it is fun. If they didn’t why would parents pay a couple thousand dollars to send their kids to a Minecraft Camp held all over the country, including Harvard?

There are all kinds of articles and reports on the horrors of too much screen time, especially when it comes to violent video games. There are reports of health concerns, of which my favorite is called iPosture. This happens when you spend a lot of time hunched over a computer keyboard or gaming console. Your back gets sore, sometimes your muscles hurt. Isn’t that the same thing that happens when you are hunched over a bunch of books studying?

I agree with a lot of the claims made against playing video games. One claim is gamers have a harder time focusing than non-playing teenagers. This is true for me. But I think it has to do more with just being 15 than it does playing video games. There is peer pressure involved. You get in a good game of Call of Duty, you don’t want to be the first person to have to quit because your mom told you to go to bed.

Violent games make you less emotional. This is one of the most studied areas in video games. One report claims if the emotional part of the brain turns off if the aggressive center activates. I play Grand Theft Auto, which is considered the most violent video game. I don’t feel it makes me any more or less emotional than the average 15 year old boy. When it comes to the negatives about gaming, I don’t agree that it is one size fits all. Every kid has his own reaction to gaming. How you react to has more to do with how you are raised and how much the rest of your life is balanced.
Brain implosion
The bottom line: Our brains will not explode if we play video games. The recommendation for teenagers is to take a 10 minute brain break after 90 minutes of tech use. Moderation is the key. Most parents are going to say video games are terrible time-wasters and their kids spend too much time on screen and not enough time studying. However, according to Cornell University our IQs are going up because of computers, video games, TV and the Internet. In fact, our IQs are 15 points higher than our parents!

If it wasn’t gaming, it would be something else. There is only one teenager living in my house, me. I have an iPhone, iPod, gaming computer and access to an iPad. Every teenager has access to a computer and 97% of all teens have at least one electronic device. It’s our world.


Conclusion, Updated March 6, 2014

In reviewing my blog post and the comments I have received, I stand by what I have presented.  One of the comments asked about if there wasn’t gaming, would teens use the time to play sports or exercise? Teens are going to find something to be lazy about.  Right now, for many of us, it is gaming.  That doesn’t mean sports have to take a back seat.  I believe sports and being active are important and people who game still participate.  This is an excellent question to highlight the important point that like most things in life, it is a balance.

If I had to write on this topic again, I think I would include a poll of my peers and see how they feel about the time spent, the dangers, and the benefits of gaming, if any.  A personal perspective from students in my school might be interesting.  To take it a step further, I might do a poll of students in a public high school and one with students in a different country.  It would be interesting to see if there is much difference between the three.  I suspect with students at Charles Wright Academy there is much less time available to actually spend gaming because of the homework load.

The interesting thing about my topic is the research is so new and ongoing.  It would be difficult to keep this post up to date with all the current, ongoing, and future research.  Writing on this topic a year, 5 years or 10 years from now would likely result in a different perspective and possibly change my opinion on the subject.


  1. I was surprised when I found out how many people are investing money into using video games as education. I guess that the goal is to expand their money making into the education system.

    1. Thank you Anonymous for commenting on my blog. I think your idea of what the goal could be is possible. But maybe the goal is to take advantage of the huge number of people who play video games and try to teach them something at the same time. Video games might be a good way to reach kids who aren't doing very well in school.

  2. Sean, I'm glad to see a student tackle the issue of gaming from this perspective. Educators have really been looking at how the lessons imparted while playing video games can transfer to student learning. You mention that even though you know at the outset of a game "you are going to fail but you still try again." Why is that? Why is the motivation in gaming different than it might be for some other activity where you are more likely to give up? One other question I have is about parents. Do you think they are concerned about things other than just "not enough time studying"? A story I think you might find interesting involves some gamers who solved in 10 days a scientific puzzle (through a game called Foldit) that scientists couldn't crack after 10 years. Amazing! Something about that problem solving and perseverance is definitely true.

    1. Hi Ms. Gerla. You raise some good questions, thank you. What I meant by keep trying at games even though I'll fail in the beginning is that the point of the game is to beat all the levels. You just know going in that they will get harder and harder. Every time you fail, you learn something about how to beat the next time. Video games are interactive, use a variety of skills and then have the visual graphics, sound effects, etc. to make them more engaging every time than doing something like learning to play chess or something. As for parents, I think studying is a big part of it. But I also think most parents don't play the games so they don't know what they are like. They hear all the stories about them leading to violence and stuff. Video games and the unknown is just another thing for them to stress about.

  3. Hi Sean, I find your blog very interesting. I like how you chose a side that most people would not in your paper. In my opinion, most people believe video games are too violent, but I like how you researched the opposing side as well. I had no idea that video games are actually helping our brains develop. I noticed that you mentioned a video game company, PopCap, which believes their video game makes their users calm because they are having fun. In my opinion, I think the most violent video games could not make users calm, even if they are having fun. I was wondering what your opinion on the matter was. Do you think all video games, no matter how violent, could make users calm as long as they are having fun? Finally, I know many people think there are links between violent video games and violence in the real world. Do you think the violent video games today are provoking more violence in the real world? Great Job!---Girl15

    1. Thank you Girl15 for your comments. You mentioned PopCap. That gaming company doesn't make violent games so that is why they think their games can be calming to players. Two of their most popular games are Plants vs. Zombies and Bejeweled. You can check them out here to see if you think they are calm or not: So in answer to your question, no I don't think all video games are calming. I think those people who go out in the world and shoot people are probably already violent or mentally ill, so I am not sure the gaming makes any difference.

  4. Hello Sean, I am going to tell my parents about that statistic at the end! Anyway, I have never pictured gaming as an educational source when used outside of school. For example I have never thought of Minecraft as a strategic game, just something that I can easily procrastinate my homework with. When I play violent video games like "Gears Of War" I feel that the more blood and gore the better, it is satisfying to kill an opponent in a very gruesome way. My question for you is, after playing a couple hours of video games, do you think you have spent your time wisely?

    1. Thank you EvanMinsk for reading and commenting on my blog post. Obviously I think my time was spent wisely, don't you? After a full day of school, then homework, I use gaming as a way to do something I like and have fun doing. Could my grades be better? Probably. But if it wasn't gaming, I'm sure I would find something to do instead of studying all the time and whatever that was probably wouldn't be any better time spent then gaming.

    2. Evan, I think it's interesting that you have heard the message "games are a waste of time" enough that you now see your gaming as a way to procrastinate. Did it feel good to read that you are actually learning something by playing these strategic games? Another student recently remarked to me that "I play the violent games, not because they are violent, but because I want to win the game. That's the goal." Do you agree?

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, Sean. You have made some persuasive points about the benefits of gaming. I am not sure I accept your assumption, however, that if not playing games, teens would be reading or doing homework. I wonder about the effects, if any, time spent gaming has on health. If not gaming, would kids be playing sports? exercising? being active outside? Do you think that teens who stay busy gaming have fitness issues? I look forward to hearing your views! --Ms. Riches


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