We may never really know how video games affect our well-being

The moral panic around video games has taken hold in a way that previous entertainment-fueled panics, such as those around rock music and television, did not. But the evidence is not there.

Media reports that the perpetrators of mass shootings beginning in the mid-1990s were avid gamers, coupled with a slew of studies beginning in the early 2000s, fueled concerns that violent games made people more aggressive. These reports found that participants “punished” their opponents longer, gave taste testers larger doses of hot sauce, and were more likely to guess aggressive words such as “explode” in a word completion task after played violent games. But other researchers have since questioned the real effectiveness of these studies in measuring violent behavior.

A 2020 meta-analysis in the Royal Society Open Science, which re-examined 28 studies from previous years, found no evidence of a long-term link between aggressive video games and youth aggression. Lower-quality studies that did not use standardized or well-validated measures were more likely to exaggerate the effects of games on player aggression, while higher-quality studies tended to find negligible effects.

The same pattern repeated itself with regard to studies linking video games to poor mental health, which tended to report weaker effects once they used objective data on game duration (such as did the OII study) rather than relying on participants’ subjective self-reporting, says Peter Etchells, professor of psychology and science communication at Bath Spa University, who thinks the 20 to 30 recent years of game studies have not had a coherent idea of ​​what they were trying to measure or how to measure it.

“New studies like this can help draw the line under this whole ‘Are video games good or bad for us?’ because it is and always has been the wrong question to ask,” he says. “It’s like asking ‘Is food bad for our waistlines?’ It’s a stupid question.

“Hopefully we can get better at not thinking about it in terms of ‘Video games, are video games bad? but thinking about that gray area in between,” he adds. “Because that’s where all the interesting stuff is.”

Przybylski was among a group of academics who wrote to the WHO in 2016 protesting the “premature” inclusion of gambling disorders in its ICD guidelines, citing the low quality of the research base and the fact that the researchers had failed to reach a consensus. Six years later, not much has changed and researchers are still divided on how gambling addiction might differ from substance or gambling addiction, for example.

An interesting next step would be to focus on any participants showing problematic behavior in the OII study to see how they can be coached or supported, says Tony van Rooij, senior researcher at the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands. which focuses on games, gambling, and digital balance. Another interesting area of ​​study, he says, is the predatory business models that game makers use to pressure player behavior, including encouraging them to perform microtransactions to skip frustrating levels, play fixed hours or log in daily to avoid missing anything. on something.


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