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The Neurology of Gaming

March 19, 2012

(Original Source:

A visual representation of the positive and negative effects of video games on the human brain.  Do the pros outweigh the cons if we disregard the use of violent video games?

Personally, I’d like to focus on the positive as it seems like for much of the debate about video games over the years, they’ve been largely reflected as a big waste of time.

I’ll be honest – I’ve been an avid gamer for a large portion of my life.  I grew up with the original Nintendo with Mario + Duck Hunt and have kept current with today’s gaming.  Although I don’t play as much anywhere as I used to, I still enjoy popping in a game every once in a while and enjoying my virtual experience.

From my own personal experience, I can honestly say that video games have largely been a positive experience for me, especially in today’s modern gaming world and I will explain why.

  1. Firstly, I should mention that most of the games that I play are largely action or shooter games (violent, I suppose) followed by sports.  Even so, the reason for the purchase of “violent” video games is largely due to the storyline of good vs evil.  This is especially true when it comes to the single player modes where it’s just me against AI.  However, most of these games, I actually partake in the multiplayer experience playing with players from around the globe, including some of my friends.
  2. Therefore, there’s my second reason for playing video games – the collaborative and social experience of it.  Working together with my squad to take out bad guys – simple idea with complex involvement.  Verbal and visual cues are constantly being used throughout the game to achieve success in achieving the objective at hand.  When I could get a group of my teammates together and pull off an impressive chain of consecutive wins, in a way, it is equivalent to playing a sport and going undefeated for 10 games.  Granted, you can’t compare the two, but at the same token, you kinda can.  (Dopamine, anyone?!)
  3. Thirdly, contrary to the facts pointing towards aggression from violent video games, I sometimes use video games as a therapeutic measure (although exercise usually does the trick!).  Sometimes, the virtual reality allows me to get away from it all and take some time to myself.
  4. Most video games that I have played have had many layers to them and are much less “mindless” than many take them to be.  Whether they were violent or not, your brain is constantly analyzing how to “win” the game or perform an action so that it most benefits the player.  The act of reason and figuring out the solution to a problem is almost always present.
Overall, I could have listed more reasons for my beliefs in regards to the positive effects of video game activity.  Nonetheless, it is impossible to deny the possible negative effects that violent video games in particular (and video games in general) can have on one’s state of mind.  Sometimes, video games can become an addiction as you lose your sense of reality and become entranced in something on your TV.  You lose your grip of time as the game consumes you.  However, look at this phenomenon from the view of a movie or a great TV show.  Don’t they all try to do the same – take your time and spend it watching their products?
Video games today have the technology that yesterday didn’t (obviously).  With that in mind, video games today can engage more people and can have people moving with the motion-gaming that is constantly being developed and refined.  These games may be a novelty to some, but can result in more physical activity under one’s roof.  That being said, there is no guarantee that this extra physical activity playing a video game in the comfort of your own home will translate to more engaged time with students in physical and health education classes or in that individual being more physically activity altogether outside of his or her home.
All in all, the positive and negative effects of the neurology behind gaming is important to consider when creating an “exergaming” situation in which one tries to educate students through a virtual reality.

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  1. You presented some interesting arguments for video games. I am also an avid gamer and also enjoy the virtual reality of gaming.

    An additional positive aspect could be the need for time management in some cases. There are times when one needs to their homework, and homework comes before gaming, therefore, they need to manage their time accordingly if they wish to game.

    Do you think that the integration between games and sports is going to be a way of increasing physical activity amongst youth? ( i.e. a gaming console that incorporates physical activity like the Nintendo Wi or Xbox Kinect)

  2. Hey Iain,

    Thanks for sharing your opinion on the matter – always great to hear about the subject matter from a fellow gamer’s point of view!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the point you brought up concerning time management. Personally, I’ve sometimes utilized video games as an external reward after completing homework/assignments when I was lacking the general motivation to do work. Nonetheless, time management is important so that video games does not consume the user to the point where they are rushing for time to complete other tasks in life.

    To answer your question, personally, I’d like to think that the integration will lead to increased physical activity in a youth growing up with more technology than any other generation. However, it would seem unrealistic to expect for this to be substantial, at least for me. I enjoy physical activity and exercise and I remember once spending plenty of time playing DDR with my own plastic mat at home. Heck, even when there was a Wii in my household, I had a blast. Both of these cases, the fun lasted a while, but faded rather quickly as I would only bring out the mat or the Wii remote occasionally to engage in some physical activity via video games. In all honesty, sometimes it’s just more fun popping a game in and using a remote to control the movements without actually moving.

    In my opinion, for “exergaming” to really increase the actual physical activity, technology and games will need to be pushed towards more game genres. Presently, motion-games favor sport games. This makes sense, but not everyone that games favor FIFA or NHL.

    At the end of the day, I think motion-gaming could help in increasing physical activity, but at the end of the day, nothing beats good old-fashioned play. Playing with oneself and playing with others are both opportunities that need to go beyond the tube, in my opinion, even if the games involve movement.

    What are your thoughts on the matter?

  3. Thanks for the reply. I completely agree having fun with a gaming machine is great, however, that fun is usually short lived when the shine of the system dulls. When it all boils down to the core of it, traditional fun still reigns king, but I think encouraging people to get out and enjoy themselves is the hard part.

    What do you think the best way to encourage people to get out and have fun is?

    • Hey Iain,

      Thanks for yet another engaging question. If there was a definitive answer to that question, maybe we wouldn’t be in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

      Honestly, in my opinion, the best way to encourage people to get out and have fun is by reaching them during their physical and health education time while they’re a student. My rationale is that if we expose students to a VERY VAST ARRAY of games/activities/sports, students will hopefully find their niche and pursue an activity or more throughout their lifetime.

      Furthermore, although we do want to focus our time on being physically active in the gymnasium, I believe in order for people to remain active throughout their lives, we must teach everyone from a young age the benefits and overall important of living an active and healthy lifestyle. Currently, I don’t think we spend as much time as we should on this subject matter and sometimes, getting the information out there is all it takes.

      What’s your opinion on the matter?

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