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The Dark Side of Gaming

Since the birth of video games, there has been an ongoing argument in the mainstream of whether gaming is positive or negative in regard to overall well being.

Typically, the media falls on the side of detriment. Proposing that video games can lead to laziness, aggressiveness and even violent behaviour. However, due to the unstoppable growth of gaming and its firm implementation into modern society, whether many media outlets like it or not, video games are here to stay.

Like with most things, an unjust negative outlook on a particular topic is usually formed due to misinformation and lack of understanding. The somewhat one-sided viewpoint of video games has left a skewed perspective in the eyes of parents, government and health officials. We have attempted to take a critical look at the evidence with a view of providing a more nuanced and balanced perspective of the pros and cons of gaming. In this three part series, we will present the outcome of this investigation.

Before we dive into the numerous benefits of picking up a gamepad, or using your keyboard and mouse for more than just work and internet surfing, let’s take a look at the perceived negative aspects of gaming. While some are truthful, there are others that are not backed up by empirical research or data. For example: The notion that violent video games cause violent behaviour is completely anecdotal. Academic research shows no correlation of violent games inciting real life violent behaviour, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Video games of any genre have been shown to reduce stress, facilitate relaxation, and regulate emotions.

After decades of this completely farcical narrative being pushed in the mainstream media, one game developer company decided to hit back. Rockstar games, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series, were scrutinised by no other than Hillary Clinton, due to the violent and profane nature of the game franchise. Clinton suggested that new regulations should be introduced to combat games like this. Rockstar subtly responded when they released GTA 4 in 2008, the fictional setting for the game is ‘Liberty City’, which shares strong similarities with New York city, including their very own Statue of Liberty, referred to as the Statue of Happiness. Upon closer inspection, the face of ‘Lady happiness’ shares a striking resemblance to Hillary Clinton. Although Rockstar Games have never confirmed the reference or intent behind this easter egg, it was revealed that the file name for the statue is “stat_hilberty01.wdr”. So you can decide for yourselves.

Another misconception is that video games are a waste of time, and provide no progression in regard to personal and societal development. Once again this couldn’t be further from the truth. Professional gamers are paid annual salaries, receive bonuses, sponsorship money and donations from fans. Professional streamers are essentially entertainers, they can vary from elite gameplay, comedy, interactive and supportive content. Their revenue streams are very similar, and tend to lead into other career pathways such as esports coaching, presenting and hosting podcasts. In 2021, a streamer by the name of CriticalRole made 9 million dollars just from his live stream alone. Later in the series, we’ll be looking at the plethora of benefits gaming has to offer when it comes to personal and career development. However, this isn’t going to be a one-sided affair, there are some negative elements of gaming that are supported with evidence. The sedentary nature of video gaming is usually the first aspect mentioned. And Yes. Gaming is for the most part an inactive hobby (with the exception of some VR games). However, finding a balance between adequate physical activity and sedentary recreational time is essential when it comes to any hobby.

Additionally, using video games as a form of negative escapism can also be detrimental to your health. Gaming can become a reliance, and even addictive. Internet Gaming disorder (or IDG) involves an unhealthy fixation on playing games, subsequently causing other aspects of life to fall by the way-side. Behaviours include a preoccupation with gaming, withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible, and continuing to game despite problems.

Like everything, though, too much of something good can lead to undesirable outcomes. Prioritising video games over essential activities such as sleep, nutrition, and physical activity can be damaging to your physical and mental wellbeing. What seems to be often overlooked is the fact that video games are merely a tool just like anything else. It’s no different to exercising, watching films and TV shows, or even reading books. Doing any activity to excess can be harmful to your health, even the ones with positive connotations. For example, if you exercise excessively, you can cause your physical and mental health to decline over time. If you spent all your time reading, and sacrificed sleep, eating and physical activity as a result, that would also be bad for your wellbeing.

In summary, video games have been given a bad wrap over the years, but the powers that be are not telling both sides of the story. Nevertheless, this stigmatisation hasn’t managed to stop the gaming scene from becoming one of the biggest conglomerates in the world. As long as a healthy balance is achieved and maintained, video games can provide a plethora of mental, developmental, and social benefits.

In Part 2, we’ll be taking a look at the ways gaming can facilitate positive mental wellbeing and social connection, hit the subscribe button to be notified, and check out our website for more information on gaming and health.