As far as I can remember, video games have been a point of contention between parents and their children. There has always been a debate over ‘how much is too much’ when it comes to video games and what effect it has on the mental and sociological development of children.
Studies have shown that extended use of video game often leads to depression, anxiety and social awkwardness in children. With the limited or next to zero social interaction caused by being constantly cooped up alone with nothing but gadgets, kids may develop low esteem and confidence. It is a viscous cycle where one habit leads to the other.
Peer pressure plays an important role in why children get into the habit of gaming and worse still, why they find it hard to get out of it. Even though parents may try hard to keep their kids away from it, pressure from friends and the feeling of being ‘left out’ of conversations about gaming is an important factor why some children get involved.
This attitude among kids has also made gaming very competitive. And once in this cesspool, kids find it hard to pull back.
Board games and old-fashioned indoor activities seem to be taking a backseat with more and more people preferring to play video games. Even for those who prefer the old games, the lack of company compels them to continue with gaming.
“It is hard to get their attention when they’re playing. They seem to get transported into a totally different world with no sense of time or space”, observes a parent who prefers to remain anonymous.
It is a sort of addiction. According to Stucublog, in a study conducted in United States with 3,034 students, nine percent showed signs of addictions and around four percent of them played more than 50 hours a week. A further study of 2,000 children aged between 9 and 18 who gamed seven hours thirty-eight minutes on an average, showed that 27 percent of them reported less than excellent mental health and 19 percent displayed poor mental health.
Students who spend a substantial amount of their day glued to their screens playing are reported to perform less at school. This may lead to a poor sense of self worth and further anxiety and isolation. This lack of confidence may often make them feel more isolated and get them back to the comfort of their virtual zone. And we’re back to the never forgiving vicious cycle again.
A study by psychologists Robert Weis and Brittany Cerankosky done on 64 children over four months concluded that children who used gaming devices in excess performed worse in standardized tests on reading; were slow with their homework and were more likely to be complained about by their teachers.
But the effects of gaming may be mixed. While multiplayer gaming may be more conclusive about weakened reading scores, single player gaming may not entirely be so. There are studies that show moderate use of gaming devices may in fact act as a stimulant and aid reading and academic performance.
It all depends on the kind of games children play, from violent ones that influence their psyche and hinder sleep patterns, making kids more susceptible to nightmares and sleeplessness to games that encourage positive reinforcement in terms of maths, language and science.
Some parents have noticed an actual involvement of their child in the how and why’s of the game. A friend of mine is happy to see her son not just play games in moderate amounts, but also develop increasing curiosity in how the games are formulated.
“He often borrows books from the library to read about how to play a game or get on to the next level. It is encouraging to see this inquiring side of him. If gaming is where he wants to flourish in the future, I am all for it”, she says.
In these times of the pandemic, gaming has become a refuge to many children who are unable to meet friends or have any social interaction. With the outdoors out of bounds, it has become a means of alleviating boredom, a simulation from the comforts of our house. Multiplayer games are enabling friends to stay in touch with each other and facilitate some kind of interaction. Parents like me, who are not very ardent gamers and have reservations about ‘how much is too much,’ are easing off a bit, sometimes even joining our kids in a little friendly face-off.
According to the Time magazine, “The supply of Nintendo Switch consoles, a popular choice for families, kids and casual gamers, can’t keep up with the demand. “Animal Crossing: The New Horizon,” the latest version of the long-running Nintendo franchise, in which people can hang out online together on digital deserted islands, has sold more than 3 million copies in Japan since its March 20th release. Sales of video game hardware, software, accessories and game cards exceeded $1.6 billion dollars in March, according to the NPD Group, the highest March level since 2008.
With the changing milieu of our current times, it may in fact be a good way of forging relationships, albeit in the digital world. The World Health Organization has even partnered with #PlayApartTogether campaign in this time of social distancing. Like with everything else, moderation is the key with gaming too. It is the new entertainment of this generation.
Nupur Bhatnagar is a lawyer by training, an entrepreneur and a storyteller. She is rationalist and an art enthusiast who is fascinated by history. She loves to read and watch historical dramas — sometimes even sees herself in them. Nupur lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.