Does gaming change my behaviour?

We hear from a young gaming enthusiast and an expert on the behavioural implications of gaming…

Tech and the online worldMental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·

Callum (not his real name)

Young author

The key to gaming is moderation

I was in the middle of a soothing sesh of Need for Speed the day my mother decided to yank the power cable out of my PlayStation. A person on TV – who in all likelihood had never been within a mile of a Dualshock controller – had told her that gaming was making me violent and turning my brain into mush.

Granted, I had probably thrown a couple of mini tantrums in the past when things hadn’t gone my way – but nothing worse than what I had seen other kids do after losing a football match. I remember asking myself: “How can putting new rims and a skirt on my BMW M3 make me violent?”

Luckily, the debate has matured significantly since my early childhood – but there are still lots of people who believe that gaming is having a negative effect on young people’s wellbeing. I often see it used as a scapegoat to distract from bigger societal problems. Whenever tragedy hits, a school shooting for example, critics are often quick to place the blame on games when there are clearly more serious underlying issues.

Games, for me at least, are a wonderful escape from everyday life. As much as I love reading books and watching films, gaming is far more immersive. The graceful fusion of engaging gameplay, gripping storytelling and awe-inspiring visuals makes for a truly unique entertainment experience. For a moment I can forget about my problems because a different, more exciting reality is only a few button-clicks away.

This reality allows me to do so much more than wreak havoc in an open world or blast people to bits with AK-47s – yet that’s what you’ll hear about in the media. Many consider the usual suspects – Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and co – to be representatives for gaming as a whole, but nothing could be further from the truth. My experiences as a gamer have been a great medium for unleashing my creativity, meeting new people and – as a non-native English speaker – enhancing my language skills.

Clearly I’m a staunch believer that the benefits of gaming far outweigh the drawbacks – but those drawbacks still exist. I can’t deny the fact that many games are quite violent. When I was 10, a friend of mine swiped his brother’s copy of Grand Theft Auto and we played it for a solid afternoon before we were caught. I found it terrifying and twisted at the time, but age ratings are there for a reason. Now that I’m older, I can contextualise it: the action is clearly over the top and much of what I found twisted is actually quite impactful social commentary.

Personally, I don’t think my behaviour has ever been affected by violence in games – but I can see how it might become a problem if the person playing isn’t able to contextualise what they’re doing.

Secondly, you can have too much of a good thing. It’s sometimes hard to detach from a game – and that “I just need to do one more level” feeling is very real. My parents use the term ‘addicted to gaming’ quite liberally – but just because I’m invested in a moment, it doesn’t mean I’m addicted. It’s like being really hooked on a good TV show – before you know it, you’ve ploughed through half a season in one day, but it’s not like you’d get withdrawal symptoms if Netflix stopped working.

Games are here to stay, and they have so much to offer! It’s encouraging to see that gaming is being taken more seriously as an entertainment form, art form and even educational tool – but there will always be critics. I suppose certain aspects of gaming could have a negative effect on young people but – like with everything else – I think moderation is key.

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