E-Gaming through Pandemic: Lessons learned

Abstract:

The research was conducted on how E-gaming is affecting us, whether positively or negatively. The second part of the research was concerned with why the significance of E-gaming is being highlighted in the recent times of a terrible outbreak and what role can E-gaming play to help fight the current situation.

The findings were both shocking and interesting. Significant data was found to back-up the idea of how beneficial E-gaming can be for us, especially in these times of a global pandemic. But at the same time data showed that over-doing this exercise also implemented adverse effects and mitigated all the positives of gaming on the users.

Introduction:

Sometimes the complexity of the human body leaves the scientists and researchers on dead-ends, especially when it comes to topics like this one. For nearly half a century now, professionals have been debating over the inclusion of gaming in our societies and what their impacts can be on us. Is it what we think it is? Is it really a blessing? Or just a wastage of time, which leads to nowhere?

Since the early 70’s when the first-ever E-game ‘PAC-MAN’ came out, Electronic-Gaming (Also simply referred to as gaming or E-gaming) and its pros and cons have always been debated over by scientists and researchers for a long time. It was not until the 21st Century when scientists and researchers were finally able to completely dissect this new genre of entertainment and make undisputed verdicts about it.

Video games have always been the most fun past-time for people, especially the younger demographics, who seem to enjoy every bit of this activity with their friends and family due to its fascinating maps, stunning graphics, and interactive levels and characters.

Games can provide players with a platform to fulfill their fantasies by taking players to realms, magical worlds, virtual realities, interactive levels and so it is of no surprise that games always had that ‘addicting’ and ‘alluring’ factor to them. And it is because of that, it was likely to think that gaming was associated with deteriorating factors, especially for the health of the players. However, studies show that this may or may not be the case, and many other factors such as gaming-time, age, and even gender of the players, contribute to the overall results.

Research and Findings:

As gaming is linked directly to our brain and its activity, Neuroscientist Simone Kuhn and her team assessed and compared the brain activities of a group of 152 healthy, 14-year-old adolescent gamers and non-gamers by using their MRI scans to find out the clear picture (published 14th March 2014)

Their findings showed A robust positive association between the cortical thickness of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), left frontal eye fields (FEFs) (see picture below)

MRI scans of the participants showing DLPFC and FEF; key parts of the brain responsible for the visuomotor skills of a human

and video gaming duration. It was clearly visible from the MRI scans of the participants that participants who had more video-gaming duration had a more developed DLPFC (responsible for strategic planning) and FEFs (responsible for visuomotor integration important for programming and execution of eye movements and allocation of visuospatial attention)

“While previous studies have shown differences in the brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase,” said the study leader Dr. Simone Kuhn. “This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games.” She added.

This means that by E-gaming, we can not only improve memory, decision-making abilities, spatial navigation, attentive spans, and cognitive skills of our mind but we can also cure brain diseases like ADHD, Depression, Anxiety attacks, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer and even Dyslexia.

Another interesting research was found for the cause. Researchers from the University of Padua conducted research on whether fast-paced video-games can help children with Dyslexia or not. The Italian team of scientists separated children age 7 to 13 into two groups, one of which played an action game called “Rayman Raving Rabids” while the other played a lower-tempo game. When the reading skills of the children were tested afterward, those who played the action game were capable of reading faster and more accurately. The retainment of this faster-reading-capability, however, was debatable.

Besides the younger demographics, games can actually be a blessing for the older demographics as well. Research by a team of scientists from the University of Iowa was conducted on a sample of 681 healthy individuals aged 50 and above. For five to eight weeks, and 10 hours per week, one group of these seniors was given computerized crossword puzzles while three other groups played a computer game called “Road Tour” in which players had to memorize pictures of different vehicles made on different road signs while more and more “distractors” appeared as they progressed. The experience was meant to mirror the difficulty older drivers have when they have to process information from multiple points of view at an intersection. The results showed that these games actually helped stall the natural decline of different cognitive skills in this group of seniors by up to seven years, in some cases.

Do video-games cause violence?

Experts are divided about the potential harm video-games cause. Gamers playing violent genres like FPS (First-Person-Shooters), combat and gore, have sometimes been reported to show violent behaviors in their day-to-day lives.

Some experts argue that these games are the potential contribution to the increased number of school-shootings, especially in the U.S.

To further their claim, many of these killers are later found to be associated with any sort of influence to the violent media like video games, books, and movies.

Others argue that no solid evidence is present to back this claim and that these violent behaviors, especially in the young gamers, are a part of their developing process and not the influence of these games.

Phycologist Dr. Andrew Przybylski from the University of Oxford (published 13th Feb. 2019) researched the same concern.

In his research, he gathered information from the parents and/or legal guardians of the adolescents and made the adolescents take a simple “aggression-test” It was later concluded in his research that gaming is not at all linked or responsible for negative/aggressive behaviors in the adolescents. In fact, most of these young gamers reported that they weren’t really bothered by the violent part of these games and played them solely for the reason of countering their boredom and playing something with their friends.

Another proof of the case came from UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) who compared the data of video-game spending per capita and gun-related homicides in the world’s 10 largest video-game markets. (see picture below)

If there were to be any close correlation between video game consumption and gun violence, then we would expect the data to trend upward. That is, we would expect that the countries that spend the most on video games per person would also be the most violent. Here’s what the data should have looked like:

But the data does not support this trend:

One thing here is to be kept in mind that with only 10 data points and an anomalous point of the United States, it is really not the perfect comparison but a mere estimate to our desired answer. With that being said, it is really hard to ignore the fact that this data actually suggests a slight downward shift in violence as video game consumption increases.

On the contrary, though, pieces of evidence are found that gaming, especially the violent genre, can invite more aggression in a player. According to two of their issues in the journal of personality and social psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, (APA)

endorses that gaming can be more harmful than violent television, as games tend to be much more interactive and engrossing. (Published April. 2000)

Dr. Craig A. Anderson and Karen E. Dill were the lead researchers who conducted their set of studies to arrive at the above conclusion. In their set of studies, they concluded a positive correlation between video-game times and aggressive behaviors in the participants. This was true for both lab and real-world conditions. “One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games,” said psychologists Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., and Karen E. Dill, Ph.D. “The other study reveals that even a brief exposure to violent video games can temporarily increase aggressive behavior in all types of participants.”

In addition to this, there was another interesting finding by the researchers’ duo that claimed that women were more likely to be affected by aggressive and violent games than men. This was a surprising finding, considering that men are said to be more aggressive in general. There might be a few reasons for it as well. One being that statistically, women were found to play fewer video-games than men, increasing the likelihood of them being more unaware of all types of genres and games available to play. But the bottom line here is that no matter the gender, aggressive behaviors were found to increase whenever there was some exposure to violent/aggressive games.

WHO endorses gaming!?

As of March 2020, WHO (World Health Organization) along with some big-giants in the gaming industry, launched the #PlayApartTogether campaign, which went viral on Twitter for a long time.

In this campaign, WHO actually encouraged gamers to play games and stay at their homes, to help fight the current COVID-19 pandemic. WHO, which had previously classified extensive gaming as a disease called the “Gaming-disorder” in the year 2019, now recommends all to play video-games and help flatten the curve?

The reason behind WHO’s decision of recommending playing games was quite simple: Video games provide the perfect platform for everyone to stay connected with their friends and family without being in physical contact and it keeps you busy and distracted from the current tense reality. Hence, by gaming and by using the help of the gaming community, WHO was able to create a huge impact, especially on the gamers.

Just after a few hours of a complete lockdown in the U.S and WHO’s #PlayApartTogether campaign landing in, the American cellular giant Verizon reported a 75% peak of data usage in prime-hours. Furthermore, Steam (the most popular games platform on PC) hit their all-time best numbers of 20-million concurrent users on the platform. The response to this campaign by the gaming community was actually so overwhelming that the supplies for the famous console ‘Nintendo-switch’ ran out in the U.S market.

Due to E-gaming and its magically engaging adventures, people from all the demographics can take a break from the terrible, unprecedented reality and relax. “And if video games had been beneficial before now,” says Linda Kaye, senior lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University in the U.K, “then now, they’re as important as ever.”

“When you’re battling yourself with traumatic thoughts, you can lose yourself in a game,” says Michelle Colder Carras, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University who played World of Warcraft to alleviate her own past bouts with depression as well.

In addition to the use of games and gaming platforms to engage with people and spread awareness, researchers are also experimenting with games that can contribute to the study of coronavirus. A case in point is “Foldit”, an online puzzle game by the University of Washington, where players have to fold protein structures to create new ones.

In recent weeks, researchers have determined the structure of the coronavirus spike protein and how it binds to human receptors. In the game summary, game developers explain, if we can design a protein that binds to this coronavirus spike protein, it could be used to block the interaction with human cells and halt the infection.

So not only E-gaming can help flatten the curve, but it might also be an intelligent way to find a vaccine for the deadly virus.

E-gaming is a brilliant way to sharpen up your mind and to heal yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally. But just like any other activity, gaming also comes with its downsides when over-done.

How much gaming-time is okay?

Although there is no consensus on how much should we game, Spanish scientist Dr. Jesus Pujol, MD at the Hospital Del Mar in Spain, along with his team conducted researches on a group of children aged 7 to 11 to see whether video-game usage had anything to do with negative impacts on these children. (Published September 2016)

And the results that came out were actually quite intriguing. Children who had game-time of only 1 hour per week, were observed with faster and more consistent psychomotor responses to visual simulations as compared with children who did not game at all. Interestingly enough, no further changes in motor speed were identified in children playing more than 2 hours a week. Even more interestingly, children playing 9 hours and more in a week, were actually observed to have adverse effects if any positives. These children were clearly observed with conduct problems, peer conflicts, and reduced prosocial abilities. Thus, for this age group, the prescribed amount of gaming-time was easily identified as 1-hour per day, and not more than 9-hours per week.

The older-aged group (as discussed earlier), followed the same guidelines of “not more than 9 hours per week”. But, late-teens and adults, however, are the most argued age groups when it comes to prescribing an acceptable gaming time.

Some scientists and researchers suggested that there should be no amount of “fixed” time for teens and adults and that they can identify themselves how much should they game based on their own patterns and activities. But sometimes, a lot of us might get vulnerable to what is now classified as “Gaming disorder” and even as fully matured adults, we might be prone to fall for it.

Due to this same reason, scientists and researchers have always been on their toes when it comes to prescribed gaming times for the matured groups. After going through an ample number of researches and articulate works, the average amount of “safe gaming-time” that was found out to be for the late-teens and adults alike was 3 hours daily, however, in a lot of researches, even up to 5 hours of daily gaming showed no troubling signs for the adults.

While adults were found out to have no “Consistent” limits, more than the 5 hours of daily gaming limit was considered trouble by all the scientists and researchers alike. Dr. Jean Twenge (2017), along with her team from Florida State University and San Diego State University, conducted research and found out that people gaming more than 5 hours per day were reported with extreme mental and physical conditions. Issues including, thumb, neck, and eye injuries were also observed in some rare cases. Psychologist and researcher, Dr. Daniel King, also researched this same agenda. “Problem gamers play video games between 80 and 100 hours per week; at more than double full-time employment or school, this is indisputably too much” (King, 2010)

Such extreme game times are sure to introduce physical challenges to the gamers such as obesity, eye-sight problems, wrist and thumb problems, seizures, and much more.

According to German scientists Florian Rehbein, Matthias Kleiman, and Thomas Mossle, boys who spent a maximum of 1.5 hours watching television or playing video games, were 75.4% less likely to be overweight as compared to those who crossed this threshold. (Published 2010.)

To overcome issues like the aforementioned, there are simple physical exercises that can be easily performed. Such include taking breaks every hour or so, moving the wrists and fingers, and looking at objects at-least 20meters afar. During these breaks, even a nice jog or a workout would keep the players protected against such problems, even in the long run.

Recommendations and Conclusion:

After considering an abundant number of significant researches on the matter and looking through the evidences found, it is safe to recommend E-gaming to people belonging to all age groups as an engaging mode of entertainment and as well as an effective mental exercise. Like any other physical exercise that we do to keep our bodies fit, E-gaming can serve as a mental exercise to keep our minds fit and healthy. It can also provide medical help in cases where certain parts of our brain need activation and/or improvement. And so, it is not long before doctors and medical experts will be prescribing games as medicinal drugs to the patients, given certain circumstances (approval procedures from health organizations around the world for this are underway.)

It is high time that we remove the “Taboo image” of E-Gaming from our societies and actually understand the tremendous constructive impacts that games can have on us, especially during the current circumstances of a global pandemic, where games like PUBG, Fortnite, and CS GO can help us take our minds off from the brutal reality and relax. We need to understand that E-gaming is just like any other activity (e.g., watching Netflix or Movies) and can actually help us to bring the best out of us. And as a common saying goes “Human beings are social animals”, gaming can actually provide that platform for us to stay connected with our loved ones and also being physically apart; an essential practice, especially in the current circumstances.

But here is the bottom line: is E-gaming harmful for us or not is still a question that keeps a lot of scientist and researchers up at night and while this is still a disputed topic, there is no denying the fact that over-doing anything can harm you and E-gaming is no exception. Under the lights of the issues like cyber-bullying, depression, and anxiety, it is no doubt that a fun activity such as gaming can quickly take devastating tolls on a person’s life. While it is a very helpful activity, if it starts to interfere or overtake the basic functionalities of one’s life like eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, physical exercise, or on their social relationships, then it is time to make a stop and reconcile the gaming habits and routines or even abandoning them for a while if necessary. Similarly, parental intervention and supervision for the young-teens and kids are highly advisable by all the experts, as E-gaming and the impacts that it can have on us remains a question mark. Chances are that thriving technological advancements in the fields of science and technology will soon enable us to reach a unanimous conclusion about the topic.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6syVFkqkO38

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/covid-19-taking-gaming-and-esports-next-level/

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Jawwad Ul Gohar

Jawwad Ul Gohar

#SCIENCE #GAMING

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