Will GTA V turn you into a sedentary psychopath?
This week saw millions of boys with nothing better to do queuing outside video game shops around the world for the launch of GTA V, one of the most successful entertainment products of all time grossing over $800 million on launch day. Described by the critics as the greatest video game ever made, the open-world crime simulator takes an estimated 18 hours for a quick play-through (excluding side quests and multiplayer). As kids, our mothers would always tell us off for sitting in and playing Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Megadrive, (which incidentally takes around 90 minutes to complete), warning us that playing games for too long would turn our eyes square. So begs the question: are video games really bad for your health?
5 reasons why video games can be bad for your health
Muscle pain: Sitting in front of a screen for hours, hunched over as you clutch at your joystick will often lead to back pain that can develop into further back and spinal issues in later life. The Pediatrics International journal published a study supporting the notion that excessive gaming leads to increased muscle stiffness in the shoulders.
Seizures: Most games and systems warn of a risk of seizures for those who suffer from epilepsy. There is no scientific evidence that video games cause epilepsy, however studies have shown a combination of stress, excitement and fatigue combined with the flashy presentation in some games can induce seizures.
Obesity: The two main factors attributed with rising obesity are high calorie diets combined with sedentary lifestyles. Sitting for hours playing video games burns very few calories leading to the body storing the excess as fat. Inactivity also leads to a loss in muscle mass (atrophy) making future activity more difficult.
Lack of vitamin D: Sunlight is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D, helping to combat osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, hypertension and some forms of cancer as well as boosting athletic performance. Sadly being cooped up in the den playing video games all day means no exposure to direct sunlight and no vitamin D.
Sleep deprivation: With games bigger and with no load times or breaks between levels 9pm can turn into 3 am in a flash. In 2011 a 30-year-old Chinese gamer died after gaming non-stop for three consecutive days, barely eating or drinking. Similar deaths have also been reported in other parts of Asia where online games like ‘League of Legends’ are a televised sport.
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5 reasons why video games can be good for your health
Stress reduction: Games provide a fun escape from the stresses of every day life. Given the negative effect stress can have upon overall health, unwinding with a game can be beneficial to a persons wellbeing. Studies into mental illness have shown that used a means to vent stress, video games helped patients conditions to improve.
Improved vision: It is true that concentrating the eyes on a screen for extended periods can result in eye strain, albeit more of an issue for older monitors with a lower refresh rate. However discoveries made by McMaster University found that playing first-person shooter games can help the visually impaired to view things more sharply.
Cognitive skills: Video games require fast reactions and with many modern action-oriented games including QTEs (Quick Time Events), decisions and responses must be made in a split-second. Video games provide the brain with a unique and intense workout which gives plenty of practise for fast decision making in real world situations.
Improved hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills: From targeting whilst in motion to high speed driving and platform jumping in environments that simulate real world physics, games help to develop hand-eye coordination as well as better spatial awareness. In addition, use of modern ultra sensitive controllers helps train fine motor function to surgical precision.
Workout: Whilst the motion control fad started by the Nintendo Wii and later adopted by the PS Move and Kinect has certainly settled down, the category still offers a huge number of ways for gamers to dance, sing, play instruments, fight and even get a full workout from a game system.
Sure, we’ve all got annoyed playing video games at one point. Street Fighter 2 has had many a telling off, not to mention fights over who gets to play next. However there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that playing violent video games leads to violent behaviour. Whilst spending extended periods playing alone can prevent a person from developing their social skills, many modern games feature online multiplayer and are in fact very social team based experiences. All game systems also host a hangout are where users can simply interact with each other on a purely social level. Although, this is very different from face to face interaction. One study did find that those playing violent video games became more desensitised, apathetic and slower to help those in need compared to those playing non-violent video games. However there is still very little in terms of research that examines how an interactive medium such as a game compare to films, books or music that depict violence in their effect on audience behaviour.
Whilst research into games and their effect on behaviour remains inconclusive, if gamers of the 80s managed to survive this without going insane then can the effect of modern games really be all that bad?