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43% of U.S. adults report playing video games, but the majority, about 60%, believed that video games have contributed to gun violence in America.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has seen a noticeable increase in gun violence. Many have suggested video games are at fault. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, 43% of U.S. adults report playing video games, but the majority, about 60%, believed that video games have contributed to gun violence in America. But are video games really that bad? 

Previous research published by the American Psychological Association has suggested that play can have a positive impact on the human brain, especially for children as they develop. Play fosters imagination, social skills and problem-solving, all of which are necessary in functioning adults. Video games provide a structured mental arena to develop these skills. 

Of course, the benefits depend on the genre of game. For example, shooter games can provide significant cognitive benefits. According to a study by Radboud University, regular players of shooter games showed greater focus, spatial understanding and visual representation of events around them — all skills particularly useful in STEM fields. Massive multiplayer online (MMO) games have been found to promote complex social interactions and cooperation, and role-playing games (RPG) have been linked to increased emotional intelligence, decision-making and imagination.

“Video games have taught me how to problem solve and overcome obstacles through practice or developing new ways to approach different situations,” senior computer information systems major Christian Le said. “I like games that challenge me or force me to develop new skills to improve.”

The American Psychological Association found that video games can make people more resilient to failure, not losing motivation even after repeated mistakes, and video games can also improve a person’s self-confidence. Instead of promoting static intelligence, they develop along with the player's ability, showing that a player can always improve.

The connection between aggression and video games does have some merit, however. According to the American Psychological Association, violent video games have been linked to desensitization and minor increases in aggressive thinking, but a negligible relationship was found between violent behavior and gaming. Instead, the research found that violent behavior was likely the result of several confounding factors, including mental illness and other potential external variables. As such, attributing the rise in gun violence to video games is an overstatement.

Video games can be beneficial for those looking to let off steam. To get the most out of gaming, focus on nonviolent multiplayer games that incorporate critical thinking and complex storytelling. A separate study from the American Psychological Association reported that simple, easy-access games like “Angry Birds” or other mobile games can be good for short-term mood boosting, and those who regularly play multiplayer games are more likely to help other players than those who play competitively. 

What’s most important is that people take the time to relax and enjoy what should be a non-stressful part of the day. If a game starts to cause emotional distress, maybe a break is needed. If used correctly, video games can serve as a fun, educational complement to college education, allowing a player to develop basic skills outside of the academic environment.

 

CONTACT Mia Hazeldine-Ross at hazeldmg@dukes.jmu.edu. Mia is a senior international affairs major.