Blog: Turkey mulls banning Minecraft, but are video games really harmful?
Dilara DinerI remember back in the day when my mother used to tell me not to sit too close to the television as she believed it would harm my eyes. My grandmother used to take that belief further, telling me I’d become blind if I stared at it for too long. Years later we discovered this was just a myth; the reason this myth prevailed was because back in 1960, GE had sold color TV sets that emitted excessive amounts of radiation, 100,000 times more than health officials considered as safe. They quickly recalled and repaired the faulty TVs. However, the myth prevailed.
We are often very cautious with new technologies; we’re never really sure how we should handle it and question it to understand if it’s harmful, rather than good. The same thing happened when computers came out; people believed it harmed the eyes. Then came video games, followed by the Internet. While the Internet issue is still being discussed, the video game problematic is still tainted with stigmas and myths.
A large number of parents ask themselves the question: Are video games dangerous for their children? Recently, Turkey’s Family and Social Policies Ministry called on authorities to ban the very popular video game Minecraft as they believe it encourages children to resort to violence. Minecraft is a videogame where the player designs anything he wants with cubes in 2D or 3D, so not something that would really be considered as violent. But here is the question; are video games really dangerous, even when they don’t seem to be violent?
The answer to this question comes with two paradoxical answers; yes and no.
Researchers have explored the subject and have discovered one very important fact about video games. While a great number of parents and pedagogues consider them to be a waste of time, they actually are provoking a real brain workout. The first important thing a videogame teaches a child is to follow instructions. While parents face difficulties in making their children follow daily behavior instructions, video games facilitate this process, showing them that if they do not follow the rules, there is no game and there definitely isn’t a win.
The second major positive effect is undeniably the fact that they have to use their problem-solving and logic skills to go further in the game. Even simple games on tablets such as “Angry Birds” or “Cut the Rope” encourages children to come up with a creative idea to solve the problem in a very short period of time.
The third positive aspect is multitasking; the child learns how to think and act at the same time, while thinking about new strategies to solve the puzzle the game presents. All of these aspects apply to various kinds of videogames; especially strategy games such as “Age of Empires,” “Side Meier’s Civilization” or “Sim City.”
“Well, that’s all nice,” you say, “but what about violent videogames?” That is actually the real problematic; not the video games themselves; but the kind of video games one plays.
Call of Duty vs. League of Legends
The first thing we need to cite is that not all war games, although they include war, may be considered violent games. On the contrary, games such as “Rome Total War” or “Napoleon Total” war are rather seen as strategy games and thus enhance all the positive aspects we have cited previously. But let’s take the example of what appears to be a “real violent game”: “Call of Duty.”
As hard to believe as it may sound, even violent video games have positive aspects. The most important advantage is the enhancing of fine motor and spatial skills.
Here is the position of the gamer; eyes on the screen, one hand on the mouse and the other hand on the keyboard. While you’re playing, you have to keep track of the position of the character, shoot at the same time and follow your team’s achievements. Most importantly, you have to run and shoot at the same time, which requires you to concentrate seriously on the character, their speed, their strategy… Overall this whole process requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, as well as visual-spatial ability – meaning coordination and concentration.
In reality there is so much more positives aspects one could cite. One of the most famous and popular games online is “League of Legends.” And one very important aspect should not be missed; teamwork and cooperation. The player has to cooperate and get along with his team if he wants to achieve victory. But let’s say, although you cooperated, you lost. Well, there is another advantage: perseverance. One learns not to give up so quickly, to persevere, and with perseverance, take strategically planned risks. And while losing may be very frustrating the first couple of times, perseverance teaches the player to find other ways to respond to frustration.
Like solving a science problem
James Paul Gee, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin has explored the problematic. He realized that playing a videogame is not so different from working through a science problem. The player has to try different methods, for example combinations of weapons or powers, to defeat his enemy. So he has to come up with a hypothesis and try it; if it doesn’t work out, try another method. This is more than persevering; this is enhancing one’s inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing. What Gee insists on is that video games are goal-driven and that that is the fundament of learning.
But our goal is still “defeating the enemy,” you’d argue, “you’re still killing people!” Yes, and that brings us to the negative aspects of the game. A large number of people would argue that “they’re just kinds of cartoon characters, so it’s not like you’re killing a real person!” Is this a plausible argument?
In his book “On killing,” Dave Grossman quotes a World War I veteran who admits that they either wouldn’t shoot at all or would shoot without aiming, resulting in rather coincidental kills than aimed kills. With time, soldiers seemed to aim more accurately. Is it because they had better guns? Certainly, but not only. Here’s the trick; for years soldiers trained their aiming skills on haystacks, or different kinds of objects. With time, they started training on bull’s eyes, then paper silhouettes, to finally start training on mannequins that looked very human. It’s not the aiming skills that matter; it’s the killing. Soldiers who train on human-like mannequins have a closer conception and acceptation of what “killing a human being” is, and thus, less difficulty aiming at the enemy.
One of the methods the U.S. Army now uses not only to train their soldiers, but to recruit new people is a video game called “America’s Army.” It’s a first-person shooter game available for free on the technology platform Steam. “Now why would an army use a video game to recruit or rain their soldiers?” you may wonder. Well, that’s where suddenly video games start being less fun.
Teaching how to kill
According to Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, video games teach players to shoot guns more accurately and aim for the head. Does this mean gamers are going to go out and shoot people in the face? Not really; but if they do decide to do so, they will shoot for the kill. “But will they go out and shoot people?” you may insist.
Here’s the thing; if we think of it simply, in most violent video games, you will repeatedly experience killing you enemy and be rewarded for it. This is the most common and effective tool for learning behavior. A large number of studies do show that this pattern may be related to aggressive behavior. However, there isn’t enough evidence to say they absolutely are as most of the results are quite inconsistent. Surprisingly, in his research and book “from Barbie to Mortal Kombat,” Professor Henry Jenkins from MIT notes that the rates of juvenile crime have decreased since games such as Mortal Kombat and GTA have become more popular. He concludes from his researches that the emotional effects of the game are over when the game is over.
But does the game ever end?!
Picking the right games
Another problem related to video games is definitely the addictive part. However, this goes for all games, and all ages. You may think violent games are the most addictive ones, however small neutral games such as “Candy Crush” could have the same effect. While the dangers of addiction are increased depression and anxiety, kids with addictions have also shown signs of social phobia, resulting in an increase in isolation.
So the real question is not “video games” but what kinds of video games, and how much time one spends playing them. Games such as Minecraft do not really enter the “violent game” category, although there are “mobs” you have to kill to protect the structures you have built. However, they do not come out as often as you’d think and, hey, protecting what you have built is also a part of life!
What most pedagogues and psychologists would advise is not forbidding video game play but rather picking the right games, and monitoring the time spent on games. What would be most advisable is picking the game with your child and peacefully arguing on the negative and positive aspects of the game you have picked. And then, why not give it a go with them, chances are, you have one hell of a gamer in you!