A typical ‘screenager’ will spend several hours a week gaming and by the age of 21 it is estimated the average young person will have spent weeks of their life glued to games such as Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario or Call of Duty.
A recent study though warns that this could change the way children use their brains, leading to mental illnesses such as dementia and depression.
The research, by the University of Montreal, found that sustained gaming could lead youngsters to neglect parts of their brains, with devastating results.
Scientists monitored the brain activity and eye movements of gamers using state-of-the-art ‘skull caps’ and compared them with those of non-gamers.
They found gamers were far more likely than non-gamers to use an area of the brain referred to as the ‘reward system’, rather than the hippocampus, which controls memory, learning and emotion.
“This means people who play a lot of action video games could have reduced hippocampal integrity, which is associated with increased risk for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” says the study.
However, this does not seem to worry parents who are shelling out $50 (about BD19) an hour for video game pros to give their children a boost at tactics and virtual combat skills. A Wall Street Journal story reports that some families are shelling out for Fortnite coaches to help their children win at the wildly popular online game.
Fortnite first took gamers by storm when it came out in September last year, some sites put the Epic Games creation at as many as 125 million players globally by this summer.
Now, it’s become such a social phenomenon amongst all ages that even young children are needing to get their status up on the game, prompting parents to consider buying the time of those coaches, which can be sought out on social media.
There are also fears gamers can have a false sense of their abilities as they spend too long in a virtual world instead of the real one.
And researchers at Ohio State University found teenagers who spent long periods playing violent games such as Grand Theft Auto felt exempt from ethical standards the rest of us live by and showed less self-restraint.
Experts cannot seem to agree on whether computer games are good or bad for children. Some believe that in moderation gaming is a positive influence, keeping young brains active and speeding up reflexes.
But bloodthirsty, hugely popular shoot-’em-ups are blamed for leaving players desensitised to violence and isolated from the real world.
Some say they can improve hand-eye co-ordination and visual awareness, which is our ability to focus on what we see.
Other studies have found more benefits. Scientists at Radboud University in the Netherlands found playing games, even violent ones boosted decision-making and problem-solving skills and emotional resilience.
Psychologist Mark Griffiths advises parents to talk to their youngsters about the content of the games they play and to encourage them to play with their friends, rather than spend hours alone, cut off from the rest of the real world.
“There is no evidence that playing games in moderation has any negative effects whatsoever. These games are wonderful things except when they are played to excess,” says the Nottingham Trent University
Professor and director of the International Gaming Research Unit.
“The problem is that they are designed to be more-ish, as any game you can put down after 15 minutes has essentially failed. Luckily, most people know when to stop and can fit other things into their lives.
But a small minority do get completely hooked.”