At best a fun time waster, at worst a way that kids learn violence and withdraw, video games in popular news are much maligned. But overseas research shows that we might need to take a closer look at how video games actually affect the people that play them.
Video games are often the subject of debate upon their contribution to culture. A small but vocal minority vehemently expounds the view that depictions of violence desensitize gamers, and that any amount of playing leads to addiction and antisocial behavior. However, recent studies indicate that these beliefs may be mistaken, and that playing video games may even have some benefits.
Research was released this year about the affects of video games on players' emotions and memory. UK Psychologists Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol conducted the study in response to previous research that suggested that players of violent video games exhibited more aggressive behavior and reacted less emotionally to violent imagery.
The 2011 study was entitled, "Chronic Exposure to Violent Video Games is Not Associated with Alterations of Emotional Memory," and focused on a group of undergraduate students. These students were asked to look at images depicting positive, negative and neutral scenes, then after a break looked at more images - some were the same, others were new and randomly interspersed. The group then indicated which images they had seen before, as well as answered a questionnaire about their state and level of emotion. Based on the researchers' hypothesis that emotional responses are linked to memory formation, and in light of previous research, Bowen and Spaniol predicted that subjects would retain fewer instances of negative imagery.
Instead, there was no difference in negative image retention between video game players and non-players. This criteria also was not a factor in self-reported emotional responses to stimuli. "The findings indicate that long-term emotional memory is not affected by chronic exposure to violent video games," said Bowen. But these findings may only apply to young adults, and Spaniol suggests there could be a difference in outcome when studying children who play violent video games. The team plans to monitor brain activity under similar circumstances.
Other research from the University of Essex questioned casual and dedicated video game players on their motivation and post-playing emotions. Another British psychologist, Andy Przybylski, found that people had more fun when they could play an ideal self, and most of all when their real self and their ideal overlapped. He said he was "heartened by the findings which showed that people were not running away from themselves but running towards their ideals. They are not escaping to nowhere, they are escaping to somewhere."
If this research is taken at face value, video games not only do not desensitize gamer emotions, but give gamers an opportunity to assume positive roles.