Is IT ALL BAD?
the next time you consider video game playing as belonging solely to the domain of socially awkward teenage boys, hidden away in the privacy of their rooms, think again. Research has revealed that a staggering two-thirds of the Australian population engaged in this popular pastime in 2015, with the vast majority (almost 80%) of gamers being adults over the age of eighteen years. Further highlighting the popularity of this activity, the study found that almost all homes with children had a device for playing digital games. These statistics have steadily grown over time.
gaming provides young people with improved social connectedness and increased opportunities to meet new people in the real world, translating to real-life benefits.
The Digital Australia 2016 (DA16) report is based on a 2015 study of 3398 individuals, of varying ages, from 1274 randomly drawn Australian households. It aims to examine the progressive state of interactive media in Australia, by conducting surveys approximately every two years. It also explores the notion that video games have greater potential than purely as a source of entertainment, considering their use at school, work and for health purposes. The scope of games assessed in the DA16 study includes those played on any device (personal computer, console, handheld) and of any type and style.
Worldwide, digital gaming is an enormous and growing industry with global spending expected to reach $83 billion in 2016. In Australia, the current total industry value is estimated at almost $2.5 billion and the industry grew 20% in 2014.
There were even more surprising findings to come out of this large-scale, Australian study. In 2015, the average Australian gamer was 33 years old and almost just as likely to be female, as to be male. This highlights a fascinating demographic shift since the first Digital Australia study conducted a decade ago. At that time, the average player was only 24 years old and most likely to be male, with females representing only a third of the game-playing population. Gaming is clearly not a male dominated hobby, anymore.
Interestingly, although the proportion of females playing digital games has steadily increased over time, it has recently started to plateau. There have been suggested explanations for this including the portrayal of women, and perhaps the style of play that exists, in certain games. It may also potentially be related to a social construct around what males and females do in their leisure time. A combination of all of these factors may be involved and it will be interesting to witness how this develops over time.
These many great changes that have taken place over time within the gaming population may surprise most people. The misconception about
exactly who is playing games may be related to a combination of reasons. A generational shift has likely taken place, whereby the young adults that were playing games a decade ago, have continued playing games into adulthood. Also, the researchers suggest, the games of today have become more complex and sophisticated, with richer narratives and greater player involvement, thereby holding the interest of a wider age group. For instance, of those aged 65 years and over, almost half play games. This may indicate a growing trend, as an increasing number of Australians become technology-savvy.
With gaming playing such a large and seemingly increasing role in the leisure time of many Australians, there has been much speculation in the media about its potentially harmful influences to one’s mental health and wellbeing. To date, most research in this field has focused on trying to establish such links. Particularly with relation to youth mental health, it is a growing area of interest and research. Youth may be considered especially vulnerable to negative input, with impressionable minds. However, emerging evidence is showing that game playing may, in fact, confer considerable benefits to one’s wellbeing.
The potential benefits of gaming were the focus of a recent review of the literature on video games and wellbeing, conducted by the
Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (YWCRC). It found clear evidence for a number of positive influences attributable to gaming, such as: increased vitality, improved mood, greater self-acceptance, heightened competence and autonomy, and improved relatedness and social connectedness. There was also a positive association, though the evidence was less clear on the direction of the association, with: self-esteem, optimism, resilience, healthy relationships, social connections and functioning.
The evidence is also increasingly suggesting that, after forming initial connections online, gaming provides young people with improved social connectedness and increased opportunities to meet new people in the real world, translating to real-life benefits. For the majority of youth, the research opinion is showing that, gaming is contributing positively to three aspects of their wellbeing: emotional, social and psychological.
the bad and the ugly...
There is no doubt that gaming can potentially lead to undesirable behaviours and outcomes. These can include, increased screen-time at the expense of other activities, decreased human-tohuman social interaction and family time, and poor physical outcomes such as increased bodyweight and lowered fitness levels.
Again, there is the common view that gaming can lead to socially isolated, aggressive, and lazy behaviour.
In particular, there is a concern among
the public about a possible connection between the violent content contained within some games and aggressive thoughts and behaviour in young people. The 1999 Columbine school shootings, in Colorado, led to alarming media speculation of supposed links between violent video game content and hostility. Strong public objections to such video games soon followed. However, no link has been established, nor with other more recent school shootings, by the research conducted to date. Furthermore, the research community is currently contesting any research concerning the harmful impact of violent video games and the jury is still out on the outcome. A number of design flaws have been identified in such studies.
For a minority of gamers, there does exists the potential of developing ‘pathological gaming’ but for the majority, there is no such concern.
advice to parents about video games
Mental health workers offer the following guidelines to parents to encourage healthy game playing by their children.
(1) Content is most important. Try to keep young people away from violent and explicit content. Follow the ratings and age-recommendations. Apply parental controls on the content.
(2) Monitor the time. This is largely dependent on the age of the child, while children under the age of two should not be playing, nor watching, games.
(3) Physical activity should be undertaken daily.
(4) Encourage balance with other activities. This includes activities away from the screen, time spent with friends and family, and in the outdoors.
(5) Games are not necessarily problematic. Although they may have some undesirable effects, games can also provide great enjoyment, stress relief, social connection and even educational aspects.
(6) Communicate with young people. This helps to set boundaries regarding the type of games played, how often and for what length of time.
an important distinction.
An important distinction to make, when considering the effects of gaming, is whether the gaming is in ‘harmony’ with the remainder of the young person’s life, such as family or schooling, or whether it is ‘excessive’. By asking the young people some mindfulness-based questions around the type of game they are playing, how they feel when they are playing, and their reason(s) for playing, parents may gain a better understanding of this.
as a guide:
• ‘wanting’ to play indicates harmonious play with associated positive outcomes.
• ‘having’ to play indicates obsessive play which undermines wellbeing.
In essence, the quality of the gaming is what is important in predicting youth wellbeing rather than the quantity of gaming. This, again, may go against the typical assumptions associated with gaming. The key message is that, who you play with and your experience while playing is more important than what you play and how much you play.
The report is collaboration between Bond University and the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA). To access the full DIA 2016 report, go to http://www.igea.net/ wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Digital-Australia-2016-DA16Final.pdf