Australian Health Today - - Contents - By sonja ris­tevski

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.

who’s play­ing?

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.

the good…

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

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