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Health, Science, Technology, The Mind

Xbox ‘Kinect’, Playstation and Wii: Is playing Video Games bad for you?

Have you decided what to buy for Christmas yet? In the UK, we spent over £2 billion on video games most households have at least one games console. Chances are that someone you love will want a video game for Christmas this year. Oh how things have changed….

I used to spend hours playing a Commodore 64! The 10 minute loading times taught me patience...

Video gaming to be all about sweaty teenage boys spending hours alone in darkened bedrooms: It isn’t anymore! Over the last few years; thanks to the family-friendly Nintendo Wii, and ‘serious’ adult games, playing video games has gone from a geeky pleasure to a socially acceptable pastime for all ages.

But should we be worried? By getting video games for kids are we stopping them developing social skills? Do action games make us more violent people?

Today’s blog will explain how the ‘Xbox Kinect’: the new console that can apparently spy on you and will try to get some truth about the nation’s new favourite hobby

Xbox Kinect Video Review: What is the fuss all about?

The recent launch of the Xbox Kinect attracted huge crowds, the sizes normally only seen when a ‘Harry Potter‘ book is released. But what is all the fuss about? ‘Kinect’ sounds more like a plastic construction kit for building toy cars…

This Kinect box sits on top of your TV. Surprisingly, its component parts only cost £30 (US$50)

‘Xbox Kinect’ actually turns out to be a pretty snazzy piece of technology, although it is (yet another) small black box to rest on top of your TV. This is unlike your Sky Box or DVD recorder: It actually ‘watches’ you! Video and depth-perception cameras track the movements of up to six people in the room and microphones listen to and interprets your speech. The days of greasy joypads and sore thumbs are over because with the Xbox Kinect YOU are the controller!

How well does it work? Here’s a video review to check out…

But it’s more than just playing games: The Kinect lets you watch pre-recorded TV, movies or video conference with your friends. And you can control it all with just your voice or wave of the hand. It all sounds rather cool and very 21st Century…

Xbox Kinect is being marketed to families and 'non conventional' gamers - so you too can look this stupid in the comfort of your own home!

Kinect’s Sinister Side

But there is a creepy side to all this; ‘Kinect’ is a box that automatically watches you, interprets your voice and can transmit all this information over the internet: If CCTV on the streets doesn’t get you indignant about violation of your rights to privacy then this just might!

In George Orwell's book, 1984 Televisions ('telescreens') could watch what you were doing and report back to 'Big Brother'

Very recently Xbox developers, Microsoft admitted that they could use Kinect to monitor its owner’s behaviour! They said they might collect all this information for market research to develop targeted adverts to households; so don’t be too surprised if you start seeing furniture commercials when your sofa is looking battered!

It all sounds a lot like something out of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, but then unlike in the book no-one’s forcing you to have one! You could just be like us and not even have a TV…!

Video Games: A Harm to Health?

The media loves a good scare story; especially on a slow news day. Tired of hearing about Terrorism, Swine Flu or Climate Change? Video games are great for tapping into the insecurities of the middle-classes. If you read these headlines, then little Sammy definitely won’t be getting a Nintendo DS this Christmas:

But is there any truth behind the headlines, or is it just media ‘spin’ and scare-mongering?

Does this kind of image disturb you? Should children play these kinds of games? Oddly, it's only Western cultures that choose realistic shooting games like this!

These issues aren’t new but thankfully, there is now plenty of good research done on the effects of video games. All the conclusions are unsurprising and rather less dramatic than the tabloids would have us believe – and largely depends on the type of game being played:

  • Watching lots of violent movies or video games do tend to make people think more aggressively
  • But playing non-violent video games tend to make your thoughts less aggressive
  • Playing video games for too long worsens school performance
  • Playing educational games improves academic performance
  • Late-night videogaming has a small effect on sleep patterns

There is absolutely no evidence to show that video games negatively affect brain growth or can cause brain damge.

And what of the reports of violent video games turning teenagers into knife-wielding psychopaths? Careful research shows that playing violent video games only causes people to become aggressive who already have a tendency to be violent. So parents, breathe a sigh of relief; little Sammy will not turn into a gun-crazed criminal just by playing Halo 3!

That said, it would be sensible not to expose young children to the more realistic and violent video game – in the same way a parent should limit a child’s movie and TV-watching habits.

Video Games: Good or Evil?

In moderation, playing video games can actually be beneficial!

On balance, it seems that common-sense is the order of the day: Too much of anything is a bad thing, and video games are no exception. Most of us can separate virtual experiences from the real world but violent video games should be avoided in people with a tendency for aggression.

Are video games ever good for you?

I’m relieved that my mis-spent youth playing a Commodore 64 hasn’t caused me too much lasting harm! But are video games ever good for you?

Writers of the Daily Mail probably won’t want you to know this, but playing video games actually improves problem solving, spatial awareness and attention skills! I’m not a huge video game fan but I think I might occasionally blow the dust off the Nintendo Wii for a dose of Mario – for medicinal purposes only of course!

Recently 3D games programmers were able to program CT scanners so that patients were subjected to less X-ray radiation! Click image to read more

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Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


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Further Reading:

Here’s an interesting article looking at the impact of online video games on socialising

Xbox Kinect Techinical Specifications

3D game programming reduces X-ray exposure in CT scans

References:

Douglas A. Gentile, Paul J. Lynch, Jennifer Ruh Linder, David A. Walsh, The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance, Journal of Adolescence, Volume 27, Issue 1, Video Games and Public Health, February 2004, Pages 5-22

Tobias Greitemeyer, Silvia Osswald, Effects of Prosocial Video Games on Prosocial Behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 98, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 211-221

Tobias Greitemeyer, Silvia Osswald, Prosocial video games reduce aggressive cognitions, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 45, Issue 4, July 2009, Pages 896-900,

Marina Krcmar, Kirstie Farrar, Rory McGloin, The effects of video game realism on attention, retention and aggressive outcomes, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 27, Issue 1, Current Research Topics in Cognitive Load Theory, Third International Cognitive Load Theory Conference, January 2011, Pages 432-439

M.W.G. Dye, C.S. Green, D. Bavelier, The development of attention skills in action video game players, Neuropsychologia, Volume 47, Issues 8-9, July 2009, Pages 1780-1789

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Xbox ‘Kinect’, Playstation and Wii: Is playing Video Games bad for you?

  1. I bloody well hope not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    GT5 is all that’s keeping me half-sane right now……………….

    Posted by Pete Robertson | December 4, 2010, 5:08 pm
  2. Well I would not be too reassured about “only making people more agressive if they are already agressive ” because I think the human race is naturally quite agressive and we spend a lot of time and effort toning this down to managable levels ( I speak as one who works with young children professionaly). We aim to inculcate some inhibitions to agressive actions and encourage co-operative behaviour. We put alot of hard work into this because it is necessary. We hope to end up with children and young people who are to a large extent inhibited about violence.
    The problem is that we know that these attitudes can be changed – for example phobias can be treated by continual exposure to spiders or whatever. ( also The Hitler Youth were exposed to slaughterhouses, beatings of prisoners etc , in order to make them less averse to violence for their future career in the SS).
    We don’t let children watch a lot of sex because common sense and the “Bo-Bo doll experiment” tell us that they would probably start copying what they have seen. I think this line of reasoning ought to follow for violence also.

    Posted by Ruth Behan | December 6, 2010, 10:13 am
    • Hi Ruth!
      Thanks for the great feedback, I think you’ve made a good point about aggression. The findings of the research that I was basing that statement on found that most personality types are pretty much not affected by the effects of violent video games. The research was not on young children, and I completely agree that often children are exposed (and de-sensitised) to violence at far too an early age (thanks to media, film and video games).
      I get quite shocked when I watch a movie that is rated PG or 12A that contains the type of violence and content that would, ten years ago, have been a ’15’ or ’18’ certificate. I feel this is wrong and I can’t see how increasing exposure to violence helps younger children. Video games also have age-limits, which I am in favour of (although historically have been issued in quite a haphazard way).
      I think it quite an irony that movie censorship continues to be watered down (e.g. the violence in the Lord of the Rings movies) and yet it is now illegal to show TV commercials advertising junk food aimed at children… Are we telling children that violence is ok, but being overweight isn’t???
      The main point of the article was that tabloids love to exaggerate the ‘dangers’ of video games, and that the gaming medium in itself can actually be beneficial for education and learning… Thoughts?

      Posted by Stuart Farrimond | December 7, 2010, 7:11 am

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