The Psychological Effects of Gaming

The past few decades overflow with research regarding the negative psychological effects of computer mediated communication, with little attention paid to its potential benefits to well being. Researchers have been especially keen on examining the possible violent effect certain video games may have on players, creating a strong negative bias in the media when regarding the psychological effects of video games as noted in a 2013 study by Granic and colleagues.

However, recent research has sought to examine in what situations and how, not just videogames, but all forms of computer mediated communication can lead to positive consequences. As a result of this new perspective, we find it harder than ever to regard computer mediated communication in binary terms, as either “good” or “bad,” and instead promotes the concept that the consequences of computer mediated communication turn out only as positive or negative as they contexts they results from.

The Potential Psychological Negatives

A common complaint regarding computer mediated communication involves the capacity for certain, explicitly violent, video games to influence players, making them more aggressive and prone to violence outside of computer mediated contexts. Grantic explains that this criticism is incredibly widespread due to the media’s constant association of mass shootings to violent video games. Other negative psychological consequence associated with computer mediated communication include complaints ranging from the increased cyber-bullying to the general disconnect from reality and dependence on access to computer mediated communication channels.

Cyberbullying, as described by Kwak in the 2015 paper, “Exploring Cyberbullying and Other Toxic Behavior in Team Competition Online Games,” comes in a multiple forms, one such being verbal abuse. Repeated exposure to such online attacks show a decrease in psychological well-being, potentially resulting in increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Another issue with computer mediated communication regards individuals’ increasing isolation from social groups while still believing they are connected. Individuals openly engage in computer mediated communications in, historically speaking, inappropriate settings, such as at work or at funerals. Turkle, in her TED talk, “Connected but alone?” attributes this shift to what she calls the “three gratifying fantasies,” in which individuals assume that: we can put our attention wherever we want it, people always hear us, we will never face isolation. She claims that this false sense of constant connectedness inevitably leads to the inability to cope with being alone, a situation that will inevitably occur multiple times throughout an individual’s life.

Other issues as described by a 2007 study by Rodriguez regards the increased levels of aggression, deceitfulness, lack of empathy and flaming that result from online anonymity as well as the decline in psychological wellness faced by introverts engaged in computer mediated communication.

The Potential Psychological Good

On the reverse side the 2007 study by Rodriguez displayed that computer mediated communication has been shown to increase the psychological well-being of extroverts. Studies with virtual reality technology have also shown correlation between associating one’s self with being a superhero via VR and one’s willingness to help others.

Other prosocial computer mediated communication, as examined in a 2013 piece by Rosenberg an colleagues, has shown to improve users’ empathetic abilities . Computer mediated games have also found positive correlations to children’s’ problem solving and coping abilities as well as motivational goals, as these games allow for the experience of tense or difficult situations without real risk of damage to the children say Granic and colleagues. 

In 2007, Cole and colleagues published a study which found that the anonymity of computer mediated communication allows individuals to freely express themselves without concern over external judgement. This leads to a decrease in stress, an increase in comfort, and an increased likelihood of opinion expression.

Moving Forward

While the body of research claiming negative consequences of computer mediated communication is extensive, the potential gains from it outweigh the issues it has brought. Considering the improvements in communication, improvements in ease of management of daily live, and increasingly reported psychological benefits, it does not seem likely that humanity will abandon computer mediated communication anytime soon.

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