The Social and Psychological Effects of Computer Games on Individuals and Society
Since the 1970s introduced the world to video games, the industry has been through about 5 decades, an industry crash, a revival, and 8 console generations. Clearly video games have proven to be more than a fad revolving around a digital tennis machine. They’re an enduring, ever evolving revolution in entertainment.
The cultural impact of video games is blatant to gen exers and millennials, having grown up with the rise of a huge industry, people are affected by having some of their fondest memories being of their favourite games. But there are also huge psychological effects of gaming. Psychology effects the engagement of players while playing a game, but it also has effects on the day-to-day life of gamers.
The psychological effects of gaming are far more hidden than the cultural ones. This is because psychological methods are used in game design to emotionally engage the player without them even consciously knowing. On top of this, there are impacts of gaming that affect the way that people perform daily. While subtler than the visible changes in youth culture, the way that games affect people’s thoughts and abilities is much larger than it may first seem.
Aside from this, there are social effects of gaming. As regular play sessions affect our lifestyles and social lives in multiple ways.
The Psychological Effects of Gaming on Gameplay
Sound is a fundamental part of gaming that is almost taken for granted. Music in particular may seem like something to be enjoyed by its own merits (and it can be), but not everyone realised just how much a soundtrack as well as other sounds in-game can complement a game’s theme to build a distinct and memorable atmosphere.
DOOM 2’s ‘Super Shotgun’ is an iconic weapon from an iconic game. The weapon is remembered fondly for being consistently fun to use in a game where shooting is almost constant. This is possible because such a powerful gun is accompanied by a set of important sounds, the loud bang of the gunfire itself, followed by a satisfying series of thwacks and clicks as the gun is reloaded and rechambered, preparing not just the weapon, but the player to shoot again. In a shooter game, the sound of the guns is an underrated aspect of design that makes shooting gameplay fun.
The 2008 co-op zombie FPS Left 4 Dead and its 2009 sequel have dynamic gameplay which adjusts its difficulty by choosing to spawn enemies or items depending on the pace and progress of the players. This kind of gameplay leads to different phases of quiet exploration, and others of chaotic fighting. To suit all of this, Left 4 Dead has a dynamic soundtrack. Its music will subtly change to suit a levels setting, and will also change based on the intensity of the gameplay. Slow string instruments such as the guitar and cello will play in the minor key to give an eerie vibe to exploring a dark abandoned building, but, when a horde of zombies show up, loud drums kick in and the music will change to a fast tempo with high pitched synthesisers to further incite panic in the player.
In many games, especially those found in the arcade, there is a listing of the best players and their scores. These scores are usually visible on arcade machines or game menus. This entices competitive gamers into continuous playing as a means to hone their skills, so that they can top the leaderboards or beat their own record. Successfully beating the highest ranking player at a certain level or game gives a sense of accomplishment to the player. Racing games and other games that emphasise speed are sometimes popular for this, as improvement that comes from constant practice makes the player strive to become as good at a certain game as possible, with their times being listed on the leaderboards.
This same kind of competitiveness from beating a game as skilfully and quickly as possible is the catalyst for speedrunning, a community that plays games constantly, looking for new strategies and tricks to master a game and possibly beat the world record for fastest playthrough.
Arcade games like OutRun, Initial D and SoulCalibur are popular cabinets because their high skill ceiling leaves room for constant improvement. Whenever an impressive high score is achieved, some competitive player will go above and beyond to exceed it. Popular classic games such as Quake, Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog don’t have in-game leaderboards, but they are often played by speedrunners who gain an advanced understanding of the functionality of the game so that they can exploit tricks for extra speed (for example, “bunny hopping” in Quake).
A convention of the Role-playing game (RPG) genre is some kind of character progression system. There are two main aspects to this; levelling and equipment. Players often play a game with an end goal in mind. In a game with RPG elements, even once the game’s story has been beaten, a desire to improve their characters gives players incentive to continue playing for loot and experience.
The Borderlands games by Gearbox Software are distinguished for having a procedural process of weapon generation, giving tens of millions of possible individual weapons. In the game, weapons drop from defeated enemies frequently, causing the player to often find something with better statistics than their current gear. Borderlands also has a levelling system. There are 50 character levels, and each one gives a skill point which can be spent to give statistical bonuses to a character. This feature is not unique to Borderlands, but the levelling combined with the excessive amount of items gives the player a constant sense of progression and achievement. Making progress in a game is an important aspect of having the player retain interest in it.
As mentioned with RPGs, a sense of achievement and progression is what keeps a player coming back to a game. However, statistical character improvement is not the only thing that indicates progression. In skill-based games (especially multiplayer ones), the player constantly advances their gaming ability through regular play sessions. In a way similar to high scores and speedrunning, some players seek to reach a skill level above that of other players. Because of this, competitive multiplayer games have become increasingly popular within the past decade, so players can prove their superiority over others in online competition.
The most popular game worldwide right now is League of Legends, a competitive team-based strategy game. The game has a large roster of playable characters, each with their own abilities, statistics and strategies. There isn’t much to unlock in the game, so any progression comes from the development of player skill. The large number of characters means that the game has many potential team combinations and synergy strategies, leading to a very high skill ceiling which few players, even those with thousands of hours recorded on the game, have reached.
Competitive multiplayer games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and DoTA 2 have gigantic professional leagues. The best players from around the world have managers and sponsors, and travel across the globe to tournaments to compete for titles and large sums of money. In ways, what are known as ‘eSports’ are treated very similarly to other competitive sports like football. A scene like this is able to thrive because of the competiveness that some video games cause.
Genres of games have convention that are set as a standard by influential classics. The control scheme of console first person shooters has remained almost unchanged since 2001 when Halo: Combat Evolved introduced the concept of twin-stick movement and aiming, and aim assist. In 1985, the original Super Mario Bros. established that the ‘A’ button should be used for jumping, something that is taken for granted today. Tetris popularised the concept of a game that rewarded logic and thought, rather than speed or timing. The point is, there are aspects of game design that are instinctively expected by players when playing certain types of games.
The Psychological and Physical Effects of Gaming on Daily Life
Players can learn educationally through certain games. Games that portray realistic mechanics and plot points gives the player an understanding of real-world events, tools, objects, places and more.
Paradox Development Studio’s popular grand strategy games have the player take control of a nation or its ruler through a period of history. In these games, there is constant pressure to manage political, economic, diplomatic, military and scientific advancements. Each nation is controlled by an AI player, so the actions of a nation are taken based on the circumstances they find themselves in. The fourth and most recent instalment in Paradox’s most popular series, Europa Universalis, has over a thousand events that trigger under certain conditions. Many of these events come with detailed narrative descriptions of actual historical events, and the gameplay changes from this occurrence, for example, if France suffers from instability due to a weak economy, the historical French revolution will occur, turning the Kingdom of France into a republic and giving a small change of Napoleon Bonaparte rising to power, with pop-ups giving context to each stage of the situation. Through its gameplay, Paradox has created products that naturally teach the player of the underlying driving forces of many historical events.
Driving simulators such as Forza Motorsport realistically model small details of car tuning, from tyre pressure and temperature, to weight distribution and centre of mass.
There are also games built primarily for educational purposes. Brain Age was the fourth best-selling game on the Nintendo DS. It consists of several easy educational minigames that rate the player based on the amount they can answer in a given time. The game also uses a calendar to track a player’s scores over time, encouraging daily practice to improve thinking ability. A study carried out in schools in 2008 found that a group of children who played the game before class improved their test scores by 50%.
Brain Training, Thinking and Strategy
Other than directly educational games, and games that contain educational mechanics, there are other games and genres that don’t teach facts, but improve one’s ability to think and strategize. Games that give the player options in how they approach an in-game situation train the player to plan ahead, considering the pros and cons of different paths or choices. The constant decision making in many games stimulates the brain and improves decision making time the more someone plays, assisting in game skill and real-life thinking situations. As you might guess, strategy games are prime examples of this kind of gameplay. Real-time strategy (RTS) games such as StarCraft require the player to predict the likely strategy of the enemy based on their situation, and adjusting one’s own strategy to counter enemy strategies. While making these decisions, plenty of things need to be factored; time to act, chosen enemy units, map layout, vulnerabilities of your own units, and the likely movement of the enemy. The fast-paced action of an RTS causes the player to think on their feet or suffer a loss. Aside from this, many genres incorporate strategy into their gameplay without being dedicated strategy games. Examples include: First and third person shooters, sports games, racing games, RPGs, and fighting games.
Sensorimotor ability, (hand-eye coordination) has shown to have been improved by regular gaming sessions. A study at the University of Toronto found that regularly playing action games improved people’s ability to learn new skills that require hand-eye coordination. They gathered 18 gamers and non-gamers, and had them test their skills at a computer game that required them to keep the mouse cursor inside a fast box that randomly changed direction. At first, the gamers and non-gamers both performed poorly, but the gamers quickly improved their scores, while the non-gamers fell behind.
The Social Effects of Gaming on Daily Life
Gaming isn’t a cheap interest. The amount spent can vary drastically depending on the type of gamer, but even the smallest spenders can find themselves spending a large sum on gaming anyway. There are dozens of major new games released every year, each setting you back £40-£50 at almost any retailer for an unused copy. A typical custom-built high-end PC can cost around £1000, or a new Xbox or PlayStation will cost approximately £270. On top of this, some players spend large sums of money on game or console premium memberships, a typical premium membership costing £45 a year. Even on the cheaper side of things, gamers who avoid buying games until they are available at a low price, or those who solely play on a single platform (likely a cheap PC), can spend hundreds each year on their hobby.
With the nature of progressive gameplay, video games can be addictive. Because of this, it is easy to find that your spare time is consumed by the activity if becomes engaging enough. Time consumption can affect a gamer’s social and professional life negatively.
When a gamer plays by themselves daily, they can quickly find themselves distanced from their friends and social lives. Some people communicate with friends over online games, and discuss games when meeting in person. But for some, there is a risk of spending all of their time indoors by themselves.
Perception of Reality
In addition to this. A gamer who plays often, or is even addicted to video games, will start to have their perception of reality skewed. While there are some realistic games, playing too much will cause a player to see aspects of reality as functioning the same way they would in-game. This kind of attitude will lead to distraction or mistakes in day-to-day life.
Distraction from Education
Finally, even when considering the potential educational and thinking benefits of gaming, extensive gaming can distract people from vital studies.