How Do Video Games Affect The Brain?
Article at a Glance:
When the term “video games” is mentioned in a conversation, two things usually come up: eSports tournaments and video game addiction. With the rise of video games, eSports has become a popular profession and gamers have the opportunity to make a lot of money playing video games. However, gaming can also become an addiction due to the spike in dopamine when playing video games such as Fortnite . There are both positives and negatives to video games.
Addiction to Video Games or a Dopamine Hit?
Marc Palus, PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the Open University of Catalonia, says that video game addiction has many similarities to other addictions. When looking at addiction it is important to understand how the brain works, in this case, the focus is on the rewards centre. A study  from 1998 showed playing a video game and winning, floods the rewards with dopamine and players feel pride and happiness. In order to prevent video game addiction and create healthy gaming habits, players need to have different stimuli and not just video games feeding the rewards centre.
Video Games, Cognition and Other Brain Functions
Video games have been studied since their inception and many studies   have shown the benefits of video games in cognitive behaviour. Not only does it improve visual capabilities, such as moving and rotating objects and storing them in memory, but it also improves softer skills, such as decision making, strategizing and multi-tasking. However, training these skills should only be done in short bursts and playing video games for long periods can have negative effects on memory and other skills. Online games also have many social aspects, players can work in teams and assist each other with various tasks. This can develop skills such as teamwork and communication  Many of the studies end in multiple results and some results do not have a general consensus as each person and each video game has different skills and skill levels.
Violence in Video Games
The nature of video games is attractive to young minds. Video games in various genres can teach many different skills and improve brain development, but how does it affect the emotional state and well-being of developing brains? When more violent games, such as games with themes of war and fighting, gained popularity, many psychologists and researchers started researching the effects of violent videogames on teens and a link to anger management and violent behaviour. One study, “The Hitman Study”  is by Christopher J. Ferguson and Stephanie M. Rueda. The study worked with 103 teens and young adults. The study’s results showed no link between violent video games and real-life aggression or violence. They do suggest that violent games can reduce depression and hostile feelings through mood management. Another study by Ferguson  done two years later also showed that video games have a minimal influence on aggression and violence in teens and young adults.
Hyperactive Brains and Video Games
Many companies have tried to create video games to benefit children with ADHD, but unfortunately, they have had minimal success  Instead many children with ADHD are playing games with action and flood their senses with visual stimulation and also activate the rewards centre. In this environment, the ADHD brain can function and focus, some children do not even show symptoms of hyperactivity or ADHD while playing.
Can Video Games Improve Older Brains?
A 2013 study  by scientists from the University of California used video games to reverse the negative effect of aging on the brain. The study worked with adults ages 60-85 and created a video game to test their cognitive and multi-tasking skills. Throughout the study the participants received 12 hours of gameplay and training, the final tests showed that some participants' skills improved drastically and even surpassed the performance of adults in their 20s playing for the first time. The study also showed that participants were able to focus and stay in an engaged active state longer after training.
Pro-Gamer Brains vs Gaming as a Hobby
Video games are very popular and with the rise of esports as a career and profession, many young adults spend hours playing video games and training for esports tournaments. A 2013 study  showed that approximately 2.2 billion people playing video games worldwide spent approximately 3 billion hours playing video games weekly. In a 2019 study  both expert, professional gamers and non-experts were challenged to decrease their gaming time to less than 3 hours a week for a year. After the study, the expert gamers showed a drastic decrease in game play skills as well as brain development. The initial scans showed the experts had a higher level of cognitive skills and brain development. However, the expert gamers had a larger decrease in cognitive skills at the end of the study than the non-experts. The reduction in video game play for experts decreased brain activity and cognitive skills reduced, while the results for non-expert gamers was not as drastic.
Wrapping it up
Gaming can assist with improving many skills, such as cognitive skills, teamwork and multi-tasking. There is a minimal link in violent video games and violent behaviour. Violent games can even reduce aggression, depression and hostile feelings towards others. Video games can also reduce the negative effects of ageing on the brain and in some cases improve their overall brain activity. Professional expert gamers show a decrease in cognitive skills and brain development when game play is reduced.
 The Hitman Study