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Are Video Games Bad For You?

by Robert Von Nordheim

What’s young, angry, and overweight, with low self-esteem and a million experience points? If the media is to be believed, the answer is “gamers.” News reports characterize video games as a youth phenomenon with no redeeming qualities – a distraction from school, work, and regular exercise that promotes violent and antisocial behavior. Certainly, gaming critics have cause for alarm; today’s teens and tweens are arguably the “gaming generation,” with 59-73% playing daily. And if gaming is a disease, it’s spreading – the average gamer is now 35 years old, with many gamers becoming parents themselves. Video games occupy a secure spot in American pop culture – one which parents and scientists alike aim to challenge. 

While the claims of anti-gamers are usually exaggerated and crude (to say the least), scientific studies have shown that the long-term health effects of gaming are, in fact, mostly negative. In a survey conducted by Time Magazine, men and women who regularly played video games experienced more health problems, including depression and anxiety, than those who didn’t. Men were more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI), while both women and men gamers tended to rely on the internet for social interaction.4

Excessive gaming can also take a toll on your mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and poor school and work performance. Regular gamers may have lower attention spans, inhibition, and self-control; they often experience social isolation and irritability, “or simply have less interest in helping or interacting with family members.3

Psychology Today considers gaming to be an addictive habit, similar to gambling or smoking, “because [it] gives immediate rewards for learning. Child and adolescent brains are typically susceptible to addictions as their brains are under development till the middle 20s.”

Neurological studies have shown that addictive behaviors can harm the final stages of brain development in young adults, leaving them with “a less than mature decision making system and diminished empathy for others.3” The severity of these effects usually depends on the amount of graphic violence found in the game.

In fact, most of the negative mental and social side effects mentioned in these studies are not only caused by video games, but by violence depicted in media in general. Games with little to no violent content tend to have positive effects, including increased visual attention, memory, and hand-eye coordination.1 They can be comforting and stress-relieving; multiplayer games, like RockBand and Wii Sport, can also promote socialization and teambuilding skills.

Violent games, however, are usually highly competitive; with few exceptions, the problems which players encounter can only be solved with aggression. Popular titles like the Call of Duty and Halo franchises encourage players to eliminate each other as quickly and efficiently as possible, typically rewarding the most bloodthirsty players with points and in-game achievements.

An older player in good mental health can recognize the difference between real-world and video game violence and understand that violence carries serious consequences; games leave much bigger impressions on younger players, though, whose values and worldviews are still being developed. suggests that “kids take the amount of violence in video games (and other media) as representative of the amount of violence in the real world, leading to the belief that the world is a dark and hostile place.1

If the experts are right, the world is indeed a dark and hostile place for gamers – but don’t throw out your $500 console just yet. Most studies focus on subjects who play video games excessively – usually for several hours every day. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), gaming does carry some mild health risks, including “photosensitive epilepsy, head and eye strains, auditory hallucinations… wrist pain, neck pain, and repetitive strain injuries.”

However, “there is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects from moderate play… [and] adverse effects are likely to be relatively minor and temporary.2” Likewise, the links between gaming and obesity are still speculative. Poor nutrition is a much more likely cause, as people often play video games “at the expense of watching less television (which has many of the same negative effects) or some other activity.”


  1. Chandler, Jesse, and Brad Bushman. “The Lessons of Video Games.”
  2. Griffiths, Mark D. “Playing Video Games Seems to Have Few Serious Acute Adverse Effects on Health.” US National Library of Medicine. 11 May 2002.
  3. Narvaez, Darcia, Ph. D. “Playing Violent Video Games: Good or Bad?” Psychology Today. 9 November 2010.
  4. O’Callaghan, Tiffany. “Playing Too Many Video Games May Be Bad for You Too, Grown-Ups.” Time Magazine. 18 August 2009.

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m_a_t August 15, 2013 - 7:28 am

I’m sorr but this sounds very biased. Do these conclusions include the eventuality that a lot of gamers could be people with some of the issues described in this article already and that gaming might be a balancing factor in their lifes, which allows them to escape their problems without requiring drugs, alcohol or violence against themselves and others? I strongly believe that most critics of video gaming are people who are attached to lobbies who would prefer you to take some medication. If you go into any therapy center, you’re likely to find a large percentage of people wit issues. That’s what the gaming communities are: large therapy centers where people with issues can escape the reality of their problems and be a different being in a sandboxed universe, without harming anyone, including themselves. Articles like these make me very angry. Actually, they make me feel like a freak in a society that only accept people who are ready to submit to the interest of others than themselves. Also, it makes me feel like going to my PC and firing up a nice video game to forget about the issue.

Steve August 13, 2013 - 1:28 am

According to this article, as an avid gamer or an ‘addict’, I should be a completely unfit, social recluse, with a finger on the trigger, ready to go out there and murder the world because of heightened aggression.

For me, and for the millions of others, that is the opposite of the truth.

I’m a half marathon runner. I have completed the Sheffield 2011 half marathon and I’m in training for Glasgow 2013 (had to take a year out thanks to a knee injury). I played rugby for five years, a ‘team’ sport, indicating I had to fit in socially with at least 14 other young men who make up a rugby squad. I am fit and well.

I am in university. I am in third year studying Psychology. I have passed every single exam I have ever taken with flying colours. My A Level Results speak for themselves; A*, A*, A, B. My GCSE results, with not one single failure and mostly A and B Grades. Not only that, but this is coming from a school among the worst in the country; in my year the percentage of students who managed to pass with at least 5 GCSEs above C Grade was 27%. I got 14 GCSEs and 2 GCSE equivalents, almost tripling that vital statistic, despite nursing a gaming addiction.

I have a very close-knit group of friends who value me and genuinely love to have me around. I have a very loving girlfriend and partner of 5 years. We both love each other very dearly and are considering marriage.

In short, I am fit, intelligent and well-adjusted socially, not to mention very successful in my life thus far. All despite having a gaming ‘addiction’ where I game for at least two hours every night. This is in contrast to the stereotype that this article is trying to paint of an overweight, angry, unsuccessful social recluse.

I understand one person does not entirely alter the statistics, but riddle me this: What video games have humans been playing for the last 5000 years to give them the predisposition for violence? Given that videogames are an innovation exclusive to the previous 50 years, a hundredth of the section of recorded history that I am trying to examine here, it seems pretty far-fetched that videogames cause humans to be prone to violence considering that we have been violent for at least a hundred times the lifespan of the videogames industry.

Yes, since the videogames industry was born, the obesity rate of the world has gone up almost exponentially. Is this primarily the fault of videogames? Well, I doubt it, since the rise in obesity occurred mainly before the industry reached a fully mainstream popularity. For the sake of argument, lets say that the industry really hit mainstream popularity since the Wii was released, given that the console is indeed credited with such according to many popular news sites (I’ll save the googling of statistics to you). Yes, there has been -fully- mainstream ‘awareness’ since the PS2 came out, but I argue that mainstream consumption of videogames didn’t truly begin until the Wii came out and/or the recent Call of Duty fad.

Given that this is the case, I put forth the argument that videogames are not a symptom or a cause of obesity in any way, it is simply that the industry’s lifespan happened to fit within an age where obesity has been increasingly rising coincidentally. Further arguments I can put forward to support this include the fact that on average wage packets and standard of living has gone up almost exponentially as well; perhaps the fact that the rich part of the world is obese is because their riches and ability to afford access to food has gone right to their waists?

There are potentially hundreds of effects on the obesity of a nation, and video games are right down there at the bottom, in my opinion, given that there are higher wage packets, increased consumption of ready meals and processed food, and the general mentality of a nation go into how obese people get; you can avoid playing games as much as you want, but until you get up and get on that treadmill and put down that burger, you’re not going to be healthy.

About the only way that gaming can have is taking time away from exercise, which is slowly becoming more of a moot point given that gaming increasingly promotes access to health and exercise; I need only point to the fact that gaming’s mainstream success has come out of games such as Wii Fit and more ‘active’ games such as Wii Sports, Just Dance, Zumba Fitness and a number of games that cater to ‘motion’ controls. Not only that, but the fact that sports games such as FIFA sell so well is also another indicator; games are very successful tools to promote and draw awareness to a healthy, sporty lifestyle when used correctly.

Gaming does not make a gamer a social recluse. That is the one stupidest point that I can ever see. Literally, reading that gaming makes gamers less likely to interact socially actually kills my brain cells; how could anyone be so ignorant as to suggest that? Any other argument I can accept and be happy arguing against, but the social one?

Xbox Live. 46 million gamers. PSN, 90 million gamers. Nintendo Network, 26.39 million gamers. All interacting, competing, creating content and talking to each other through games. Not all of these gamers are swearing at each other on Call of Duty. Most of these gamers will be creating new works of pixel art and collaborating to create content in hundreds of thousands of interesting ways in Minecraft. They’re playing imaginary sports against each other in FIFA. They’re sharing content, giving content, talking to each other through voice chat, just about ANY social interaction you can think of, it’s been done through gaming. Not only that, but online games give some gamers a voice where they had no voice before. Gamers have now got many routes through which they can socially interact with other gamers. They now have a topic of discussion with over a hundred million other people. They can now interact and talk to a pool of over one hundred million people whereas before their social circles would be restricted to the few people they meet at work, at home, at play. This is discounting the huge, and I can say ABSOLUTELY HUGE PC gaming community. In South Korea gaming can make you a celebrity.

Gaming is social now. Not only does gaming give us things to talk about online, but now it is so mainstream and so well known you can go up to any young man on the street and talk to them about their best kill-streak in Call of Duty, or their best creations on Minecraft. The world is far more connected thanks to the internet, and gaming has had a huge, huge part to play in that. You can never say gaming is anti-social. Period.

So, in short, I’ve provided arguments that gaming promotes a healthy lifestyle, provides a vast amount of options for interacting with others socially and is possibly one of the least likely things to have an influence in violence.

Farkz August 13, 2013 - 1:24 am

This article has about as much depth as Megan Fox…
I could pick out the holes in this all day long but I’m just going to mention a couple quick funny points;

“Neurological studies have shown that addictive behaviors can harm the final stages of brain development in young adults, leaving them with “a less than mature decision making system and diminished empathy for others”

You are making this sound like it’s a bad thing? Glass half empty kind of person are we?

Also i would like to raise a question, because i feel this statement has not been thought over properly, more than likely though at all.

Why do people think that ‘Gamers’ are anti-social and struggle with real world interactions?

Who do Gamers game with? Other Gamers.
Now lets clarify something, Gamers are people, so lets reword the above question.
Who do People game with? Other People.
I’m not 100% sure what some people fathom anti-social to be, so I’m going to be that guy, here is what the dictionary defines anti-social to be;

“unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people”

I enjoy gaming as much as the next person, i would also like to add that i do not game a lot. But, the times i do game, I am interacting rather normally and friendly with thousands of other fellow Gamers on a daily basis. So how can this be classed as anti-social? I have friends that I now see everyday in person that I used to socialize with hundreds of miles away, through Gaming.

I respect a couple of factual statements you have made, but would like the audience not to miss the point that you quite often are representing ‘Addiction’ is a whole rather than just Gaming.

Sam August 9, 2013 - 7:57 pm

” people often play video games “at the expense of watching less television (which has many of the same negative effects) or some other activity.” ”

that article destroys itself at the very end with that. atleast when you are playing video games you are engaging the brain and can socialise unlike when you are watching tv which is just mind numbing junk..

Evan August 7, 2013 - 5:02 pm

Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Games wouldn’t cause somebody to develop these mental illnesses, or at least when played leisurely. People with depression and anxiety disorders play games as an escape; I should know as I have both. For me my mental illnesses were caused by a turbulent childhood, heartbreak, and family dying off too early in life. I had them even before I started playing games.

What I’m saying is that the cause for the high correlation between gamers and people with these disorders is because the disorders cause them to start playing games in the first place.

And as for my social habits, lets just say that I spend more time with friends than alone with at least a 3:1 ratio.

lolz August 5, 2013 - 9:55 pm

hmm been playing the cs franchise since ive been 8. Been playing games since age 6.12-14 years of gaming. I have yet to be twitchy, secluded, and fat.

Steven Herselman August 2, 2013 - 4:16 am

I am a gamer and an avid one. I have a high stress job, and life in general. When I go home at night, I sit down pick up my console remote and play. I play violent games in general, and it does not effect me, it relaxes me.

I believe TV is much worse than any game, because you have no control over what happens you have no input and having no input contributes to being stagnant.

Gaming gives you a medium through which you can choose the outcome of the said plot and have a considerable impact on the story. Games let you live through other peoples lives and even alternate realities.

So stating that games make gamers stagnant is wrong, you have to make choices that have consequences in the game, but those consequences are limited to the game, not to real life, why focus on outing gamers when “the war on drugs” is failing! Your wasting your time, gaming keeps me out of trouble, and even teaches me some critical thinking skills.

I do agree that Parents should keep there kids away from violent games, but don’t do so out of ignorance, go with your child when he/she buys a game, and just check it out.

Ok so most of it covered, except the statement that violent games have no educational value, which is wrong, again a comment made out of ignorance!
The game assassins creed is one of the most educational games I have ever seen, the amount of history I learned was ridicules, so before you judge try gaming for a month, and see what it is all about.

Will April 23, 2013 - 1:26 pm

Hmmm, as a life long gamer I worry about the effect playing video games over long stretches have had on my life. On the one hand, they are a great entertainment investment. Very little else can pack as much entertainment bang for your buck than a video game that keeps you enthralled and entertained for months. They are almost a great way to save money, while still being socially active on some level, playing with others, albeit virtually.

At the same time, you can play forever, and unless you are making a career in pro gamer sports, you are not producing anything, or adding anything of value to your life, other than a virtual experience. And this, I think is where the real danger of games come into play. I’m not the first to touch on this, but I agree it’s the most accurate. Video games, are such a great escape from the difficulties of life. I usually find myself playing more video games during times when I need to focus on things in my life, such as work or personal. The reason being Games reward you so constantly, that it feels like you are progressing, when in reality you are being stagnant. The allure of progression is, in my opinion, the most damaging effect games have. This of course is person dependant, but when you realize how much time you spend playing games, and what you could have accomplished in that same time, or even half that time, it is a depressing and sobering thought.

qwerty April 14, 2013 - 5:01 pm

If you play nothing but Call of Duty then I wouldn’t expect it to benefit anyone much, but other games, particularly those in the RPG genre challenge players to make difficult and complex decisions, understand the difference between right and wrong and how their decisions are not one-off events that will never be brought up again, but decisions that will not be forgotten and will affect them again in the future.

Honestly, I’ve learned more from video games than books, TV or movies, it’s such an interesting world and it really is a shame that some people still think video games are nothing more than pew pew pew games that offer no benefit to anyone.

andy May 1, 2013 - 3:48 pm

i 100% agree

Neville Horseman October 17, 2012 - 5:53 pm

OK so they never considered that maybe the reason people become heavy gamers is because of those other factors?

They established a link between negative health symptoms and gaming but that doesn’t establish that gaming is the cause.

That article from psychology today…got it wrong.

Gaming rewards doing the right thing. Real life doesn’t, you may never see the reward of doing the right thing in real life. In a game, you are always commended for doing the right thing.

They never considered that maybe gaming is a solution to anxiety, depression, and poor school and work performance?

kevin poynter April 27, 2013 - 9:38 pm

well first off if gaming helped depression the correlation of gamers and anxiety wouldn’t exist. secondly yes life does reward actions and decisions the rewards just aren’t as instant or as obvious. in gta sanadres you can go from a scrawny character to ripped and back again in 3 hours in real life it takes month of hard work and dedication. The instant rewards in games are the problem we begin to expect to see results like that in real life and when we don’t we become frustrated and give up.

Dumbarticle September 30, 2012 - 7:02 pm

Seriously. I’m a gamer and I get very good grades, am very good at social interaction and I do not suffer from health problems. I’m actually thin, and do good. Games are nothing wrong. They become a problem if you’re playing for 10 hours a day.

Video games don’t lead to violence. Heck, the news has more violence than video games, especially with that guy who committed suicide on TV.

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