“These games are a waste of time!” Does this rant sound familiar after watching your kids play video games for hours…and hours…and hours? It’s not just your kids that are hooked. The gaming industry is booming! In 2016, the global revenue for the gaming market reached ninety-one billion dollars (Takahashi, 2016). Feeding that revenue are billions of gamers on smartphones, computers, and gaming systems. Why is gaming so popular, and what can be accomplished or gained by playing them?
Why Your Kids Are Hooked
The common narrative for video games is that they are violent and mindless. In fact, many studies have found links to aggression and gamers. However these studies primarily tested a small subset of games with violent shooters. In contrast, studies from role-playing games have shown benefits for the player.
Specifically, gamers have been shown to demonstrate and build emotional skills, like feeling guilt and shame when a character acts immoral (Mahood, 2017). Games also provide a fertile resource for building team play and social skills. For instance, in a study by O’Connor (2015), online gamers reported feelings of community and belonging while playing online. They claimed that the social relationships gained while playing provided them with social support and helped them develop a social identity.
Action games, which do include shooters, have also been shown to increase our ability to hold visual information (Blacker, 2014), increase the ability to multi-task and manage attention (Maclin, 2011), and calm and de-stress (Reinecke, 2009).
For kids, games are not simply a means of passing the time. The time spent playing is meaningful. Other exciting benefits include entertainment, identity exploration, and higher-order thinking and problem-solving. Gaming can even launch life-changing educational, entrepreneurial, networking, and earning opportunities!
For the gamer, play starts with three questions: what game do I want to play, what do I want to do in the game, and who do I want to play the game with?
What game do I want to play?
Each gamer is unique in their own way and expresses their uniqueness through the genre or style of gameplay they choose. Each genre requires certain skills and characteristics in order for the player to succeed.
There are five main genres in gaming: Action, Role-Playing, Simulation, Strategy, and Sports.
- The player is given challenges that can include climbing obstacles, solving puzzles, defeating enemies, or collecting certain key items.
- The player must have fast hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes to succeed.
- Popular games: Minecraft, Overwatch, Grand Theft Auto.
- Based on the tabletop game dungeon and dragons.
- The player is tasked with completing missions in order to progress and strengthen their character or characters.
- Contains immersive worlds, and engaging stories
- Popular games: World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Pokémon.
- Utilizes the use of virtual worlds to simulate aspects of reality and fantasy for training purposes.
- There are no goals the player has to follow.
- Popular Games: The Sims, Farming Simulator, Flight Simulator.
- Gives the player control of multiple characters.
- Players must use these characters to explore, engage in combat, and gather and utilize economic resources.
- To succeed the player must use strategy and great tactics.
- Popular Games: StarCraft, Civilization, Age of Empires.
- It allows the player to take control and play as their favorite sports team or player.
- Some games in the genre try to recreate current sports as realistically as possible, while others create new sports with over the top effects and fast gameplay.
- Popular Games: Madden, FIFA, Rocket League.
What do I want to do in the game?
In most games, the goal is to decide what mission to pursue. Completion of the mission rewards the gamer by furthering the story, giving the gamer new items, or providing the gamer with experience points used to increase the skill of their character.
When deciding how to approach the mission, the gamer is given multiple options. They can charge straight in, taking on all challenges at once, take a stealthy approach, scout the area, and gather resources along the way, or create a tactic all their own. The gamer must also decide if they want to take on the mission alone, team-up with a friend, or tackle missions online with millions of other players worldwide.
Who do I want to play the game with?
Social media sites have become an integral part of a child’s life and identity. They give players the ability to choose their online friends, the style of their home page, and what is said on their profile. Kids can communicate through private sessions with friends and live streams to a worldwide audience.
Through gaming, children are provided with unique freedoms and communicative abilities. In single-player games the gamer is given the ability to choose the look of their character, which missions to pursue, and how they wish to approach each mission. Cooperative games offer an intimate, fun experience that can be shared with friends and family on a single TV or in private online sessions. If the gamer wants to communicate and coordinate with other gamers around the world, they can play online in a competitive environment.
Game Streaming & eSports
Dozens of video streaming sites and their users have taken advantage of this gaming movement. On YouTube, popular personalities showcase themselves playing video games to garner more views, which calculates into revenue from advertisers.
Twitch TV, a rapidly growing video game streaming site, allows users to live-stream themselves playing games to a global online audience. Streamers are paid through viewer subscriptions, donations, and sponsorships. Sponsorships are given to gamers for unique and appealing personalities and highly acclaimed skills. Many gamers who are sponsored for their skills are also part of a rapidly growing eSports league.
The eSports league involves teams and tournaments similar to those seen in other professional sports leagues. Funding for tournaments and players come through sponsorships, endorsements, advertisements, and online donations. Gamers are paid well for winning. For instance, a popular game, Dota 2, had a prize pool of over twenty million in 2016. Each player of the winning team took home 1.8 million dollars (Bednarski, 2016).
Not only can eSports bring fortune, but it can also bring fame. The eSports league has become a huge phenomenon spanning the globe, rivaling and even surpassing long-standing professional sports. Last year a popular PC game, League of Legends, had a tournament that garnered more viewers than game seven of the MLB finals and game seven of the NBA finals combined (Ravitz, 2016)!
Universities have begun to pick up on the eSports trend as well. Robert Morris University recently launched the first sponsored eSports Team. Players of the team are students who receive scholarships for their play just as another student would receive a scholarship to play football or basketball. They train just as another collegiate team would. They are instructed by a coach, study the competition, and practice running drills (Ravitz, 2016).
In the past, the word gamer was associated with words like lazy, dirty, and non-social. Fortunately, these stigmas are changing. Gamers today are seen as entrepreneurial, professional, and globally connected.
Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Dylan Smithson for teaching us about the skill-rich, lucrative world of gaming. The next time you see your child playing video games, connect with them by discovering what games they play and why they enjoy playing them. It’s possible you may be nurturing the next professional gamer! If you enjoyed reading this article, feel free to share with friends and family, and give us a like on our GetKidsInternetSafe Facebook page.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
Bednarski, S (2016) Top 5 Largest eSports Prize Pools of 2016. http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-prize-pools-of-2016/
Blacker, K. J., Curby, K. M., Klobusicky, E., & Chein, J. M. (2014). Effects of action video game training on visual working memory. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception And Performance, 40(5), 1992-2004. doi:10.1037/a0037556
Maclin, E. L., Mathewson, K. E., Low, K. A., Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Fabiani, M., & Gratton, G. (2011). Learning to multitask: Effects of video game practice on electrophysiological indices of attention and resource allocation. Psychophysiology, 48(9), 1173-1183. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01189.x
Mahood, C., & Hanus, M. (2017). Role-playing video games and emotion: How transportation into the narrative mediates the relationship between immoral actions and feelings of guilt. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 6(1), 61-73. doi:10.1037/ppm0000084
O’Connor, E. L., Longman, H., White, K. M., & Obst, P. L. (2015). Sense of community, social identity and social support among players of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs): A qualitative analysis. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25(6), 459-473. doi:10.1002/casp.2224
Ravitz, J (2016) Varsity Gamers Making History and Dumbfounding Parents http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2015/07/us/varsity-gamers-american-story/
Reinecke, L. (2009). Games and recovery: The use of video and computer games to recuperate from stress and strain. Journal Of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, And Applications, 21(3), 126-142. doi:10.1027/1864-1188.8.131.52
Takahashi, D (2016) Worldwide Game Industry Hits $91 Billion in Revenues in 2016, with Mobile the Clear Leader. http://venturebeat.com/2016/12/21/worldwide-game-industry-hits-91-billion-in-revenues-in-2016-with-mobile-the-clear-leader/