Archive for the ‘Research Studies’ Category

Article of the Week: “Tetris Triangulated” or “Anti-social Butterfly”

October 13, 2009 Leave a comment

There are some questions in life that have no clear-cut answers. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Can god make a sandwich so big, he himself can’t eat it? If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone give a crap? Where do the people offering to enhance my breasts without surgery look up their goddamn information?

"That's probably just ketchup!" or "Christian Bale eats video game haters."

With the advent of video games in the mainstream market in the last two decades, a new question has emerged. Do video games produce and/or enhance violent, anti-social and sociopath behavior? If you ask me, the obvious answer is no. But people who lobby it as irrefutable fact do make me want to kill bitches. Oh no, look at the violence that just poured out me of there. Idiots.

A recent article in the Boston Globe caught my attention. It provides a much needed and well-articulated retort beyond the standard, “j00 suxorz noob, gamez r roxor$!” Quoting prominent researchers from the field of neuroscience, psychology, sociology and education, and citing studies that provide some degree of empirical evidence to the contrary, the article sheds some much needed light on the positive effects of video games.

“Richard Haier, a pediatric neurologist and professor emeritus at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine, has shown in a pair of studies that the classic game Tetris … alters the brain. In a paper published last month, Haier and his colleagues showed that after three months of Tetris practice, teenage girls not only played the game better, their brains became more efficient.”
– Emily Anthes: “How video games are good for the brain”

The cynic in me wanted to mock the aforementioned. Tetris, beyond Pac Man and Frogger, is the quintessential classic video game. But the C’thun-fighting, hero-ability-balancing, 100-person-guild-leading, massive-army-building side of my brain argues that it is elementary at best, and perhaps not the best subject for a study on whether video games improve cognitive skills. But then I realized that I have yet to beat the last level of any Tetris clone I have ever played. My brain has never been able to process the blocks falling at those impossible end-game speeds, and as such I have never been able to claim the Tetris throne. It dawned upon me that perhaps my mental capacity for advanced processing isn’t as developed as glossy, contemporary gaming makes it out to be. And just maybe Tetris isn’t the worst game with which to measure subtle differences in brain efficiency.

And then, there’s this:

“In one promising 2008 study … senior citizens who started playing Rise of Nations … improved on a wide range of cognitive abilities, performing better on subsequent tests of memory, reasoning, and multitasking.”
– Emily Anthes: “How video games are good for the brain”

More importantly, it actually touches upon one aspect of video games that has often come under fire. And that is the notion that video games make people inherently anti-social. The later part of the article sheds some light on this misnomer and provides some empirical evidence to the contrary. The term ‘prosocial’ is introduced as the antithesis, in some ways, of anti-social. The article claims that middle students in Japan who played games that promoted social infrastructure and mutual affection for other players, showed affectionate behavior themselves.

This is where the piece and I are essentially at odds. Let’s face it. It’s easy to find (questionable) links between docile, ‘affection-inducing’ video games and similar behavior in the players’ lives. By extension, another study should be able to find a link between highly violent games and morose, agitated or angry behavior. It seems foolhardy to me to conduct a study from a very finite and minimal set within the gaming genre, and imply that the results can be extrapolated to apply across the length and breadth of the entire spectrum. It’s like watching Rush Limbaugh talk about, well, anything, and claiming that all Americans are equally retarded.

To sum it up, the article does not categorically solve any debates, nor does it provide a clear-cut response to the validity of video games as a legitimate learning or socializing tool. But it does make a good case, and makes for an interesting read. You can find the original article in the links above or by clicking here, noob.