Research repeatedly finds evidence that computer games can be addictive and have negative effects on mental and physical health. Some benefits can be noted, in terms of improved hand and eye coordination, for example, but there is a dark side, too, and maybe the health costs outweigh the benefits.
Research from the University of Medical Science at Kerman, Iran, adds to the growing body of evidence that computer games do affect the mental and physical health of students.
In a study of 564 students at public guidance schools in Isfahan, the researchers (Eshrat Zamani, Maliheh Chashmi, and Nasim Hedayati) found evidence of impaired social functioning, sleeplessness and anxiety among those habitually playing computer games.
Computer games provide the thrill of winning and achieving new levels, a sense of wellbeing and growing proficiency in meeting the challenge of the games. They stimulate the emotions as the player experiences anger and frustration, triumph, aggression and a rush of adrenaline that can become addictive. A game clicks over from being an entertaining diversion to being an addiction when the player begins to neglect other normal functions of life in order to keep on playing or finds that they experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability when they have not had a fix. Risk behaviours such as getting into debt, ignoring responsibility or depriving oneself of sleep are also characteristic of addictions.
Sitting in front of a computer screen and playing games has a number of effects that can account for the findings of the research.
Most computer games are played alone. Instead of interacting with their peers and growing social skills, players are interacting with a machine and giving increasing amounts of time to gaming activity.
Sitting in one position for a prolongued period affects posture and the muscular-skeletal system, leading to reported aches and pains. Neglecting normal diet and hygiene in order to give more time to playing computer games can also cause reported physical symptoms.
Playing computer games constantly invokes the sympathetic nervous system, heart and respiration rates increase and players report feelings of anxiety while gaming. It is stressful for the human fight/flight response to be constantly aroused by the simulation of danger that many games rely on.
It is common sense to say that it can’t be healthy to spend hours at a time playing computer games, but this point of view appear to be increasingly supported by scientific findings.
Zamani et al (2009) “Effect of Addiction to Computer Games on Physical and Mental Health of Female and Male Students of Guidance School in City of Isfahan” in Addiction and Health vol 1, no 2. P.98-105.