Psychological effects of computer gaming on individuals and society

From previous studies it is apparent that games have an impact on individuals and society. There are many benefits (improved hand eye coordination, brain training etc.) and concerns (social isolation, cost etc.). Games also have an impact on how we think and feel when playing them and we can call this the psychological effects of computer gaming. Games include sounds, high score listings, competition, peer pressure, fun, educational value, expectations and levelling. These features are designed to make the gamer become emotionally involved in the game. Gamers can have both positive and negative feelings when playing based on the design of the game and how engrossed they become with certain aspects of the game when playing. This article looks at the psychological effects of computer gaming on individuals and society helps you understand for a number of different criteria. There are some excellent links that you can use to boost your knowledge in this area. For guidance on how this article can be used see our about page.

Use of sound: The use of sound in video games does a lot to immerse the player in the gameplay. Sounds within the game are used to re-enforce the players positive and negative thoughts about their performance in the game. According to technopedia, “game designers strive to create a complete environment using audio and visuals”. They state that sounds are embedded into the game to “match the motion” of the surrounding weather conditions and moving clouds. Using sounds like this makes the player become more immersed as the sounds and visuals work together to make the game seem as realistic as possible. When we look at how the use of sounds in games over time from simple beeps in early games to provide the player with auditory feedback to today’s soundtracks and totally immersive sound you can see how much effort has gone into using sound to make players become more immersed in the gameplay. Sounds provide a better experience for the gamer and is used to enhance the emotional experience during gameplay. Mark Grimshaw from the University of Bolton states that games use music “to function as a reward mechanism in game design and possibly allowing for reinforcement learning” in his article on “Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction: Concepts and Developments”. These studies show that the use of sound is used to make the player think both positively and negatively during gameplay depending on their experience. The audio then allows players to learn what they have done well and not so well in a game.

High score listings: High score listings were used in earlier games to make players feel superior and the best at a particular game. In fact there is a documentary type movie devoted to the obsession with getting the world record in the early version of the Donkey Kong Game. The movie called “King of Kong: A fistful of quarters” shows the emotional struggle of players competing against each other to beat the record. Some of the behaviour is indeed very strange and it is apparent that the high score listing makes the player think and act differently! Edge Magazine mentions how games have moved on since then and state that they “have evolved a lot since then, but the concept of comparing our performance against others has remained. These days, however, leaderboards often replace high score tables, and we can make even more granular comparisons via achievements and trophies”. This shows that the high score listing table has stood the test of time albeit in a different format. The Edge article also states:

Many researchers think that the reason we seek out comparisons with people we’re familiar with is that we use them as proxies for guessing if we’re capable of some feat or accomplishment. If another person achieves something tricky, our confidence in our ability to do it as well is linked to our opinion of how we’re similar to the achiever in relevant attributes. This is obviously easier to do with people we know (even if it’s just from online interactions) than total strangers. You broke into the diamond league for ranked StarCraft II matches? We seemed to be cut from the same cloth when I played you last, so I think I could do that too. You figured out all the puzzles in Fez? I know from our time at school together that I’m at least as smart as you, so I could do that too if I tried.

This shows that score listings make us feel on par or better than our peers based on our gaming experience. The social and competitive nature of modern games make us think about improving our gaming strategy to compete with peers and better ourselves in their eyes and seek their approval. Awards and bonus systems and score listing enable us to compare with others and are visually represented within games.

Competitive games: There are may positives to competitive gaming! With the advance in technology and MMO games, players now have the opportunity to play against or with other gamers from all over the world. Gaming in this way makes it a truly international competition than continually runs 24/7/365. communicating with people and cooperating with them can be a highly positive experience and one that can make friendships with people who may never have met. Friendly online competition can boost social skills and create a number of potential associates when people find a common interest whilst taking part in competitive gaming. The competitive element helps players test each other in ways that may help them work together in online or offline projects in the future. competitive gaming also has a negative impact on some individuals. Research by the American Psychological Association suggests that a small percentage of gamers demonstrate aggressive behaviour when taking part in highly competitive games. Their articles states that:

In a series of experiments in which video games were matched on competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action, researchers found video game violence alone did not elevate aggressive behaviour. However, more competitive games produced greater levels of aggressive behaviour than less competitive games, no matter how much violence was in the games, according to research published online in Psychology of Violence.

This does show that the competitive element does impact on individuals and may psychologically effect them in terms of becoming aggressive based on their gaming experience. The frustration of not completing certain challenges or being outdone by other gamers might be too much for some and lead people to lose their temper. This shows the negative psychological effects of competitive gaming. Gamers playing competitive games also showed increased heart rate during and after gameplay. This shows that they are effected by the game and it effects them both psychologically and physically.

Peer pressure: Peer pressure is something that is very relevant in the world of teenage gamers whose need to have the latest and greatest platforms and titles drives sales in the games industry. Games console designers normally release around Christmas to ensure they maximise sales around the period when people have most money to spend. The pressure to have the latest console is driven by peer pressure and puts pressure on parents to buy the latest gaming equipment and games. Intelligent advertising campaigns are used by games companies to target people of all ages to see the latest games development as a must have. Similarly gamification is used in products to make people accountable for their actions. IQU’s article on peer pressure as a powerful game mechanics shows how Reebok’s promise keeper uses gamification to make their customers accountable to their peers when trying to achieve personal fitness goals. Getting into the minds of gamers using intelligent mechanics like this has a psychological impact on gamers and drives the need to show they are successful in front of their peers.

Fun: Most casual gamers play for fun. This is a plain and simple fact! The enjoyment achieved by playing games helps players escape reality and become immersed in a fantasy world where they can act out the life of the main character of the game. Mark Grimshaw’s article state that:

The important questions regarding game design that aims to facilitate flow, fun, or immersive experiences are: should tasks be provided by the game (i.e., created by the designer), should they be encouraged by the game environment, or should finding the task be part of the gameplay? The latter is rather unlikely, since finding only one task at a time sequentially might frustrate players and choosing a pleasant task according to individual mood, emotional, or cognitive disposition will probably provide more fun. Thus, instead of saying players need to face tasks that can be completed, it might be better design advice to provide several game tasks at the same time and design for an environment that encourages playful interaction. An environment that facilitates flow, fun, or immersion would provide opportunities for the player to alternate between playing for its own sake (i.e., setting up their own tasks) and finding closure by completing a given task.

This shows that game designers do consider the emotions of gamers when designing the game and one of the key emotions to target is player fun. No matter how much bad press gaming gets in terms of promoting negative emotions it is very clear that one of the key psychological factors that drive gamers is to experience fun!

Educational value: According to Mark Griffiths from the Nottingham Trent University:

Videogames have great positive potential in addition to their entertainment value and there has been considerable success when games are designed to address a specific problem or to teach a certain skill.

The research shows that video games have helped players increase their language skills, basic Maths skills, basic reading skills as well as their social skills. Video games have been used to train children who were severely handicapped to communicate successfully. Video games have also been used to train children with attention deficit disorder to improve their thinking skills. This research shows that although some may say that games have a negative effect on young people’s education they can also have positive impacts and educational value if used correctly. The impact on society will only change over time as games are used more and more for educational purposes. You can see that gamification is becoming more widely used across a range of application types to increase the level of interest and engage users more with software applications. Gamification has also been added to software tutorials when learning how to use new products. The impact on education can definitely be a positive one when when games are used in the correct way!

Expectations: When playing games, gamers havce certain expectations from the platforms that they play on and the titles that they play. As technology has improved and games have developed into a more realistic 3D experience gamers expectations have also increased. If we compare a games series like FIFA the expectations of gamers has increased with the release of every new title in terms of graphics and audio quality as well as playability. Gamers expect immediate feedback during gameplay and research from Theresa, Connell, Grantham, Workman and Wong states that:

Players were digital natives, having grown up surrounded by technology. The study showed that roleplaying positively impacted their success and satisfaction. Despite an expectation for immediate feedback, digital natives found workarounds to mitigate impacts of delayed feedback.

This shows that players expect more in terms of gameplay as well as advances in technology before the release of new consoles and games. The impact that this has is a positive one as this drives the industry and creates jobs on a global scale.

Levelling: Levelling up in games is a smart move from games designers. Players are more immersed in gameplay when they have short and long term challenges and are awarded accordingly when achieving these during gameplay. article on “Chararacter creation and levelling” states that:

In order to bring all these characters and stats into being in the present moment, RPGs give you certain stats bonuses for certain actions. It’s for this reason that we happily spend hours beating random beasts just to watch our stats go up.

This shows that players spend more time playing games due to the reward system that is embedded in the gameplay. Mechanics like these award systems and constant levelling up within a game engross players in a game and take them on an endless journey were they want to improve continuously within the game. This makes the player think and feel that they are part of the game and they take on the role of the main character.

Conclusion: Games impact society and individuals and how we think and feel both during gameplay and in our day to day lives. The gaming industry drives technology and the research mainly shows that the positives outweigh the negatives when games are not played obsessively. Only a small percentage of gamers get so involved with games that they let them have a negative psychological impact on their well-being.


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