Video games are the new asbestos

Myth or fact?

John Swanson | Photo Courtesy | Are video games really as dangerous as everyone says?

I was studying Sunday and catching up on late work when a sentence from my textbook, “Experiencing the Lifespan,” caught my eye: “… scientists have also discovered unexpected sources of harm. Video games, cigarettes, television, shift work, asbestos… are less benign than people thought.”

As an avid video gamer, I have been hearing negative media about video games for years. I have heard all kinds of myths, for example, that video games cause violence. However, seeing it in a higher standard made me wonder, could video games actually be as harmful as my textbook was claiming? Is it so bad it’s comparable to cigarettes and asbestos? Well, I did the research. 

First, there are many benefits to playing video games. Video games have been clinically proven to improve memory, problem-solving skills, logic, critical thinking and fine motor skills, like hand-eye coordination. These skills can appear in everyday life in strange ways. 

Yesterday when I was putting contacts in for the first time the ophthalmologist said she rarely sees someone be able to put them in quickly and have hands as steady as mine. Obviously, this isn’t a laboratory setting and I can’t prove that her saying that was due to my gaming habits. I can tell you that my video game obsession probably is a contributing factor.

There is a negative side to gaming. Many game companies have been accused of introducing gambling into their games with controversial loot box practices like that of 2017’s “Star Wars Battlefront.” It was so divisive that it was banned in some European countries like Belgium. Furthermore, loot boxes are a huge revenue source for the gaming industry. Some sites report it is 1 billion dollars, some others as high as 50 billion dollars. 

Things like loot boxes should be monitored and banned if research shows that they are harming consumers. Especially since loot boxes rarely add content that can affect gameplay. 

There are also some health risks to playing video games like obesity, malnutrition, repetitive strain injuries and video game addiction. 

However, almost every website will say a phrase along the lines of, “when not played in moderation.” Anything, when done excessively, can be harmful. If you drink too much water that causes hyponatremia which can be life-threatening. 

If you don’t practice moderation and self-control while playing you can hurt yourself. If you feel you are at risk for gambling addiction, talk to your doctor or be careful which games you choose to play. 

A large portion of the research is dedicated to the health of children and adolescents who play video games as well. A lot of the media portrays the video game companies and the developers as the bad guys. I don’t understand why. Before video games, we knew children needed to be outside playing with their friends, so why is everyone acting shocked to find out that having your child sit still and stare at a monitor has adverse effects?

If you don’t like how much time your child spends on their device, whether it’s a mobile phone, computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation or an Xbox, then it’s not the responsibility of the company to implement restrictions, it’s the parent’s responsibility. Especially since gaming consoles come with the ability to set parental restrictions which can monitor usage and game ratings to make sure they are age-appropriate. 

Another concern for parents is that the games that their children are playing cause aggression and anger in young children. Yes, if you allow your six-year-old to play “Call of Duty” and “The Last of Us,” then they are likely exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for them. That’s why games come with ratings. If you have a younger child, you probably shouldn’t let them play games that are rated T for Teen. 

Finding out if a game is appropriate for your home only takes an easy Google search. If you can’t be bothered to google it, most games will show why they are rated like that next to the label. For example, if a game is rated mature it can be from excessive violence, blood, strong language, smoking and tobacco use, sexual themes and nudity. 

Yes, my textbook was correct. There can be adverse health effects when games are played irresponsibly or not monitored properly. But, it is misleading to imply they are as dangerous as cigarettes are asbestos. If you want to go play “Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” go have some fun. 

Leave a Reply