Jane McGonigal is a big advocate for the value of electronic games. She has done considerable research on the benefits of electronic play and she spreads the message of these benefits through Ted Talks.
According to Jane’s research, playing Tetris can help with alleviating depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you play Tetris within 6 hours after having watched a traumatic event, you decrease your chances of suffering from PTSD. This has to do with Tetris or video games crowding out your visual cortex which is where PTSD forms its connections.
This is the same for depression. Electronic games provide you quick bursts of your own natural chemicals version of morphine and anti depressants.
A gameful mindset can help you look at suffering as a way to get stronger. It can help you cultivate a culture of strengths.
Communal game play can also be beneficial. Commonality of experience can increase connection.
The thing about the benefits is that they require very small inputs of gameplay. Ten minutes a day or twenty minutes, three times a week. That’s nothing. How many people do you know who play Tetris or first person shooter games for about an hour a week?
Games are designed to be as addictive as possible. Social psychologists are employed by game developers in order to use our psychology and understanding of the brain in order to make it difficult to stop playing. Electronic games are not designed for 10 minutes of game play a day. The elementary students that I work with do not play for ten minutes at a time.
Research indicates that 21 hours a week and beyond is the threshold where addictive patterns begin. If someone is consistently playing this number of hours a week and are suddenly cut off, they will experience severe withdrawal. They can become violent and aggressive. I don’t have to tell any parent about this phenomenon who has tried to cut their children off video games cold turkey.
How many people do you know who play some form of electronic games three hours or more a day? I know plenty.
I do not doubt that there are benefits to electronic game play. I know there are valuable educational apps and activities that help children in numerous ways and I have seen classrooms integrate social media and apps as powerful engaging learning tools.
We are on our devices too much. We rely on all of these distractions and pings of dopamine to get us through the day. And everytime we do that, we are loosing an opportunity to learn how to manage our big feelings, take care of our bodies, and practice relationship building. It is too much, especially for developing brains.
My plea is that we need to get off these devices. Even 20 hours of game play a week, which is what McGonigal recommends we keep our time down to in order to avoid an addiction, is a huge amount of time. That’s 1080 hours a year! What can you do with 1080 hours a year? Learn a language, play, knit a couple of afghans, take an engine apart, read a pile of books, practice meditation, volunteer, play a sport, become a magician – I mean, it’s a lot of time.
We all will benefit from limiting our time off our electronic devices. Perhaps we can all think about taking two hours out of our day with no electronic devices as a counterbalance to all that electronic time.