Despite the hype, gaming is not always problematic for children, and in case of right selection, many games out there benefit. What we suggest is, parents should look out for games that nurture creativity and intelligence in a child’s brain
As we have experienced in our childhood, responsible parenting often feels like an endless series of saying ‘no’. No, you can’t have junk food before lunch. No, you can’t ride a bicycle on the main road. And now today’s younger generation is going through the same old clichés: no, you can’t sit around playing PUBG all day. Our childhood has given us some first-hand knowledge of the digital world of games, thanks to that old mercantile machine. So we can tell all sorts of facts, like why Dave wears a red cap or why your eyes are fevicoled to a 5.6 inch screen while playing ‘Candy crush’.
Every once in a while, a game appears that takes the gaming world to the next level of progress. This time, it’s ‘Player Unknown Battlegrounds’, better known by its acronym, PUBG. Since the last decade, computer or mobile games have become the leading form of digital entertainment worldwide – especially after the gradual decrease in the TV watching culture. To begin with, these games allow us to win and get onto the next level, giving a celebrated sense of satisfaction. This achievement is experienced as a reward, which releases a brain chemical called ‘dopamine’ and also targets the same neuron involved in addiction.
Research conducted by California State University found that computer gaming can have a similar effect as drugs or alcoholism on a child’s developing brain. It’s because game makers work hard to hook players to their digital world. Thus, they use predictive algorithms and codes of behavioural economics to make the game more addictive.
During our research on “gaming behaviour” among the lower secondary level students of Kathmandu we found that most of the children were intensely indulged in playing unknown battlegrounds. “My mother always scolds me for playing PUBG, but what can I do, I can’t resist, I get irritated if I don’t get a chance to play,” said a 6th grade player of Arunima Higher Secondary School.
“His sleeping, eating and academic habits have changed for the worse since he started playing this PUBG. He simply can’t resist the impulse to play, and I’m tired of scolding him. Please do something babu,” his mother added.
When a 20-year-old son is caught red hand smoking marijuana, parents would react instantly, but in the case of an 11-year-old child playing PUBG, it’s considered normal. The very idea of this game is somewhat like people gathering to kill each other and trying hard to become the last one standing. How could we let a budding young mind to indulge in such a gaming habit? The game is full of violence. Every second, the virtual battleground encounters potential danger. You can’t relax, any instant the enemies could unexpectedly jump to kill you. The excitement aroused by killing and destruction is the core of PUBG!
Explaining in a more scientific way, the excitement of killing enemies makes the child’s brain think something great has happened, and it immediately emits a brain chemical called dopamine – a neurotransmitter, which tells your brain, ‘Hey! That was great; do it again’. Such immediate excitement also contributes to the release of endorphins – a natural painkiller that relaxes you for some moment.
The main reason behind the popularity of this game is because it taps into our behavioural neural network. Like nicotine, video games can also cause rapid brain dopamine release. And the arousal effects are so natural to the brain that they mostly occur subconsciously. This is why young teens with vulnerable minds get addicted to gaming.
Many researchers have found that children playing violent games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, behaviours and decreased sense of cooperation. Last year a 19-year-old Indian named Suraj Verma stabbed his father and mother 26 times, and sister seven times in aggression. He was reported to be a PUBG addict.
Gaming will become more problematic if it impedes other aspects of a child’s life, including academic performance and social involvement. And such digital consumption in bits and bytes even influences a child’s behavioural pattern, although some online gaming allows introverts to enjoy human networks and help to make a connection on their own terms. But it can also prevent children from learning social skills and cooperative behaviour to assimilate with diverse personalities.
In 2018, World Health Organisation declared that impulsively engaging in digital games is a mental health condition, specifying these phenomena as “gaming disorder”. And the symptoms are actually quite common: Increased priority to gaming over other activities and continuation of gaming despite the negative consequences. Despite the hype, gaming is not always problematic for children, and in case of right selection, many games out there actually benefit. What we would suggest is, parents should look out for games that nurture creativity and intelligence in a child’s brain. Some chosen games that celebrate mathematical problems, case solving, architecting or word games are useful for developing the brains. With such games, small minds will learn to use their imagination or cognitive skills, and parents too need not worry that their child are not playing chess or learning new words.
The authors are researchers at Global Initiative for Vivid Empowerment, a Kathmandu-based NGO
A version of this article appears in print on April 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.