Within the last year, videogames have taken popular culture by storm, and have soared into the national spotlight. As the number of regular players continues to rise, so too has a curiosity about the beneficial and potentially detrimental effects of avid gaming.
Though videogames have been popular among younger generations for some time, recently there has been a massive surge in people playing on all platforms, and the digital pastime is at an all-time high. This is due in part to the release of a few games that have captured the world video gaming audience.
Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) is a NPD company that analyzes video gaming trends and provides accurate videogame attribute metadata. According to a study released by EEDAR, roughly 67 percent of Americans play videogames on at least one type of device. That figure comes out to right around 211 million people playing in the United States alone.
This recent surge has direct connections to the release of a few online videogames that have captivated audiences. When Epic Games released Fortnite Battle Royale in late 2017, it quickly began making waves in the video gaming community.
According to videogame journalism company, GamesRadar, in Mar. 2019, Fortnite reported 250 million registered players, with 78.3 million monthly active players. Respawn Entertainment’s game, Apex Legends, which is just over two months old, listed 50 million registered players.
Aside from the entertainment factor of playing these videogames, much of the garnered popularity for these games has come from increased media coverage and a sweeping dual-faceted entertainment model.
The advent and surge in popularity of live streaming video platform companies, like Twitch, has added an additional component to gaming. For the first time in gaming history, videogames have become both a participatory and spectatorial activity. Professional players use platforms like Twitch to broadcast both their gameplay, and webcam streams of themselves simultaneously, live for spectators to watch.
The presence of videogames like Fortnite and Apex Legends on Twitter, Facebook and especially Youtube, has made professional videogame players into celebrities.
According to a Business Insider Profile, one such individual, professional Fortnite player, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, was featured on the cover of ESPN Magazine, appeared in an NFL Super Bowl commercial and has amassed around $10 million from playing Fortnite.
According to a Verge Magazine profile, the 27-year-old professional gamer broke a record for the most-viewed live stream by a professional gamer, when he played an online game of Fortnite with superstar rap artists, Drake and Travis Scott, and professional NFL wide-receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster.
According to an ESPN profile, Blevins is revered by many in the video gaming community, and his family-friendly attitude and entertainment style has led many young gamers to look up to him as a role model.
Playing videogames as a career has undoubtedly enticed many, and as a result, according to Twitch’s online statistics, there are over 4.3 million people who stream their gameplay live every month, just as Blevins does.
Blevins’ success is one in a billion, though. Very few streamers actually make enough money from gaming alone, and only a handful are actually able to reach the same stardom as Blevins.
James Garrod, better known by his online alias, “Painful,” is one of the gamers that’s willing to give that dream a shot. While Garrod is also a professional Fortnite player, he isn’t anywhere near as famous as Blevins.
“I’ve got almost 21,000 followers on Twitch,” Garrod said. “I’ll get a few hundred concurrent [viewers] on a good day.”
“I make some decent money from skirmishes and tournaments, but, obviously not as much as I’d like,” he said. “But we all pull in enough together to pay the bills.”
The 22-year-old gamer spends around seven hours a day streaming Fortnite for a living. He lives in a small house in Rochester, New York with two of his J-Storm Gaming teammates. Though he does get to do what he loves on a daily basis, he’s had to battle with emotional challenges, he said.
“I mean, we’re definitely all depressed. If any of them [professional streamers] tell you otherwise, they’re a hundred percent lying,” Garrod said. “I think we all want to think it’s the hours, upon hours, upon hours of staring at a screen that’s messing with our heads. But honestly, I think being depressed is why a good chunk of us started doing this in the first place.”
For Garrod, videogames have always been a source of enjoyment in his life.
“I played DOTA 2 [Defense of the Ancients] for years in high school, and looking back, it’s probably why I didn’t have a ton of friends,” he said. “But now I’m closer with those guys I met online playing that game than I am with anyone from home.”
Many researchers and surveys have examined the potentially beneficial effects of online gaming on younger individuals’ social attitudes and cultural awareness. The ability for one to establish connections with people they might not otherwise ever cross paths with is an attribute these researchers look at.
According to an American Psychological Association study, authors Isabela Granic et al. note that videogames actually benefit children’s social skills and cultural awareness as, “players are gaming online, with friends, family, and complete strangers, crossing vast geographical distances and blurring not only cultural boundaries but also age and generation gaps, socioeconomic differences, and language barriers.”
Online videogames do, by nature, have the potential to be socially interactive in a distinct, unique fashion.
According to a survey in the LifeCourse Associates project, “The New Face of Gamers,” videogame players tend to be more optimistic, more socially conscious, and are more open to accepting positions of leadership than non-gamers.
The most notable beneficial qualities from playing videogames are those pertaining to mental capacity, reasoning and reaction times.
According to an Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported research paper, authors Brian D. Glass et al. state that specific videogames can increase the speed of one’s perceptual processing, increase problem-solving skills and heighten real-time strategical decision-making.
However, just as there is evidence supporting the benefits of videogames, so too is there evidence supporting its more detrimental aspects.
An issue that has arisen in recent years is that of videogame addiction. According to the World Health Organization, “gaming disorder” has been added to the international health agency’s comprehensive list of mental health diseases.
The World Health Organization’s recognition of gaming disorder as a genuine disease shines a light on just how credible a threat it is.
According to an Iowa State University national study, psychologists found that nearly one in 10 gamers exhibit pathological gaming behaviors. The method used was a derivative of that which experts use to measure pathological gambling tendencies.
Media coverage of videogames has increased as the gaming industry has risen. News about Fortnite surfaces on CNN, Forbes, NBC, Fox, The Washington Post and other media powerhouses daily. As the industry has continued to grow, and its media coverage alongside it, videogames have become increasingly normalized in American society.
Author and award-winning integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Dunckley, is a leading expert on the effects of screen time on children and adolescents.
With the rapid normalization of videogame culture, comes the unintended consequences of higher addiction rates, Dunckley said.
“There is now a robust body of evidence showing videogame addiction is a real disorder, complete with brain changes, impaired functioning, and mental health issues,” she said.
The psychiatrist has seen the effects of videogame addiction firsthand in her work with children, teens and even young adults, she said.
“Excessive gaming is associated with depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, and even suicide,” Dunckley said. “And gaming addiction has damaging effects on the brain that are virtually identical to those from alcohol and substance abuse.”
One of the largest problems with contemporary videogame culture is how many children are gaming regularly.
“A typical picture of a child with too much screen time is a child who is irritable, prone to meltdowns, inattentive, struggling in school, and having difficulties making or keeping friends,” Dunckley said. “As children transition into adulthood, these difficulties may manifest in an inability to function in college, get and keep a job, poor coping skills, and social isolation.”
According to an NPD Group study found on TechCrunch, 91 percent of kids age 2-17 are playing videogames. In 2009, that figure was 83 percent.
The figures above demonstrate the fact that while videogames have been extremely prevalent among younger, adolescent-aged audiences for some time, the number of children and teenagers playing videogames is still very much on the rise.
On college campuses, the result is much of the same.
A survey was conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder aimed at roughly determining the number of students who play videogames on the college’s campus.
A total of 40 students participated in the student poll. In order to ensure accuracy, male and female participants were divided into their own categories, as gender effectively played a more divisive role than expected.
Of the survey’s 40 students, 72 percent play videogames each week. The gender divide becomes increasingly clear when examining the fact that nearly 98 percent of the total self-identifying men polled play videogames at least once a week. However, it is worth noting that while female students had less overall players per week, they had slightly more avid gamers who play 16 hours or more.
Gender certainly does play a role in examining daily gamers. According to a Pew Research survey analyzing gender trends in videogames, about 7 in ten men younger than 30 years old play videogames often or sometimes, compared to 49 percent of women in the same age range. The student survey shows that 50 percent of women polled play videogames, mirroring the Pew Research survey’s figure of 49 percent.
Perhaps the most significant statistic stemming from the survey above is that 17 students, or nearly half of those polled, play videogames for 11 or more hours every week.
Playing videogames for upwards of 11 hours per week consistently while in college can very easily get in the way of other important tasks. The key is moderation, but achieving and maintaining moderation is not such an easy task in and of itself.
When it comes to children playing videogames, poor habits or social inadequacies can very well develop early on, and carry with an individual into their adolescent and college years.
“Videogames can quickly become a vicious cycle because the individual isn’t forced to practice social
interactions like previous generations had to, so those social skills are never developed and he or she becomes increasingly uncomfortable with real-life interactions,” Ducnkley said.
“We need eye contact, face-to-face conversation and observation of body language to build emotional resonance and empathy, and practice doing so,” she said.