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Virtual Games: Impact on Mental Health

With the advent of virtual games or video games (on the computer or on the mobile), people have virtually stopped playing outdoor games. It has led to social isolation in an increasingly connected world. Childhood obesity continues to rise. Clinical depression is 8 times more common in adolescents today than it was about 5 decades ago. Neuromuscular and postural disorders from an unhealthy posture are also on the rise.

Mental Health and today’s world:

The World Health Organization defines Mental Health as a state of complete wellbeing and not just the absence of mental illnesses. A mentally healthy person can cope up with normal stresses of life and can contribute effectively to his/her community. Virtual reality games affect the mind. While some studies have shown a positive impact on learning and virtual imagination, others have opposite results. They include a decreased concentration span and a general loss of interest.

In today’s stressful world, one often searches for an escape from reality. They may be in the form of drugs/alcohol/cigarette/sex/books or at times games. In earlier times, outdoor games were much preferred. They allowed a person to be mobile, develop team spirit and interact with his environment.

Virtual Games: The Negative Effects

It is hypothesized that video games involving shooting, violence and other aggressive behavior promotes aggressive tendencies in the player. Besides, the player does not spend time with his friends or make new relationships, if he is deeply involved in the virtual reality. It can further aggravate social isolation. At the morphological level, the hippocampus (responsible for spatial memory and past experiences) undergoes atrophy. It is the basis for a decreased academic performance and attention span. A decrease in grey matter in these areas is shown to progress to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia.

For gamers who spend up to 3-4 hours a day playing video games, their body is continuously is in a state of increased alertness. Their flight/ fight/ fright response is active (sympathetic nervous system) and this results in sympathetic activation. It may lead to palpitation, perspiration, confusion and anxiety. Additionally, the games are such designed that they help release dopamine in the brain. It is the same chemical substance responsible for the ‘happy mood’ and addiction in cigarette and alcohol users. Long term use leads to craving. If they are abruptly stopped, they may lead to withdrawal symptoms as mentioned above.

Virtual Games: Some unverified benefits

However, there are some purported benefits as well. These games divert our attention from the thoughts/experiences which trouble and depress us. Games which stimulate the mind have been shown to reduce a traumatic/psychological feedback following an accident. Also, they have been used to deflect our attention from a continuous painful stimulus. While some studies have shown that they help people with reading difficulties such as dyslexia can learn faster.

Some studies also claim that the grey matter thickness increases (which is in contrast to what the previous studies mentioned) and leads to better memory and an increased brain capacity. Thus there have been no definitive results.

An excess of anything, especially with an addicting potential is bad. The same applies to video games. They may impair the natural development of the brain by interfering with the social milestones, including self-esteem, dignity, family support, sportsmanship amongst others.

 

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