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Videogames don’t make people stupid! Do they?

Recently a UK politician claimed teens playing games is making them less intelligent, in fact the following quote comes from a very popular tabloid – the Sun.

KIDS hooked on computer games have sent England plummeting down world league tables for reading, it was claimed yesterday.

A study of literacy at primary schools in 41 countries saw our youngsters slip from third to 15th in just five years.

Ministers claimed pupils spend so much time on consoles that they are not burying their noses in books.

I’m not going to say that games are not to blame, they work very nicely as a distraction from school work (and reading), but before games we had television and movies – they worked just as well.

XBox 360 controller closeup

In recent years the brain training genre, popularised by Nintendo (with games like More Brain Training) and continued by a number of other companies (Ubisoft, and Sega) are recent examples of games designed specifically to improve your thinking power. These aren’t the first games to do this sort of thing. Some of the earliest games tested the grey matter to extremes (text based role playing games such as Zork) and later games continued this (adventure games like Monkey Island). In more recent years the room escape style point and click games have had a resurgence in the online space. Whilst these games are not designed specifically as learning aids they do help improve lateral thinking and day to day common sense – and with the amount of text these games contain you could even argue that they help improve literacy.

Many other games involve puzzle solving skills. Anybody who has fought their way through one of the Water Temples in any Zelda title knows how capable games are of encouraging mental gymnastics.

The thing I am worried about is the generalizations that non-game players use – it wouldn’t surprise me if certain games do indeed make people stupid, for example the Lula series, but saying that “video games make people less intelligent” is grossly unfair.

Many of the countries most intelligent youngsters are gamers of one sort or another. Games inspire creativity, I know many many people who play games and think they could improve on them and of those a surprisingly high proportion have hunted out programming and game art tutorials to learn to create their own. In fact that’s exactly how I got my start in the industry. MI6 have recently been advertising job vacancies within games – I’d think the qualifications for the secret service are pretty high so they must have good reasons for advertising in games.

Last week I saw this… if a young boy can survive a moose attack, because of the things he’s learnt in games – then I don’t see how they can be all bad ;-)

So are video games to blame for making people less stupid? On their own I would say no, but used as a distraction I think they could be a small part of a larger problem. Unfortunately I have no idea how we can solve this problem – video games are clearly here to stay.

I’d be interested to hear if anybody else has any thoughts on this?

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Join me, Luke, jason, tw. They're all chatting about "Videogames don’t make people stupid! Do they?" below ›

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18 Comments »

  1. Video games by themselves do not make you stupid. However, time spent on games rather than productive activities like school work, music practice, writing, art, etc., means that your peers that do not play games (or play less obsessively) will progress faster than you.

    This leads to the “he/she” is just smarter than me comment, when it is a matter of them simply putting time into the activity rather than playing games (or surfing Myspace – another huge time drain for kids-teens).

  2. I heard an interesting theory: most of the bad press of video games emerges from other sources of entertainment, i.e. television. Trying to give it a bad name perhaps? Losing audiences or a specific target market?

    Jason makes a good point too, it’s not the videogames fault that you’re not doing your homework child!! :P

  3. I agree entirely. Videogames are a distraction but no more so than tv and film. I would think that the people who play games instead of doing their homework are the same people who would be watching cartoons instead of doing their homework.

    Luke – The idea that tv is trying to give gaming a bad name is an interesting one. I wonder if they give it bad press to try and draw attention to themselves (seems to have worked here) as it’s the sort of news gamers will talk about. or instance i wouldn’t have known the UK had dropped in the European intellingece charts if it wasn’t for this news…

  4. What a load of opinionated twaddle! Unless you have something worthwhile to add to the debate, with some rigorous research, then you are simply perpetuating the gamer/non-gamer: who’s right/who’s wrong battle, with no net value to anyone. Video Games have there place but they have little educational value apart from the potential to motivate one to explore more deeply the issues raised in a game – such as those that deal with historical reconstructions and so on (see M-L Ryan and Stiegler). What is more damaging is the inaccurate portrayal of historical events, or there trivialization. Whilst this is not a problem in and of itself, it is if the game producers try to pass off what they are doing as having some educational validity. Bottom line: enjoy the game! But lets not get carried away with any thoughts of games enriching our lives – that’s what the arts, literature, music, social interaction, and so on is for! As for dumbing down the populace, there are more ways than games alone to do that. Traditional games are an important part of growing up (see Dewey and Schon) – but much of this is contextualized by social interaction. The social interaction that occurs in MMU games does not compare to the intimacy of physical social interaction and thus raises questions about its value as a positive thing or negative. After all, the human race evolves as much through its social interaction as it does through the mediation of social interaction through the tools it engages in this process – including those of war. In the end, it could be argued that video game intelligence is just a different kind of intelligence – not less than other forms (just ask someone who doesn’t play games if they feel less intelligent than a gamer at gaming)!

  5. tw – you’re right – it is my opinion. that’s the benefit of having a blog. I can say whatever I like. It was an outporing of my thoughts, not a statement of fact. I appreciate your more educated response but feel offended that you dismiss my opinion as twaddle.

  6. I don’t think that video games have necessarily produced stupid people, though it would be true to say that it cuts down on productivity.

  7. I have trouble believing that video games have any correlation with literacy rates. Someone who is illiterate is more often than not poor, however, and therefore not extremely likely to play video games avidly. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see how the politician can connect those statistics in any way other than that video games did indeed exist in the time period the statistics study.

  8. There are always side effects to having or doing too much of something, including video games. Ask any kid to bury their head 24x7x365 in books and they would probably be dead by 30 due to boredom, socially incapable and heart attack :)

  9. What i find funny, one day a big 2.6 Million dollar study will find it increases intelligence and creativity and the next it causes stupidity.

    There should be a study in to studies.

  10. I think they prevent productivity thus making you fall behind. This inevitably makes you stupid. This is why i have chosen to stop all procastranating activities and read books in my spare time. Have i seen improvements? Mentally, a great deal! My point of view

  11. While it seems somewhat of a stretch to say that games increase or decrease intelligence, the issue of whether or not they have any value depends upon the type of game. I have been playing video games of one sort or another since 1979 when some of the first arcade games like Space Invaders and Asteroids made their debut. Back then, most of the games didn’t really have much educational value but did help to improve reflexes and hand-eye coordination, skills that could be applied to other activities like sports or PE (physical education) classes.

    Later on, however, I discovered the KOEI series of strategy games that were released for the early consoles, and this provided a very different kind of gaming experience. These types of games tested logic, common sense, critical thinking, and sometimes math skills while also providing insights into various historical periods. This piqued my interest in subjects like history and geography, and led to my doing much independent research into these subject areas that I otherwise would not have bothered with if it had not been related to the games that I was playing at the time. From this, I managed to build up enough knowledge and research skills to easily earn excellent marks in all of my history and geography courses throughout high school and college :)

    Much of the problem that we have today with people being critical of video games is that many companies in the mass market mainstream are focusing their gaming efforts on the types of games that primarily feature mindless violence or high-end graphics just for the sake of “eye candy”, but offer little in the way of real substance or educational value. Fortunately, not *all* games are like this. The current strategy genre still contains a few gems that offer significant educational and replay value.

    Conclusion: We need to produce and promote games that have more substance and replay value, and focus a little less on pure eye candy.

  12. I think that video games do not make people stupid. As they make you use both your right and left sides of your brain.
    If anything , television is far worse a distraction. (since it only uses the right side of your brain to watch).
    What they should teach is multi-tasking and how to break up your days into several “units of each day” that would allow for a more industrious society .
    Also to stop the dumbing down of our children calculators should not be allowed in the classroom.
    I believe that video games do exercise the brains problem abilities . although you can get too much of a good thing!
    Todd

  13. Could somebody answer my questions?
    Are video games proven to be addictive?

    If video games are, I believe it is possible to connect that fact to Cody’s claim of it “cutting down productivity”. So wouldn’t video games make one person less intelligent than they could be, if they have been reading books that increases ones knowledge of real life?

    If video games aren’t addictive, how is it possible for “well-documented deaths caused directly by exhaustion from playing games for long periods. In South Korea, Lee Seung Seop died after playing Starcraft for over 50 hours. In Jinzhou, China, Xu Yan died after playing online games for over 15 days during the Lunar New Year holiday and an unnamed 30 year-old died in Guangzhou, China after playing for 3 days straight. ” according to Wikipedia.com?

  14. All I can say is, “Wow.”
    If you spend all your time with your head buried in a book, isn’t that worse for your social life? School isn’t all about getting the best grades ever, (yes it is important,) but at least you can play some video games to tune in with what other kids your age are doing.
    If you read all the time, yeah, you’re going to get smarter but doesn’t that just make people dislike you because you’re spouting out facts and answers all the time?
    I think playing video games are okay as long as you finish all you’re supposed to do, and that you don’t get addicted. I don’t play video games all that often but I go on the computer alot. I’m not stupid, and I’ve maintained good grades.
    Anderson’s brother, um, yes they have proven it but there were also personal factors involved. People have different attention spans so sometimes it’s not a matter of video games it’s just that they can’t concentrate on one thing for a long time. It’s not definite. I think it’s something that you just can’t test for because it’s going to be inaccurate.

  15. As a gamer, I don’t want to believe that video games make you stupid. But if that’s true, then how come some people don’t want us playing them? Are they too violent? Too mature?
    I’m sure everyone would rather play video games than do homework, so maybe they are just a distraction.

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