Study: Vicarious Killing in Video Games Kills Brain Cells

How frightened should we be about the study jointly conducted by McGill University and the University of Montreal that arrives at the conclusion that violent video games damage the brain? Is it possible to consider reducing our consumption of such games or cutting them out altogether?  There are also reports that twenty-something men in developed societies play video games instead of pursuing the goals of men of previous generations, primarily marriage and family.

Those statistics seemed to point to men’s deepening involvement in video gaming with the pressures on men to be more effeminate.  In this view, only violent games satisfy a man’s intrinsic need to be as masculine as he can be.  The more benign games such as sudoko and the like plus online casino games have their place and are also popular amongst men.  But the violent games seem to lead the pantheon of games and seem to serve a purpose far beyond gameplay and passing the time.

Kick the Habit

Before we delve into the details of the study, let’s examine the history of people giving something up for the greater good.

Smoking may be the most prominent vice that millions of people have given up in order to improve their health.  Where once it was controversial when a local government made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places, today such restrictions are entirely accepted.  In fact, the small gaggle of smokers outside a tall office building smoking in freezing weather looks pathetic now whereas a generation ago it was seen as an improper intrusion by government on people’s personal freedom.

Many people drastically have reduced their consumption of red meat, eggs, sugary products, gluten, and many other foodstuffs.  Eggs are making a comeback as new research declares them more beneficial than harmful.  The point is, however, that people can and do adjust to changes in perception especially as it relates to health.

Many people wear a step counter, determined as they are to reach the magical 10,000 steps per day plateau.

All of the anonymous groups have had great success helping people with debilitating habits or addictions to simply stop.  Is there a violent games anonymous group in our future?

Shooter as Victim

The study found that a specific class of violent games was the main culprit in the loss of cognition—violent games in which the player is a shooter.  They found that there is a big difference between the effect of violent video games in which the player is a passive observer and those games in which he or she is an active participant in the violence.

The study was conducted over four years.  The area of the brain most affected was the hippocampus which regulates memory.  Specifically, the hippocampus takes short-term memory and converts it into long-term memory as an agent of autodidact learning as it were.  This is the same process we use when we take repeated experiences—the sun rises in the east—and convert them into facts using inductive reasoning.

Violent games in which the player is an active participant reduce the hippocampus.  This affects our ability to use our short-term memory in order to develop long-term memory and also affects our sense of special relationships.  The technical term for the latter characteristic of the hippocampus is navigation.

Video Games May Lead to Dreaded Disease

The researchers took the memory continuum difficulty they observed and determined that violent video games may contribute over time to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

To Be Scared or not to be Scared

So, returning to the question we opened with: how frightened should we be about these findings?  If they prove correct, we will have to drastically curtail our play of such violent games or stop playing them altogether.  Men will have to find other ways to express their masculinity.

Nothing Occurs in a Vacuum

As far as finding games to replace the popular ones we’ll no longer be playing, we can count on game developers to come up with ideas that satisfy the need to vicariously live a dangerous life whilst still being perfectly safe in our homes and the concomitant need to not be active shooters in a war-like setting.

We can think of many such themes:

  • Australian walkabout
  • Hunting for big game
  • Surviving at sea
  • Surviving on an island
  • Keeping passengers calm during a turbulent flight

There are actually endless ways to express our masculinity without needing to shoot anyone, even in play.

Softer Games are Good for Us

There are many games that enrich our brains without any sort of violence.  Sudoko and its cousins comprise one such set.  Brain games, as they are called, can be excellent activities that stimulate brain health.  They aren’t violent, however.

It would seem that at the moment we should reduce our play of such violent games to once a week for an hour or so.  The study found hippocampus deterioration in people who play as few as three hours per week but this had to be done every week.  So, for now, we should cut back and actively find other avenues to express ourselves.