Are gaming and drug use related, are the video gamers better at learning compared with non video gamers, how social are gamers, can video gaming actually kill, is there a relationship between aggression and violence and video gaming, a glimpse into the life of Dr. Breuer and more. This is the concluding Part II of the interview with eminent research scientist Dr. Johannes Breuer.
Don’t forget to check the first part of the interview with Dr. Johannes Breuer. In this interview, you will have the opportunity to meet gamers closer, but also to understand them.
It has been said that drug use among teenagers has reduced on account of video games. What are your views on this?
Just because two things coincide does not mean that they are causally related.
To be honest, I think this is a classic case of correlation versus causation. Just because two things coincide does not mean that they are causally related. There are some papers that show negative correlations between developments of video game sales and youth crime.
As video game sales have increased over the years, violent crime among juveniles has decreased, at least in the US. The same has also been found for seasonal differences:
There is more violent crime and less revenue from video game sales in the summer and less violent crime and more video game sales in the winter.
The most likely explanation is that people spend less time outside in the summer and, hence, there is less opportunity for violent interaction, while they spend more time indoors, some of it playing video games, in the winter.
Also, many games are released closer to Christmas as this is when a lot of video games are bought as presents in Western or predominantly Christian countries.
Regarding the long term trends: Here the story seems to be the same for violent crime and drugs.
As societies make progress, technology use, including video game play, increases, while violence and drug abuse decrease.
These trends do not cause each other but are part of a larger overall development of human progress.
As a side note: For some very interesting insights into the stories of human progress I can wholeheartedly recommend the books Factculness by Hans Rosling and The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker.
Are video gamers actually better at learning compared with non video gamers?
For some very specific areas like mental rotation skills and the detection and identification of visual stimuli existing research suggests that this may well be the case. I would, however, say that this does not warrant the generalization to say that gamers are better learners. Another relevant thing to consider is that “gamers” are a very heterogeneous group.
With the high and increasing share of gamers in most countries, talking about “gamers” as a group is a bit like talking about “smartphone users”.
The differences within these groups are typically larger than mean differences between this group and the equivalent non-user group.
The USFDA has actually approved a video game for those children afflicted with ADHD. Please give us your views on this.
One of the most well-known examples is probably the game Re-Mission which has been developed for cancer patients, especially children and teenagers.
As I do not know this game I cannot comment on this specifically. There are, however, quite a few projects and studies that have successfully used video games in different therapeutic settings. One of the most well-known examples is probably the game Re-Mission which has been developed for cancer patients, especially children and teenagers.
Are video gamers more social or less social than their peers who are non gamers?
Once more, I would argue that this cannot be answered in general terms. Coming back to one of the earlier questions regarding the amount of gaming that is healthy, for many people playing video games can enrich their social lives, if they play with friends or meet new ones through their gaming activities.
There are, however, also cases in which people replace other social contacts to a substantial degree by gaming contacts.
In these cases gaming is or becomes detrimental to their social life.
So, in essence, the key question is whether gaming adds to and enriches or takes away from and impoverishes people’s social lives.
Both is possible and it is important for everybody to be aware of this and to monitor their own gaming activities as well as that their closed ones with that in mind.
Looking a little to the negative aspects, does gaming actually kill people?
The short answer is no. There are a few extreme cases in which people have played so excessively that they eventually died from the consequences of neglecting essential things like nourishment and sleep. Contrasting these extreme anecdotal examples, there have also been news stories like the one about a Norwegian boy who saved himself and his younger sister from being attacked by a moose by using actions that he learned about by playing World of Warcraft.
Apart from excessive use, another thing that is widely discussed is if or to what degree the use of video games plays a role in the lives of people who commit extreme acts of violence.
As these cases are, fortunately, relatively rare, the evidence here is also largely anecdotal.
A key thing to consider here is that the population group that tends to have the highest share of gamers, namely younger men, is also the group that is overrepresented in statistics of violent crime as they tend to be the most aggressive across cultures and even across many species.
Please tell us about the aggression and violence arising out of addiction to video games.
Regarding the questions of gaming effects on aggression or even violence, there is no convincing, let alone conclusive, evidence that playing video games is an important factor for aggressive or violent behavior. The effects that have been found in laboratory studies are short-lived and in longitudinal studies there is more evidence for a selection effect than for a media effect, meaning that people with higher aggressive tendencies tend to play more violent games, whereas playing these games does not increase aggressive behavior over time.
It is important to say that this is still a highly disputed topic but with new methodological standards being developed and a move towards more transparency in this area of research as well as in the social and behavioral sciences in general, the general tendency is that newer and methodologically more rigorous studies provide no evidence for substantial media effects.
What seems far more plausible given the current state of knowledge is that violent video games are used as what prominent researchers in this field like Christopher Ferguson have called “stylistic catalysts”.
What this means is that people with violent tendencies may consume violent media, including violent video games, to fuel their fantasies.
However, these media are not the causal factor that led a person to have these kinds of thoughts or engage in aggressive or violent behavior.
The research on video game addiction is also problematic as it is not fully clear what people are addicted to.
Is it the social contact?
Is it the rewards? If yes, then a lot of things could be classified as being addictive.
While the World Health Organization in 2018 decided to include the addictive use of digital games as a diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases, there is still a lot of debate about this diagnosis as well as the related terminology among scientists who are active in this area.
There certainly are cases in which excessively playing video games has had disastrous effects on people’s lives and these people do need help and often also a clinical treatment.
Nevertheless, by classifying an activity as addictive without being fully clear about what specifically constitutes an addiction here, is associated with pathologizing a vastly popular pastime activity.
Fully understanding what it is in video games that people can become addicted to is also important for developing effective treatment methods.
One argument that has been raised by many researchers in this debate is that excessive video game use may rather be a symptom or larger or other underlying problems.
What would be your personal recommendation for video gamers?
First of all, I would say that gamers do not need to be ashamed of their hobby.
I find it quite difficult to give any general recommendations but will try nevertheless. First of all, I would say that gamers do not need to be ashamed of their hobby. Millions of people around the globe engage in and enjoy it. Strangely, binge watching shows on streaming services is generally more socially accepted than playing video games.
The reason for this is likely that many people, especially those who did not grow up with video games or never or only very rarely play them, have a distorted image of what video games are.
The name games, for many, implies that they are for children which is, of course, wrong, as there are many games that only adults should play and adults also enjoy playing and games; just think about the popularity of card and board games.
Over the decades, games have evolved into a medium that can certainly have artistic quality and deal with interesting and relevant topics in novel and engaging ways.
If gamers want to get people to better understand why they enjoy playing, I think it’s important to be inviting and inclusive.
Talk to people why you enjoy what you play and invite them to play with you.
This is also very important in the relationship between parents and their children.
It helps immensely if parents show interest in what their children play, talk about it with them, and ideally also share the experience by playing together.
Are you a gaming addict?
I also enjoy playing board games very much and have a group with whom I play regularly.
As I said in my previous answer, I find the term addict in the context of video games problematic. Leaving that aside, I can say that I still play and enjoy video games but I simply do not have as much time as I used to. I have a demanding job and a family, so there is not that much time that I can spend on gaming.
Hence, I have to be very selective in what I play. I still own quite a few gaming platforms, but I buy fewer games and only rarely have the time to finish a game.
While that was a bit disappointing to me in the beginning, I have come to accept this and it makes me appreciate the time I can find to play games even more.
I have a small daughter and I am very much looking forward to being able to play video games together with her.
I also enjoy playing board games very much and have a group with whom I play regularly.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our group switched to playing online, so that gave me some additional opportunities to play digital games.
Tell us about your growing up years?
I grew up in the suburbs of Cologne in Germany. I graduated in media studies at the University of Cologne. Back then we did not have the distinction into undergraduate (bachelor) and graduate (master) programs in Germany. I just did one long program for 5 years that ended with the equivalent of a master’s degree (a degree called “Diplom” in German).
Directly after graduating I also got my first job at the University of Cologne. I moved across Germany for different jobs in academia but ended up returning to Cologne.
Thinking back to my childhood and teenage years, I think one thing that was a bit of a “foreshadowing” for my career as a media psychologist and communication researcher is that I used a lot of media.
I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies and TV shows, and played a lot of video games.
And that was despite the fact that my parents were not that into technology – and still aren’t today.
We were quite late in getting cable TV, a personal computer, internet, and mobile phones, but I always had friends with the latest technology in their households and when I urgently wanted a piece of media technology my parents did get it for me eventually, even though that often did not really know how it worked or why I wanted it.
Prime examples of this are the Gameboy and the Commodore Amiga 500 which was a popular personal computer in the 1980s in Germany, both of which my parents bought me as combined Christmas and birthday presents when I was in elementary school.
As my parents did not know much about technology, I had to figure out a lot of stuff for myself or together with my friends.
In addition to self-motivation, what and who encouraged you in the direction of your present area of expertise?
There is the saying that for many people in academia “research is me-search” and I can certainly say that this is largely true for myself. When I started university, I first wanted to study law or history and language. But then I saw an announcement of the new media studies program at the University of Cologne for which I immediately applied.
The main reason for this is that I wanted to understand why people use certain types of media, how they develop preferences for different formats and types of content, and what effects the use of media can have on people.
And my choice of topic for my Ph.D. thesis was very much inspired by my own enthusiasm for video games in my childhood, teenage, and early adult years.
As I said in my previous answer, while my parents did not always understand what I was interested in and why, they always supported me in my decisions and career choices.
They also spend their lives doing things for a living that they are passionate about and, hence, knew how important this is for staying motivated and being productive and happy.
Aside from my parents, I was also lucky to have meet and interact with inspiring teachers and researchers when I was studying as well as over the course of my career in academia.
Both of my advisers for my master’s thesis encouraged me to pursue an academic career and my Ph.D. advisers were also very supportive regarding my choice of topic and general research interests.
Although an academic career certainly has its downsides what I find extremely rewarding is that I get to interact and collaborate with some of the smartest people in the world and can always learn new things.
Our readers are mainly the youth from different parts of the world who look up to achievers such as yourself for inspiration. A word of advice for them?
Find something you are passionate or curious about and see where that takes you.
Find something you are passionate or curious about and see where that takes you. Although some people would say that “research as me-search” is not a good approach, I think it is perfectly fine and quite motivating to start asking questions about something that you have experience with or are interested in. Of course, in science it is important to keep a bit of critical distance to the subject of your study, but I think intrinsic motivation and genuine curiosity are very important.
So if you want to decide what to study or consider a career in research, think about questions that you would like to answer or topics that you would like to understand better.
Also, if you really think about working in academia, my word of advice would be to get to know as much as possible about the academic system in your country or the country or countries that you would consider moving to.
Try to find out what academic careers in these countries typically look like. Also try to get information about the specific field you want to work in.
A good way to do this is to talk to people who chose this career path. Finally, I also think it is important to find good mentors.
Look for people who are interested or at least open to the things you are interested in and with whom you ideally also connect on a personal level.
Dr. Johannes Breuer is a senior researcher at GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne, Germany. Before joining GESIS he worked in several research projects investigating the use and effects of digital media at the Universities of Cologne, Hohenheim, and Münster, and the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (Knowledge Media Research Center) in Tübingen. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Cologne with a thesis on the effects of video games in the areas of learning and aggression. His other research interests include computational methods and open science.
Photo: Shutterstock, From the Archive of Dr. Breuer
Read also: I. Part of the interview with Dr. Johannes Breuer
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