Wonder what could be so enticing that people globally spend 3 billion hours every week doing it?
Try video games, that great electronic escape where virtual characters take over the story lines and real-world problems feel far away. As popularity of these games continues to grow, scientists are examining what compels people to invest so much time in fictitious worlds — and whether outcomes of these games have any relevance to reality.
Some studies suggest that playing electronic games provides a form of stress relief; other research cites the social aspect of gaming with friends as a major benefit. And a recent study by Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at the University of Essex in England, finds that a least part of the attraction is the chance to explore aspects of our “ideal selves” in a make-believe world without consequences.
“We just finished a major review of studies, looking at 381 effects of violent video games in over 130,000 people,” says Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “We found that violent video games unmistakably raised levels of aggression and heart rate, and decreased feelings of compassion toward others.”
Adding to the concern over violent games: A study in the Feb. 4 issue of the journal Psychological Science found a correlation between the type of character people chose to play and their behavior immediately following the session. Assuming the role of a virtual villain, for instance, prompted players to treat people in negative ways after the game concluded, according to study co-author Patrick Vargas, a professor of psychology at University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. Meanwhile, those who played the virtual hero acted more generously toward others in a post-game setting.
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