Video games and your degree: Can they ever mix?

Can gaming be beneficial? Is it more fun than an essay? And does Assassin's Creed teach you history?

My parents always told me that I shouldn’t play video games for too long. They were "a waste of my time" - and wouldn't a book be a much more useful tool in my hands than a games controller? However, it turns out that my childhood wasn’t completely wasted and, if anything the hours I spent gaming could actually have contributed to a lot of the skills that I now use every day.

Cartman, in the South Park episode Make Love, Not Warcraft, says “you can just hang around outside in the sun all day, tossing a ball around, or you can sit at your computer and do something that matters". Some of the research which has been published within this field shows that Cartman might actually have been right.

2009's Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine included a study which revealed the findings that people who are highly stressed and suffer from depression could vent their aggression and frustration through playing video games. If people can knock out a pedestrian on the streets of GTA's Liberty City and only suffer the consequences of the animated police chasing after them then, it could be argued, that it is much better the gamer vents their aggression in a virtual world then in the real world.

Researchers at the University of Rochester found due to the nature of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and how the gamers often have to make “life or death” decisions for their characters, people who participated in these games would gain plenty of practice, and therefore improve, their decision making skills for use in the real world. The most well known and one of the longest running MMORPGs is World Of Warcraft in which players can develop their characters to gain various talents and skills. The game provides an inexhaustible system of goals and success which make the games more competitive for the players.

It’s not just the areas of personal and skill development that video games are good for but, as avid players will already know, there are large-scale tournaments with the opportunities to grab huge cash prizes, some people actually make a career out of playing and winning these video games at tournaments all across the world.

What's more, certain games, such as the Assassins Creed series, actually contain a lot of historically accurate information which allows people to learn while they are playing, up to a point.

Although the obvious argument for teenagers after reading this article would be “But mum, I’m learning” nevertheless, in a sense, it’s true. The App Store even has a section dedicated to education for people of all ages to learn a range of skills. Quite a lot of the things that children might find boring or too difficult can be incorporated into entertaining games which will allow them to play and learn while having fun.

Can games be addictive?

Although there are obvious benefits to playing video games, there is, however, quite a dispute over whether the compulsion to play video games can be classed as an addiction. Kimberley Young, the clinical director of the Center for On-Line Addiction, says “it's a clinical impulse control disorder” and researchers from Cardiff, Derby and Nottingham Trent universities have discovered that some gamers can play up to 90 hours a session.

Amsterdam has taken control of the problem and have opened up a new video game treatment centre, which will treat people for between four and eight weeks for their compulsive addiction to their consoles and help them to focus on alternative activities. Research has displayed that, after long sessions of video gaming, stopping can bring on some of the same symptoms as quitting smoking, drugs or alcohol.

Regardless of whether it is classed as an addiction or not, I will be pre-ordering the new Call Of Duty (Ghosts) and the new Assassins Creed (Black Flag) next month and, like the thousands of people out there just like me, I mostly likely will not see sunlight for a number of days after the game release.