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Sharma Denounces Brain-Rotting Research

by Billy Berghammer - July 19, 2002, 9:04 am PDT

Video Games make you stupid? Nalin Sharma from Puzzle Kings says that's "absurd". Read on...if you're smart enough.

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Videogame Designer Nalin Sharma Says Reporting of Recent Research From Nihon University in Japan is Misleading

A recent study by Professor Akio Mori at Nihon University has found prolonged playing of videogames by children could lead to permanent disruption of their brain waves, causing them to lose concentration, get angry easily and have trouble interacting with others.

Reporting in the UK media of this study would have us believe that we are nurturing a population of young people who will grow up with permanent brain damage, inflicted by playing videogames.

Such a notion is "absurd", says Nalin Sharma, the founder of UK-based Puzzle Kings, a company dedicated to producing videogames that are as mentally challenging as they are aesthetically stimulating.

"I'm sure that a respected academic like Professor Mori has conducted a valid and useful piece of research. It is impossible however to draw valid conclusions before the formal results of this research are published, together with details of the methodologies behind the study; which games were selected and how the sample population was selected. The results of Professor Mori's research are due to be formally announced later this year at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in the U.S.

Speaking as someone who has played, designed and written videogames for nearly twenty years, I'm surprised and disappointed that some reporters have interpreted the preliminary findings reported in the Mainichi Daily News in an uncorroborated and sensationalist fashion.

The reality is that not enough is known about the brain and how it operates to reach the sort of concrete conclusions promoted by certain elements of the UK press this week.

For every negative study there are positive studies, highlighting the potential benefits of video games. A report by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001 suggests that video games can help to develop ambidextrous brains in young children, who are otherwise drawn to activities controlled by their brain side preference. In this study, children who played video games a minimum of 20 minutes three times a day exhibited left and right brain co-operation, implying that they could be both logical and intuitive rather than one or the other. Other research has pointed to video games helping to treat attention deficiency hyperactive disorder (ADHD) instead of drugs. Using a "biofeedback" mechanism children's brain waves were connected to control video games so they could be trained to increase the strength of both high and low frequency beta waves. In fact this has now resulted in a commercially available device , based on video games.

No mention has so far been made of the type of game played by Professor Mori's sample, which raises serious questions about the validity of the quoted conclusions. This makes me wonder how different genres of games would show up in terms of the brain activity they produced. I would expect a fighting game for example to produce different patterns of brain activity to a puzzle game. What would be the pattern if you compared two chess players: one playing a computer and one playing a human opponent? Is the phenomenon unique to videogames? If the reports in this week's press were to be taken literally, you'd expect the same patterns of brain activity in a computer chess player as you would in a Quake champion! It is not clear from the reporting of Professor Mori's study that any such distinction was made.

As a designer, I see all video games as challenging puzzles to be solved with a combination of analysis, creativity and dexterity. If video games were truly destroying players brains then one would expect players to get worse as they played; the reality is that the more people play, the better they become. Undoubtedly their brains are developing some skills in a positive way.

We live in a world characterised by the rapid march of technology. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children are often better than adults at learning the new skills required to cope with life in this environment. How many parents get their kids to set the VCR for them?

Often video games are intended to elicit tension and fear as part of the entertainment experience. In this sense they are no different to watching an exciting film or television show. Where video games differ is they offer objectives and reward the player for their completion. This sets video games apart and is a key reason why they can be addictive. After playing a particularly exciting video game there is always a cooling down period much like leaving a movie theatre and returning to normal life - both offer the opportunity for reflection on an uplifting experience.

The level headed view in the context of all these studies is that videogames, like any other leisure activity, should be enjoyed in moderation. Having failed to turn into one myself, I'll be surprised if videogames make zombies out of our children."

Nalin Sharma's latest project is ZooCube, a high-intensity puzzle game that excites and entertains as it tests mental ability and manual dexterity in equal measures. Having won plaudits at E3, the games industry's biggest trade show, it is due for a UK release on Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance in August. Find out more at http://www.zoocube.net and http://www.puzzlekings.com

About Nalin Sharma

Although only in his mid-30's, Nalin Sharma has been active in the computer games industry for over 20 years. One of the 80's generation of self-taught programmers, he wrote his first commercial video game, at the age of 16, for the Commodore VIC 20. In 2000, while pursuing a career as a management consultant in the City, Nalin entered an early version of his game ZooCube in a national competition sponsored by Edge Magazine. It won hands down and received a sponsored international showcase at Milia.

About PuzzleKings

PuzzleKings is a UK based company dedicated to producing high adrenaline puzzle games for the mass market that can scale from portable gaming platforms through to next generation games consoles. PuzzleKings mission is to create great games with widespread appeal that are hugely innovative, immensely entertaining and have lasting value.

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