Video Game Design: How It Impacts Us, And How We Study Its Impacts

Jul 15, 2019

Video game technology and design has seen explosive development and innovation over the last decade. We look at how game design impacts our brains, how it has changed our relationships and perceptions, and how we study these impacts.

GUESTS:

  • Mary Flanagan - Designer and educator who founded Tiltfactor, a studio dedicated to studying games, and designing games  that incorporate psychological principles, with the purpose of promoting learning, and attitude and behavior change. She is a professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College.
  • Dr. Paul Weigle - Child and adolescent psychiatrist and co-chair of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry's Media Committee. He studies video game and internet habits of young people and the impact on their mental health. 

Transcript:

This is a computer generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Many parents have a long litany of concerns about the impact of video games on their kids. Fears the gaming might be linked to violence depression anxiety obesity poor grades and so on. But while sitting on a couch for seven hours a day can't be good for anyone. Emerging research does indicate that some popular games have some benefits. For example they're way more interactive and social than that stereotypical image of the lone gamer sitting by themselves. And many allow players to explore different identities and interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures from their own. Today in exchange a fresh look at video game research given the evolving nature of the games themselves. Let's hear from you. Your questions and comments are welcome. Our email is exchange at an NHPR.org. Once again exchange at an NHPR.org you can use Facebook or Twitter at any sparks change or you can give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
Our guests are Dr. Paul Weigle. He's a child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate medical director at natural Hospital in Connecticut. He's also chair of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry media committee and Dr. Weigle. It's a real pleasure having you. Thank you very much for your time.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us in studio Professor Mary Flanagan. She's a professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College and founder of Tiltfactor game design for social change. And Professor Flanagan. Nice to see you welcome back.

Mary Flanagan:
Good to be here Laura. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
And Professor Flanagan let's start with you. What type of games do you study and what type of games do you think are most important to look at right now because things are changing things are changing.

Mary Flanagan:
In fact we use games as part of a larger research trajectory so we're often inventing new kinds of games for social causes for social change. So for example we might be trying to combat implicit biases that we all harbor in our minds and see if we can actually invent a new way of addressing them things like sexual assault prevention things like stereotypes about women in science. These are the kinds of topics we invent new games to address. So we're really looking at the ways in which we can use play in a positive effect.

Laura Knoy:
Well would kids sorry to be so cynical right off the top but would kids play a game that sort of teaching them to be better human beings. I mean it feels sort of preachy.

Mary Flanagan:
Oh it certainly would be if we followed a stereotypical path that way yes our games actually rarely appear to be what they are. OK. We really embed messages with a particular methodology that we call embedded design. So it's important that the game actually be fun first and then. But all games have messages all media have messages. So we are just very intentional about how they come across.

Mary Flanagan:
So we'll definitely talk a little bit late about the types of games that you're creating Professor Flanagan but what types of games do you think as a researcher are important to be looking at right now.

Mary Flanagan:
Well I think any popular game is worthy of study. It's unfortunate that we don't have a vast majority of researchers looking at games given their popularity and their cultural importance. I think that what's interesting to me is in fact the that the social aspects of games but also the ways in which we have emotional responses to games things like empathy comes up that the fascination with empathy comes up a lot especially as we move to virtual reality and immersive environments. And also the the the ways in which games can facilitate different kinds of conversations. I'm also very interested in the way in which we problem solving games and how that can really benefit us later in life. If the problems have interesting solutions very interesting how about you.

Laura Knoy:
Dr. Weigle what sort of games do you think are really important for researchers like you and Professor Flanagan to be looking at.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Well I agree with Professor Flanagan that the games that kids are playing are really the most important. And as a clinician who treats mental illness in children and adolescents I'm most concerned with encouraging and helping parents to encourage a healthy balance in the lives of young people and how video game habits in particular can affect mental illness both for better and for worse.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting. So I have not often heard researchers Dr. Weigle say video games can impact mental health for better or for worse. I haven't heard for better So tell me a little bit about that.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Well you know with the rise of screen media in general and video games in particular and the lives of young people there have been some really positive changes that perhaps we wouldn't have dreamt of. Around the turn of the millennium. So since the year 2000 kids are spending about three times as much time playing video games as they were then. And along with that there's been some wonder. Changes. Some of the things that parents worry about the most with young people in particular teenagers for example where there's concern and rightly so that violent video games might make kids more aggressive.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
And yet the violent crime rate among young people has plummeted. It's half of what it was in in the 90s. In addition so they may be shooting each other online but not on not on the streets and which is a really wonderful change. In addition teen pregnancy rates have plummeted. So if kids may not be dating as much but but teen pregnancy rates are half of what they were across different ethnicities compared to the year 2000. Drug alcohol cigarette use among teenagers has declined significantly particularly Cigarette and alcohol use which is past month uses is has been found to be half of what it was again around the year 2000. And and with less young people driving the number of young people who have worked are killed. Teens who were killed in traffic accidents has plummeted as well and is half of what it was. So. So there's some really important and good things to have kids you know important effects that have happened with this huge generational change with young people spending more time on screens. And one of them is that they're physically safer.

Laura Knoy:
Wow that is amazing I love what you think Professor Flanagan to those markers that parents often worry about substance abuse crime teen pregnancy car crashes all the stuff that keeps parents of teenagers like myself up at night. Dr. Weigle telling us these are down and screen use is way way up.

Mary Flanagan:
Yes it is. It is an interesting phenomenon. I mean the research has really been divided for years and years about you know the positive and negative effects and unfortunately negative effects have gotten a lot of press. But I do think that in some ways people looking for problems often find correlations. We can also find as Dr. Weigle suggests correlations for good and some very interesting studies on that as well as the differences internationally in the research. Some American researchers have found the link between video games and violence in some larger meta studies but also video games researchers in Europe have actually found no link between any kind of aggressive behavior and and video games and in fact look to television and as as a as a main culprit. So so we have some pretty pretty divided literature. It's it's it's very difficult to study video games out of context. We're in a media saturated environment. We where there screens around us in airports and waiting rooms and everything. So we really have to look at perhaps if we're thinking about violence in particular we have to look at all the cultural messages that we we send out.

Laura Knoy:
I want to remind our listeners that we would love to hear from you the number here in the exchanges 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 today in The Exchange a look at emerging video game research. We'd love to get your questions or comments in on this topic. You can give us a call at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Well send us an email exchange at an HP yard dot org What do you want to know about the impact of video games especially on young people. One more time that number 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. So Professor Flanagan 10 years ago 15 years ago the conversation over video games seemed to be. Are they good or bad for kids for the young developing body and brain. It sounds like from listening to you and Dr. Weigle that conversation is changing the conversation is changing too.

Mary Flanagan:
Consider for example the idea of inclusion that video games might actually be appealing to a wider population. They're being made slowly but surely by a wider and diverse creative base. And we're seeing a lot of new kinds of players of women over 50 for example. And the number one growing video game audience are women over 50. So it's not only for young people that a little bit of the average gamer in the United States is about 35 years old. Oh really. Yeah so. So we don't necessarily always have this link between young people and and video games. But the the the the the fascination is that somehow spending all the screen time in an immersive world somehow takes people away from the real world. And I think if we just look back to our own childhoods perhaps before the influx of video games and we see oh you know I spent a lot of time reading novels authorized their kids spend a lot of time doing the things they love.

Mary Flanagan:
And and I don't think most of.

Mary Flanagan:
Or worse for wear for reading too many novels. So I also like to just de-escalate the conversation the suspicion of the secret technology or something like that. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

Laura Knoy:
Well and I'm so glad you raised that and I'd love to get your thoughts to Dr. Weigle how much of the concern that we hear about video games you know is for real concerns about mental health and so forth and we'll talk about physical health in a moment as well and how much is it due to just what Professor Flanagan is hinting at. Adults inherently suspicious of anything new that they didn't do when they were kids what do you think.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Yeah. So that there is an element of concern about you know are our adults always sort of worried about what what kids are doing and it reminds me of when I was young and there was a great deal of concern about kids playing Dungeons and Dragons and that having an awful effect and of course that's just another version of a story that's been going on for a long time every generation it seems. However I do think that the it's important to phrase the idea and not just are are video games bad or good because inherently they really are neither. It's what type of game how and how they're played what type of habits young people get into. That's the most important.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Professor Flanagan had indicated that that you know young people spend a lot of times you know indulging their interests and that can be both positive and negative. I do think that the or at least my take on the the literature and studies indicate that that techno that entertainment media have really have changed the nature of childhood and adolescence and and and that that young people are spending so much time you know an average of seven hours a day for screen entertainment according to recent studies for teenagers that it began it it has begun to displace other healthy habits that young people really need to engage in in order to lead a happy and healthy lives and what I'm talking about is is active activities of academic value like reading for fun I'm talking about in-person socializing you know although it's very true the playing fortnight you know introduces you to other people and you do have a real connection with them. It is a very limited one and it really does not serve the same function for mental health and growth that in-person socialization does. Another thing is of course adequate exercise and physical movement and finally adequate sleep which is so important for mental health in a number of different ways. Studies show that young people are sleeping less than before.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
And a lot of it has to do with their technology habits.

Laura Knoy:
And that is definitely not good for your mental and physical health as we know so it seems like you're saying. Dr. Weigle it's not so much playing video games as Professor Flanagan said kids spent a lot of time doing things they love whether it's Dungeons and Dragons or reading novels or whatever you seem to be more quibbling with.

Laura Knoy:
It's just too much time doing one thing.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
For most it is and of course there's a great there's a lot of variation right. Some young people really don't spend too much time playing games or engaging in other technology at all. And then there's 25 percent of teens according to research that are classified as heavy users that spend about 13 hours a day which over the course of a year is about four times the amount of time they spend in school. And this is a quarter of American teens according to the Common Sense media survey. So so for. So it certainly varies by individual. But for some it can become a really really unhealthy habit that just crowds out you know other parts of their life that that support growth and health.

Laura Knoy:
Professor Flanagan What do you think.

Mary Flanagan:
Well I I'm definitely in agreement about the the the there is there is a level of what is too much. But I'm also really concerned about the ways in which video games reveal there are answers and video games. You know you get feedback you have points you know when you're winning. It feels good. There are there are problems to solve. The the the setup is understandable. That's not like the real world the real world a little bit more fuzzy. And I do wonder sometimes if if we're kind of creating games that teach a little bit too much of of a clarity or a lack of ambiguity missions in life are very different challenges in life are very different. So the kinds of problem solving we get packaged in a game are really interesting and good but too much may again limit us as far as being flexible thinkers.

Laura Knoy:
That's super interesting I'd love to hear a little bit more from you on that again especially for. Who maybe don't have a familiarity with busy video games it seems like you're saying that success in a video game is treasures one enemies knocked out territories conquered quantifiable life is isn't as as data driven or as measurable.

Mary Flanagan:
That's right. And we still need to find an intrinsic reward instead of an extrinsic reward in the way we conduct ourselves.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Right. That way we find meaning in life.

Laura Knoy:
Dr. Weigle what do you think.

Yeah I think that I think that's exactly right. video games are very good at meeting us at just the right challenge level. So if you're playing a game you have to fully engage in order to be successful. But if you do give your full attention you are likely to be successful. And as you get better at the game the game is very good at increasing the complexity and challenge so that you are always in that sweet spot of you know of the zone of flow where you have to. You're engaged completely.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
And unlike the real world this is different than a real world task in the real world path. Sometimes you know involve frustrations you know that are are much higher and and areas which are sort of boring or at times that you really have to practice patience. And it's a real world task. You know Art are much more frustrating and require really a lot more more patients in order to learn real world skills when compared to games which really are good at just challenging players and just the right way. But they don't necessarily you know encourage the development of sort of grit.

Laura Knoy:
It's really interesting. And coming up in just a moment I would ask both of you about that the idea that real life can be boring and a little more ambiguous and how that translates for young people across from their video game play to their academic work. We'll talk about that after a very short break.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today a fresh look at video game research and the evolving nature of the games themselves. Let's hear from you. Call in 1 800 9 2 6 4 7 7 send email to exchange at any age port org. Use Facebook or Twitter at any exchange. One more time the email exchange at an HP morgue and the phone number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. With me in studio Professor Mary Flanagan. She's a professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College and founder of Tiltfactor game design for social change. Joining us by phone Dr. Paul Weigle child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate medical director at Nacho Hospital in Connecticut. And Dr. Weigle to you first. What. So at this point lots of research as you and Professor Flanagan's said in the first part of the show different conclusions sometimes from America versus Europe.

Laura Knoy:
Is there anything that we definitively know. Dr. Weigle about the impact of video games on young people and what we don't know is can we really measure anything at this point or is it all still sort of a matter of research and opinion.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Yeah I think it depends on how much it really depends on how much how much research someone did that needs to be published or how much evidence is enough to say we really know something. I mean in order to do the kind of experiments that would really tell us what we want to know we would have to do experiments where reassign young people to play certain video games for a certain amount of time for years. And these are experiments that are just impossible to do. However we do have a wealth of information we're talking hundreds of of scientific studies looking at correlations and and sometimes looking at effects over time of changes with gaming habits so that there is a lot that we do know. And speaking in broad terms you know Dr. Flanagan mentioned press ran Flanagan mentioned that there's a there is different research about the effects of video games on violent behavior.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
But to my to my knowledge or as far as I can tell from the literature there there are hundreds of studies do show this sort of persistent effect of video game play violent video game play and aggressive thoughts and behaviors. Now this isn't necessarily violence right. And as I mentioned before playing violent video games which most kids do has not made a nation of violent kids it hasn't done that. But there is a significant persistent effect found in the significant majority of studies linking violent video game play to aggressive thoughts and behaviors. So so but the effect size is small. So what I'm saying here is that it seems to me that the that playing violent video games for an extended period of time does not make a you know mild mannered kid into a physically aggressive kid necessarily but it does sort of inch them along that line towards aggressive towards aggression or spending time in this in this sort of hostile world of kill or be killed. It does seem to have an effect on making a child sort of a little bit more aggressive a little bit less likely to engage in kind behavior that kind of thing. So so my take on the literature is there is a small but persistent effect of violent video games.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think Professor Flanagan. That's I think the number one concern of most parents and adults in general that violent video games might contribute in some way to violent behavior or aggressive behavior as the doctor says.

Mary Flanagan:
Well you know there have been a large meta analysis of existing studies throughout the last let's just say 10 years and those results.

Mary Flanagan:
As Dr. Weigle suggests do suggests that there is for a particular population a slightly increased aggressive strand if you will. So kids that might also be already prone to being aggressive might. This population is the most vulnerable to impact like practicing violence.

Mary Flanagan:
On the other hand again this could be an American problem because when we go over to the UK the UK Millennium Cohort study that was just conducted in the last two years they looked at 11000 children in the in the UK. A lot of kids that's a lot of kids and they really found no link between playing electronic games with any kind of conduct problems. Right. So so this this could be culturally specific. It could also again since these studies are correlative meaning that there's a there's a there's a kind of similarity between data sets but we don't always know exactly that cause and effect or it could be that that that the the the studies you know there are constant contradiction. About a violent video game studies I will say also that a few of the early studies academic studies on violent video games were redacted where were were removed from the research community because they were for a variety of reasons found insufficient.

Mary Flanagan:
So some of the early hysteria in the academic from the academic studies on violent video games actually were some of those studies were removed from from from academic life so and found to be not valid studies. So it is. So we're working we're working with an origin. It's a little bit like the vaccine crisis. You know we have some some some as one study or one rumor or something and everyone kind of jumps on that bandwagon sites that paper and suddenly we have a scientific movement. What happens when some of that initial research isn't so valid after all.

Laura Knoy:
All right let's go to our listeners lots more to talk about. Our number here in The Exchange is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. You can send us an email exchange at any HP fraud today in exchange we're taking a fresh look at video game research. Given the changing nature of some of the games themselves a lot of interaction a lot of problem solving. The games are not what they were 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. We're taking a look at how the games have changed and how some of the research around gaming is changing. Our number 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
And first up is James in Nashua. Hi James go ahead you're on the air.

Caller:
Yes hi. Thanks for taking my call. Sure. I just want to share a first hand. You know I worked with drones in the Air Force and specifically I worked with sensor operators and drone pilots and converse conversations with sensor operators and those are the guys that fire the missile and help guide the bomb to the target.

Caller:
You know firsthand they said that they dealt with you know killing and eliminating targets by you know playing video games. That helped desensitize them from doing their job. So I thought that was an interesting data point desensitize them.

Laura Knoy:
So give us a little more there. James how do you feel about that what does that mean to you.

Caller:
I basically say that I think video games you know pranks you know playing killing someone and then looking at a video screen at a real job you know it helps them eliminate the human factor from it and make it easier for someone to kill somebody else.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you very much for calling in James especially given your experience Dr. Weigle. What do you think about this.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Sure so. So a number of studies have found what exactly what James was saying that that playing violent video games does have an effect of desensitizing towards violence to some degree. And so and certainly as an anecdotal you know my my brother was in the military and when when his squad wasn't you know knocking down doors in Iraq they were playing Call of Duty and video games sort of simulating you know modern warfare.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
And there's a reason they did that. The games are very sophisticated in their ability to simulate real world violence and and so you know anecdotally you know Anders Breivik who was a mass murderer from Norway who killed 77 people said he trained for his for his killing by playing Call of Duty as well as time at the range. So I do think that that the the games that are so realistic that they they certainly can simulate violence in a way that can translate to real world behavior.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think Professor Flanagan. I know these aren't the type of games that you are designing in your lab. Tiltfactor but I just wonder what you think about this. Do you sense a sensitization lack of empathy concern with some of these games.

Mary Flanagan:
Well I would say for everyone training to kill others in an online game you have people training to cook meals and you know Cooking Mama or is like old you know there's so many games we have a lot of games right. So. So of course you know everyone's most concerned with with with with the most violent. But but we do you know there if you go back to anthropologists looking at the history of play we actually see that play can meet a variety of needs a need for power a need for understanding the adult world a need for. So. So there are many lenses upon which we can place our understanding of video games from an anthropological standpoint. Maybe we need all of these kinds of things in some kind of measure and perhaps for some that can be abused. I think the the idea of linking games to the military is particularly interesting because first of all we have a history of the military using games for a recruitment tool. America's Army 15 years ago was developed by the military to get kids to join the army. It was online multiplayer game where it was free to download and I played it. I've done lots of work in that in that environment and it was a recruitment tool to get people excited about joining the military so that that link has been very clear. Training simulations flight simulators we have a lot of games used in and military context. We also interesting. However we also use games for PTSD to overcome some of the problems people in the military have encountered in there in their combat for example.

Laura Knoy:
That's super interesting.

Laura Knoy:
Do you have a story or an example about that.

Well I've just I've I've several artists in fact have have acquired video footage of people competing from some some PTSD experiences in Iraq with using video games as part of the healing process. We see this with phobias as well people can use video games and immersive digital environments to do kind of auto correct or kind of work through some PTSD challenges with medical with medical supervision.

Mary Flanagan:
So we it's very interesting to use the same same kind of tool and what that just shows me is that it's not the same kind of tool that we're lumping together a lot of different things when we talk about video games and one we have video games for healing. Another we have video games for kind of propaganda in a way and then we have also video games for training all of that in an entertainment context because of course video games are part of a very large media media and entertainment complex.

Laura Knoy:
I would love to talk to both of you more about the commercial interests involved in these as you said the military uses some of these games as a recruiting tool. Both my boys love to play Madden which is a football playing game so that's fine. But it allows them to have the NFL which is a large commercial enterprise in front of their eyeballs. You know all year long. Not just during football season which is pretty long already. So it's interesting. And Mary I know you've talked about there's some casino elements in some of these games. Yes.

Mary Flanagan:
You know sort of teaching people that gambling is fun and.

Mary Flanagan:
Yes that in fact if you go to the app store and you look at the number one selling apps you look through history you'll find gambling games as a very large component of what is actually popular out there. And it is a little disturbing when when one is working with a bunch of professional game designers often professional game designers want to make good games they want to invent new mechanics but there are consultants consultants from casinos consultants from gambling institutions who also are brought in to help video games be more addictive. Case in point Candy Crush. You can see why Candy Crush feels like a slot machine. It's not it's not an accident.

Laura Knoy:
We will talk a lot more after a short break.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy. Today the latest research on video games and especially their impact on young people. Let's hear from you. Call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our email exchange at an NHPR.org. Once again that number 1 889 2 6 4 7 7. Our guests are Dr. Paul Weigle child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate medical director at natural Hospital in Connecticut. With me in studio Professor Mary Flanagan professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College and founder of Tiltfactor game design for social change. And both of you. Let's go right back to our listeners. Gavin's calling in from Barrington Hi Gavin. You're on the line. Go ahead.

Caller:
Yes hello. Thank you for taking my call. I am a psychotherapist out of Salem New Hampshire and I work primarily with young adult and adolescents and I deal with gaming on a daily basis and I agree with Dr. Weigle that balance is so key when understanding how to make gaming appropriate. There's obviously a lot of concerns if it gets sort of out of balance. And my brother working in the gaming industry I can tell you that what what we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg what's coming in the next five to 10 years is going to be amazing. So that balance is really important. On the flip side though I can tell you I'm working with gaming. I've helped clients one for example have very high social anxiety and the transition from high school to college was extremely challenging. And so what I did is looked at how learning with the games he played how important learning maps were them that knowledge we acquired it with college and we started looking at the map. We started learning where did it go. And we even took a test run where he then walked the map and in doing that it helped reduce that anxiety and ultimately really helped him be successful in that challenge. So there's a lot of skills people and gamers are learning that can that can be translated to life very effectively and I think that's an important piece to keep in mind especially when we're looking at gaming and what it means to adolescents and young adults.

Laura Knoy:
Really interesting. Gavin thank you so much for the call. Let's hear from both of you on this Dr. Weigle you first. The benefits of games and he's you know Gavin's got a full picture. He doesn't say it's all good but the benefits of games for young people who may have anxieties who may be what's sometimes called neuro diverse they don't learn the same way they don't look at the world the same way. I wonder what your thoughts are.

Laura Knoy:
Dr. Weigle.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Sure so it was so video games absolutely can be a fantastic teacher as Professor Flanagan has has his report and they can teach us both you know positive or negative things. You know we know that video games teach of course they train skills for eye hand coordination. They train skills for visual tracking the ability to mentally rotate objects multitasking and other cognitive abilities even vision. The gamers have better vision and non gamers can improve their practice the actual real world application of that is a little bit less clear in the literature like you might imagine that you know with all these with better visual attention and better multitasking and an eye and coordination that gamers would be better drivers. However the literature seems to show that although they might be more skilled drivers gamers tend to make take higher risks while they're driving. And so maybe are actually less safe drivers. One study did showed that that surgeons who who play video games perform much better on on surgery simulators than surgeons with similar experience who don't play games so so. So certainly there there absolutely can be real world applicability. But speaking to Gavin's Point I do see gaming for young men as a major a major impediment for many young men as far as leaving the home and transitioning successfully to college. And and a lot of times it's it's very important to consider sort of leaving the gaming console at home because for the first time you know young men are really don't have any parental limits on on how much they're allowed to play and it can really suck in some young people to the point where they they drop out of school.

Laura Knoy:
I have heard some of those legends or ambitions say legends stories Dr. waggle about young men who go to college and mom isn't saying Get off get off get off. And so they never get off and it turns out not well for them. Which raises a question I'd like to ask you Professor Flanagan how do men and women interact with games differently. I have read that the male brain is more predisposed to become addicted to games than the female brain. I don't know if that's true. I'd love your thoughts.

Mary Flanagan:
I would say that that's probably not a definitive definitive finding in the research. We do know that. So it's it's more just anecdotal. Yeah I think that it's a feeling. Yeah that's a that's a suspicion perhaps I guess but. But I there are a few interesting studies that suggest.

Mary Flanagan:
So for example a team of researchers in Canada did a study because they're very interested in in the kind of performance and games women versus men is. Is there something innate in video games that that men are better at hand eye coordination or all of these kinds of things than when they found that everyone had the same level of hours put in the same level of experience the same level of. Just that there was no difference in any kind of in-game performance and it is interesting. The only the only difference that has been consistent through through the years is is that as women tend to have lower spatial reasoning scores in general but that is often attributed to the number of hours playing three dimensional games and of course objects of childhood play. So so when when everyone's playing with the same tools and the same toys that those those differences diminish. So I don't give much credence to that. I do think that we have social stereotypes that games are for men that games or create is a masculine culture. But I think over time we see that that that actually when we actually collect the data it's it's nearing 50/50 and most on most game platforms except for some of the more simulations. But for example World of Warcraft had half women players and and I would suspect the same for Overwatch in and probably Fortnite as well.

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting and that does push back at the stereotype so I'm glad you mentioned that there was a rash of media articles a couple months ago. Professor Flanagan about fortnight addiction and this was seen know The Boston Globe and The Washington Post they're all these stories about the all boys in these stories anyway who were absolutely addicted to fortnight and just could not get off and you know fights with parents and there was this whole again rash of headlines if you want to go about fortnight addiction.

Laura Knoy:
So is that know exaggerated or people going overboard with this or is that a real thing every time a game is released.

Mary Flanagan:
There's always a small group of people who commit to a game and just will not stop and you know that's where those horror stories come from.

Mary Flanagan:
You know the man who did not leave his chair for three days. You know like there are these there are these all these horror stories like that and they tend to have been men in the past but that I think there's a variety of reasons that that could be true. But but there is I want to get back to this idea of what's pleasurable about a game. The idea that that there's this promise of success and it doesn't happen all the time. And in psychology we call this the variable ratio reward structure that there's occasionally something given to us. So we have to we know that there's promise out there we know we'll get something someday. So we just keep working it and we just keep working at it. And that that seems to drive this. This if if we want to use the term addiction I tend I tend not to use it but then again I'm not I'm not a physician. But when that that sense of pleasure that sense of that sense of little dopamine arrives it is it is very calculated in fact and game designers spend hours and hours and hours sometimes with casino designers for example to get that variable ratio reward structure just at the sweet spot so that you always keep playing and always keep playing because often of course a game doesn't exist unless it's played. So you really need to keep your players and keep them in there keep them in your game lest they go and play another game.

Mary Flanagan:
So well eyeball time.

Laura Knoy:
That's key and they don't make money if your eyeballs aren't on you know how many hours a day. And that's really the last question I would ask both of you and Dr. Weigle you first. What incentive what interest perhaps do you see from game designers to make the games a little less addictive so that people will go outside and move their bodies. I mean you in and Professor Flanagan both said you know look it's not so much that these games are inherently bad it's that song people just spend way too much time on them and not enough time outside helping around the house reading or whatever. Do you see any interest in the game designing companies to make these games a little bit easier to leave or stop.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Unfortunately I don't. So you know this is one hundred and twenty billion dollar industry it's an entertainment juggernaut it's bigger by some measures than the movie industry. And that money as Mr Flanagan noted is going into getting people to play and keeping them playing. And I do think that that the I don't think that game designers are half bad people but when when someone's job depends on them sort of not seeing the negative effects of their work they're often inclined not to see it. I'm thinking of the cigarette industry whose you know executives swore before Congress not 20 years ago that they didn't believe that that cigarettes were were addictive and they're really you know I don't think any industry is good at regulating itself right at regulating the harm it caused in the cigarette industry. I do think is a is a reasonable example of that. They had to be regulated from the federal government. And I worry that in order for the video game. Who really they're there. They're beholden to their stockholders and they're beholden to their bottom line more than they're beholden to the public health that until there. I do think it would be very easy for game designers to build in safeguards to help people to have healthy habits right after you play for eight hours. You stop earning a certain amount of rewards or just remind you hey you've been playing for so long. Maybe you should take a break. Something like that would be so easy for game designers to build in but there's no incentive for them to do so currently. So I believe that until they are regulated from the outside I don't believe that there will be a movement within the video game industry to help gamers maintain healthy habits.

Laura Knoy:
Real quick to you last thoughts.

Mary Flanagan:
I would just caution... Game designers often do notice this stuff. They're the ones who want to make the best game it's the corporate environment that is forcing their hand at not being able to have those reminders. But I would say that there are there's pushback on a number of levels and there's pushback among the game design community. And in fact there's a whole new generation of people making independent games. A lot of game designers go outside the studio system and make small independent games on their own that challenge some of these very notions. So that's really interesting. So there's this indie games movement they're game festivals there's one called indie-Cade so there is becoming a kind of a new movement for positive and different kinds of interaction. All right.

Laura Knoy:
Both of you. We could've talked a lot longer. This was really interesting I really appreciate you taking the time. Professor Flanigan thank you for coming in. Thank you so much. And Dr. Weigle Thank you also. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Paul Weigle:
Thanks for having me.

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