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Students use gaming as an escape from reality

By Katie Sallach
On February 21, 2013

For many students at Miami University, video games are a study break, but to some, they offer much more.

For first-year Steven Beynon, video games provided relief from very different types of stress while he served in the Army in Afghanistan. According to Beynon, many of the soldiers used video games to escape from combat stress and fend off boredom.

"The real obstacle of deployment is the boredom and trying to shake the home life out of your head," Beynon said. "There are a lot of uncertainties. Is my girlfriend going to be faithful or even bother waiting the full year? Is my house being taken care of? What if I miss my son's birth?"

Since there weren't many other options for recreation, video games were the main source of entertainment and distracted everyone from the constant worries and stress, according to Beynon.

He said games go beyond what other forms of entertainment do.

"Games are a culmination of every art form," Beynon said. "They can do things a movie or a book can't. Games have the advantage of being a social tool, being able to provide an immersive narrative, and demanding more attention than a TV show."

Both sophomore Allen Hulley and junior Taylor White have been playing video games since before they could read. They agree that it helps them relax and relieve stress.

Hulley compared the experience to other common stress reducing activities.

"It's the same thing as when you're reading," Hulley said. "You're not thinking about money problems or anything else. It keeps your mind occupied."

White agreed, adding that the competitive edge in many games he plays is a key aspect in this stress relief.

"With the competitive aspects of the games, it gives me sort of a sense of accomplishment," White said.

According to interactive media studies professor Lindsay Grace, who has been teaching game design and making games for nearly ten years, there are theories that support the competitive challenges of video games as a source of fulfillment. Most games are designed around challenges so that as players complete the challenges they begin to feel accomplished.

However, Grace said he thinks the main reason people use video games to reduce stress is because it allows them to escape from their daily lives.

"Computer based play extends the usual bounds of play by providing opportunities to play outside the daily rule sets," Grace said. "Life is often not as well scaffolded as games. Players receive persistent feedback and appropriate challenges, where life is rarely so well managed."

Beynon, who was introduced to video games at a young age by his parents, continues to play video games more than ever now that he is back from Afghanistan and a student at Miami. According to Beynon, college students also need a way to relieve stress and video games are the perfect way.

"Students have a major lack of control," Beynon said. "College is overpriced and most students are overworked and underpaid, this, on top of other problems like raising children, maintaining a car, health concerns and uncertainty about the future ... Games empower the student and throw them into a world that they can control. And if the realities of the game get too stressful, they can turn it off and move on. You can't do that with life."

While Hulley and White say they mainly play role playing, shooting and sports video games to escape reality for a while, according to Grace, there are many other types of games that offer benefits in addition to stress relief.

Grace runs the Persuasive Play lab at Miami University, which is a new initiative to research games as a tool to change the way people view the world, and develop games that deliver persuasive content including social impact and educational information. The lab is funded by Proctor and Gamble and operates a design group including instructor led students and clients hoping to promote their products and ideas through the games they design.

They are currently working on researching and developing games that could aid in complicated problems such as tax returns.

In addition to running the lab and teaching, Grace has designed and developed educational games, which he said can be beneficial in explaining complex concepts, and have been used in classrooms to help students learn in a more engaging way, which improves learning across the board.

One study, conducted by a group of physicians at the Beth Israeli Medical Center in New York City, demonstrated a strong correlation between physicians who played games and their ability to use digital tools during surgery, according to Grace.

Another study used electroencephalograms (EEG) to test the activity of people's brains while playing video games, and demonstrated a decrease in brain waves that are associated with withdrawal and depression type behaviors when the participants were playing video games.

Hulley also said he thinks there are other benefits to playing video games including gaining practical, real world knowledge and skills, especially through role playing type video games.

Even though studies have shown that video games can be educational and helpful in relieving stress, some are still skeptical and believe they desensitize players to violence. While Grace does not personally enjoy violent games and thinks the gaming industry should go beyond violence, he does not agree with the idea that they are the sole cause of peoples' violence.

"Last I checked there seems to be plenty of violent books and movies," Grace said. "I'd encourage people to consider violent video games as a genre, the way horror films don't represent all film."

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