Playing for Better or for Worse?: Health and Social Outcomes with Electronic Gaming

Playing for Better or for Worse?: Health and Social Outcomes with Electronic Gaming

Patrícia Arriaga (ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Cis-IUL, Portugal), Francisco Esteves (Mid Sweden University, Sweden & Cis-IUL, Portugal) and Sara Fernandes (ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Cis-IUL, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3986-7.ch003
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Of the many of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products, electronic games are considered as having great potential for improving health and social outcomes. This chapter considers the factors that may be involved in facilitating health and social outcomes and also those factors that might be considered risk factors by reviewing studies that have shown both positive and detrimental effects on people’s physical and mental health. The authors also debate some research questions that remain unanswered and suggest guidelines for practitioners, researchers, and game designers.
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General Overview Of Research

Many studies have reported both negative and positive effects of playing with electronic games.

Detrimental effects on health that have been reported include concerns related to the overuse or even addictive use of electronic games (e.g., withdrawal, social isolation, depression, bad sleeping habits, waking-time tiredness, obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, visual problems, palmar hidradenitis). The content of video games has also been a matter of concern, especially regarding the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of playing games that are considered morally objectionable because of their explicit violent or misogynistic messages. The increased belief in the power of games to influence individuals has also contributed to the use of this new entertainment as a mass medium to deliver all sorts of message, ranging from simple advertisement of brands to those involving religious and political issues.

There has also been a substantial interest in the educational, training, and preventive health uses of this interactive technology. Besides the use of available commercial games to provide cognitive distraction for pain and anxiety management, efforts have also been made in designing games for health-educational purposes. The benefits of these type of “serious games” have been reported in a wide range of areas, including physiotherapy, rehabilitation, health promotion, risk behavior prevention, development of cognitive, social and communication skills, and treatment of clinical disorders.

In order to include the broadest range of gaming experiences and outcomes, in this chapter we shall consider the following distinct (but interrelated) dimensions to address the specific effects of electronic games on users’ health and social outcomes (as suggested by Gentile et al., 2009): the game structure, the mechanisms of game play, the amount of play, the context in which gaming takes place, and the game content.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Exergames: A combination of exercise with electronic games: an electronic game that includes features for doing physical exercise.

Serious Games: Electronic games whose main purpose is “serious” and not to simply entertain. The primary “serious” purposes can be to teach or train in areas such as education, health care, advertising, politics, etc.

Edutainment: A combination of entertainment with education: any type of entertainment aimed at entertaining and being educative.

Avatar: In electronic games, the player’s virtual graphical representation of him or herself in the game.

Advergames: A combination of advertising with electronic games. It can be in-game advertising, or games designed around a brand or other topics (e.g., politics, religion).

Social Games: Game applications embedded into Websites that usually have the attributes of social networks.

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