Are video games really bad for your health?

By on March 8, 2012

We take a look at how our brains and developers are manipulating the way we play games.

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“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Depending on who you’re talking to, it was either Benjamin Franklin or Christopher Bullock that made this pessimistic but true observation. From devastating natural disasters, to crimes of passion and fatal diseases, the news is filled with stories of people dying. Frankly, many of them are unlikely to register in our minds. With approximately 150,000 people leaving the building every day, and our desensitisation to violence and graphic imagery increasing, this apparent lack of empathy is understandable. But there are times when you see or hear about a death that grips your attention. One that strikes a nerve and unsettles your thoughts to the point where you begin to question your own mortality.

On the evening of Tuesday 31st January 2012, a young Taiwanese man called Chen Rong-yu went to an internet cafe in the city of New Taipei to play League of Legends, an action RTS game developed by Riot Games. Finding a seat amongst a crowd of intensely jacked in players, Rong-yu settled down and began playing. He played throughout the night and into the following Wednesday. Around noon he made a call on his mobile before getting back to his game. It was the last time Rong-yu would be seen alive. The cafe waitress found him later that evening, his rigamortis stiffened body sitting at his computer, he had been dead for up to nine hours, sadly, nobody noticed.

Chen Rong-yu died from a heart attack. Initial reports into what caused it are cloudy, but police believe that a fatal combination of blood clots caused from cold temperatures, exhaustion and extreme lethargy were to blame. Family members were quick to point out that he had undergone treatment for a heart condition the previous September.

This is not the first time a person’s death had been linked to excessive gaming sessions. In July 2011, Twenty year old Christopher Staniforth, a promising student from Sheffield in the UK, collapsed and died while taking with a friend after a blood clot worked its way into his lungs. His distraught father ironically admitted that Chris lived for his Xbox and could play for 12 hour stretches at a time.

For years video games have been treated like the unwanted stepchild by the intelligentsia and moral guardians of society. Quick to be dismissed as adolescent entertainment for socially inept males, the status quo has seen video games cross the rubicon to a far wider audience thanks to the internet, smartphones and tablets. Social media has gone from marketing buzzword to common lexicon lingo, and has moved the goal posts as to what constitutes a gamer? Ask people why they play video games and the majority will tell you that they’re fun, something to do. A way to chill out and escape. Interestingly if you ask people why they smoke you’ll get a similar response.

To sentence video games as the sole reason for the deaths of Chen Rong-yu and Chris Staniforth would be harsh. However, you could find merit in the argument that they are partly to blame. Although the jury still seems to be out on a overall consensus, video game addiction has again come under the spotlight with medical professionals calling for it to be classified as a genuine mental and psychological disorder.

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A Batliff expert and former Vegas magician, Jason was born in Royston Vasey in the north of England and has been playing and writing about games for two lifetimes.

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