Games industry guns down brain damage claims

The row over the effects that computer games can have on children's development intensifies as the games industry rejects brain damage claims

The video game industry has hit back at claims that computer games could be damaging children's brains and insisted that the activity can be beneficial.

In a statement released on Wednesday the European Leisure Software Publisher's Association (ELSPA) says that research carried out at the Tohoku University in Japan was only of "very limited focus". ELSPA believes it is not true that playing video games can make children anti-social, and is instead flagging up recent UK research that suggests that playing computer games can be as beneficial as taking part in physical sporting activity.

"For too long now, our industry has been the target of ill-informed criticism and scaremongering," said Roger Bennett, director general of ELSPA. "We want to help those who weren't brought up on computer games to understand this exciting new medium and the part that it can play in a healthy balance of learning and leisure activities for all age groups."

Scientists from the Tohoku University said last week that children who spend lots of time playing computer games could be causing long-term brain damage, and might not develop the ability to control their behaviour. They claimed that computer games only stimulate those parts of the brain that are devoted to vision and movement, and do not aid the development of other important areas of the brain.

In particular, the researchers fear that video game players are not developing their frontal lobes -- which play a crucial role in controlling behaviour, and in developing memory, emotion and learning.

The researchers also tested children who were carrying out basic arithmetic, and found that to be much more beneficial to brain development.

ELSPA is keen to play down the importance of this finding. "The result of this study is actually not that computer games damage the brain but that half an hour of playing this one, particular title was less effective at developing the brain than doing half an hour of repetitive arithmetic," it said in a statement released on Wednesday.

"There are many games that involve a variety of skills, reasoning and co-ordination, while others can be purely educational," ELSPA insisted.

ELSPA is also attempting to dispel the traditional image of the lonely, anti-social game player. It claims that recent UK research has discovered that computer games can actually assist physical, mental and social development.

Academics at the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester University recently found that gamers experience the same high levels of concentration and involvement as do competitors in athletics clubs. "Through the study, gaming emerges as an increasingly social activity and gamers spend comparable amounts of time socialising with friends and family," said ELSPA, adding that, "the researchers concluded demonstrated that: 'the stereotype of the computer gamer as someone who spends a large amount of leisure time interacting with technology rather than other people is questionable.'"

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