My Brain and Body on Games


So I recently stumbled across this really neat TED talk from Daphne Bavelier (watch it here if you like). The talk explains how Call of Duty style shooters affect a player’s brain function for the better and this idea has gotten me thinking about how games affect me beyond the level of fun. I haven’t the slightest clue whether or not other gamers experiences have been the same but I’d love  to hear them nonetheless!

Call of Duty

Call of Duty (COD) has almost an immediate effect on me. Pretty much as soon as I jump in my hand movements begin to speed up and become more accurate, my eyes move faster and my body becomes tense. Beyond the physical effect my mindset begins to change as I become intensely focused on the screen in front of me; headphones on other sounds, thoughts and needs are ignored. I attribute these changes to the fast paced nature of the game which sees players constantly moving through and reassessing situations as they are announced.

The game’s physical and mental effects only intensify the longer and more often I play but what’s more interesting is how they linger once play has completed. I’d heard lectures, friends and colleagues speak of paranoia once they’d finished a long gaming session: venturing into the kitchen only to be met with sneaky and unsettling shadows at every corner. I’d experienced a similar thing with scary games such as Alan Wake or Amnesia but I attribute that more so to me being adverse to scary things in general. However, not until I started playing COD had I experienced this beyond the scary setting.

Call of Duty Black Ops 2

Call of Duty Black Ops 2

I think an example best explains this sensation: after playing COD for around 45 mins I needed to get in the car and make a short ten minute trip to pick someone up, easy task right? Well in normal circumstances it would be, however, I had just spend 45 odd minutes on the edge of my seat scanning for enemies, sprinting for cover and instinctively stabbing my way through the battle field. Suddenly I was in the real world, one that looks in many ways very similar to the game world I might add, and hadn’t left enough time to settle back down to normal. My eyes were still darting around searching for the slightest of movements, my knee wanting to anxiously bounce up and down, and my hands itching to be of greater use. Oddly enough these actions are normally an important part of driving a car safely, however, the intensity of them in this case were more than likely having detrimental effects.

Beyond the above example these effects will linger no matter what task I might move on to post play. Even after shorter play sessions I note change, though in a much more positive degree; I become more alert but not so much so that it becomes distracting.

Starcraft 2

What’s more, the lingering impact of COD becomes more apparent when I compare my physical and mental state when playing other games, such as Starcraft 2: Winds of Liberty. I’ve chosen Starcraft 2 because well it’s what I’ve been playing recently next to COD, and because the two games are fairly different; where COD sees fast paced and immediate action, Starcraft 2 sees a much slower build up in action.

I suppose the nature of Starcraft 2 makes my experience a whole lot different. I would argue that I’m fairly average at COD (for each lower placing in a match, I’ll managing a higher or even top place rank) as compared to being more or less a complete beginner at Starcraft 2. With this in mind it’s entirely possible that my experience with it may not be so comparable to other players. Nevertheless Starcraft 2 does have an effect on me.

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty screenshot

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty screenshot

This effect is actually fairly comparable to that of COD’s; faster hand and eye movement, tense body and devoted focus on the activity on the screen before me. I find Starcraft 2 overwhelming  at times due to the volume of tasks to be completed and knowledge to be obtained to be successful. However, unlike COD, these effects end as soon as the match is complete. Yes, I might be disappointed for a short while but the intensity of the match dissipates very quickly and I can transition to other tasks with no noticeable change in focus. I think there are a number of possible reasons for this:

  • The sci-fi setting is a clear separation from the real world making the initial transition back much simpler
  • The game’s gradual increase in pace eases the player in
  • Players can surrender whenever they choose and the match will end. In COD if a player dies they will quickly respawn whereby they are thrown straight back into the action

Blue pill or the Red pill?

Maybe it’s the fast pace, instant action, forgiving play style of Call of Duty that keeps bringing me back to it despite the odd detrimental experience. But I can’t get help but go back. Maybe I’m addicted! I feel a rush playing COD that I only really feel in Starcraft 2 when I win a match and at my skill level that’s not something that happens as often as I’d like. I suppose it’s like watching a big blockbuster action movie over a long fantasy epic trilogy; there is a place in my gaming life for an epic trilogy but for the quick fix I’ll always choose the blockbuster.

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