According to the Entertainment Software Association, 60 percent of Americans play video games daily—which is upwards of 200 million people.
And because of advances in technology, gaming is no longer restricted to stationary consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Wii.
Video games are now accessible in the home and on-the-go, thanks to computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and VR (virtual reality) headsets.
With 5G technology on the horizon, gaming will only get more popular. 5G’s higher bandwidth and faster speeds are expected to help VR and AR (augmented reality)—gaming styles currently in their infancy—to become mainstream, as 5G opens up video games to being streamed from the cloud, much like video streaming on Netflix.
A Forbes report states that ‘eSports’ (Electronic Sports) is one of the largest growing industries. Predictions estimate the industry will cross the billion-dollar threshold in 2019.
Health Issues with Too Much Video Gaming
Whether you’re an active gamer or an occasional novice, a 4-year-old child or a 40-year-old adult, gaming has become a favorite past time for many. And that’s not entirely a bad thing; there are many studies linking gaming to increased perceptual and cognitive performance.
Nevertheless, research shows video games can also have some downsides. For one, all electronic devices emit Electromagnetic Fields, commonly called EMFs. Too much time spent close to EMF-emitting technology can lead to many negative health effects.
EMF radiation has been shown to activate the cellular stress response, which in turn causes the expression of stress response genes and increased levels of stress proteins. Studies have found links between EMF radiation exposure and minor health concerns such as skin rashes and headaches, as well as more serious concerns, such as DNA fragmentation, cell damage and fertility problems.
So while playing a video game in which your body is a good distance away from the system is quite safe in terms of EMF exposure—such as is the case with a gaming console or a desktop computer—playing games on a handheld system, cell phone, tablet or laptop directly against the body may increase the level of risk for the aforementioned health effects.
However, some of the largest concerns with being an active gamer are the impacts staring at a screen and interacting in a simulated reality has on neurological processes and vision.
Just like overworking your body’s muscles in the gym could lead to injuries and other issues, overworking muscles in your eyes and brain can sometimes do more harm than good. Below are some of the effects video gaming can have on eyes and the brain, as well as why children, specifically, are more at risk.
According to the Vision Council, 59 percent of adult Americans report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain (DES). DES can occur from looking at a screen for more than two hours at a time.
Symptoms include eye strain, dry eye, headaches, blurred vision, and neck and shoulder pain. These symptoms are temporary, but there is research that suggests too much screen time can lead to permanent damage.
Digital electronic screens use LED diodes to emit a high-energy blue light, which is covered in low-energy phosphors to make the screen appear white. Evidence has found that this high-energy blue light can damage your eyes’ retinas and destroy specific membranes. This may accelerate the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision loss in older Americans, so while gaming excessively at a young age may not have immediately noticeable impacts, there may be negative long-term effects.
Besides the negative health effects of looking at video screens for too long, overworking your brain through gaming can affect neurological processes as well.
Two Canadian professors published a paper establishing a link between games that use first-person shooting (FSP) and the loss of gray matter in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory and spatial navigation, and for 85% of the people who played FSP games at least six hours a week, hippocampus use dropped.
This suggests first-person shooting games like Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike can decrease your ability to remember spaces.
Gregory West, one of the professors on the project, stated that reduced gray matter in the hippocampus causes young people to be at a higher risk of developing PTSD and depression, and as they age, are more at risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Video games are created to have addictive qualities because the developers want you to keep playing. As a player, you crave beating the next scenario, earning more achievements, and leveling up—and each accomplishment may be one more step down the path to addiction.
Emotional signs of video game addiction may include feelings of restlessness or irritability when unable to play, preoccupation with thoughts of gaming, and isolation from others in order to spend more time gaming. Physical signs may include fatigue, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome from the controller or mouse, and poor personal hygiene.
In June 2018, the World Health Organization officially recognized “gaming disorder” as a condition in its International Classification of Diseases.
Excess video gaming in young children and adolescents is especially concerning because their brains are still growing and developing, making kids more vulnerable to the effects of high-energy blue light emitting from all digital screens.
Not only that, but too much gaming can also over-trigger a child’s fight-or-flight sense, due to game scenarios that create a sense of danger. This arouses the body’s primitive instincts and triggers the nervous system and hormones to enter a state of hyperarousal.
However, since kids are fight-or-flight-ing in a mediated reality, they don’t actually expend this energy. This mismatch instead creates chronic stress.
Hyperarousal through video gaming can impair the functioning of the frontal lobe and make it harder for the brain and body to regulate back to a state of calm.
Since children’s’ nervous systems are still developing, their fight-or-flight progression happens significantly faster and can lead to more problems with chronic stress. However, chronic stress created from hyperarousal with little energy expenditure is a problem gamers of all ages are subject to experiencing.
How Blue Light Blocking Glasses Can Help Video Game Players
Blue Light Blocking Glasses are glasses with tinted lenses that reflect blue energy wavelengths, so harmful blue light doesn’t reach your eyes. There are many benefits to wearing blue light blocking glasses while gaming.
As mentioned earlier, blue light can cause DES. DES’s symptoms make it hard to focus and act with precision, two things arguably very necessary to playing video games with expertise.
The short wavelength of blue light causes eye strain more so than the longer wavelength of other colored light. Limiting the amount of blue light that reaches your eyes will help reduce DES, enabling better focus for longer.
Blue light also suppresses the release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that influences your body’s circadian rhythm, which is in charge of your sleep cycle.
Blue light exposure at night is a major reason people do not get enough sleep. Research has linked a lack of sleep at night to increased risk for depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
Video games are often played after school and work is over in the evening or at night, which is actually the worst time to play because of the blue light exposure. But, if you are going to play games at night, make sure to wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses to try and decrease the negative impacts of blue light on your circadian rhythm.
This research study showed that in a randomized group of 20 adults, those who wore amber lenses in the three hours prior to going to sleep had a higher quality of sleep than those who were in the control group.
Research by the Molecular Vision Journal cites several findings that show exposure to blue light may cause damage to our photoreceptors, which are the cells in our eyes that respond to light.
When the pigment in our retinas are exposed to higher intensity light, free-radicals are formed. This causes oxidative damage and photoreceptor death which can lead to macular degeneration and other eye problems over time.
Blue light glasses will help protect your eyes from damage to photoreceptors over time.
Other Tips to Decrease Effects of Blue Light and EMF Exposure
- Be aware of when and how long you are playing games. Limit gaming to less than two hours, and try to finish playing 1-2 hours before bedtime so that your body has time to sync back up with your circadian rhythm.
- While gaming, make sure you are at least an arm’s length away from the screen, which is approximately 25 inches. This will help lessen the impact of digital eye strain.
- If you are going to play video games (or look at a screen in general) for an extended period of time, follow the 20-20-20 rule to give your eyes a break. Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Turn off and unplug consoles and devices when you aren’t gaming. Just like any other electronic device, these devices emit EMF radiation, which is linked to many negative health effects.
- If you need to use headphones while you play, use EMF-free air tube headphones. Air tube headphones eliminate almost all EMF radiation from going to your head.
- When it comes to mobile gaming, using an EMF shield will help block your body from EMF radiation emitting from your laptop, tablet, or cell phone, and reduce thermal emissions as well.
- For children, screen time regulation is imperative. Parents need to know how screen-time overstimulates their children’s nervous system and what the symptoms and dysfunction look like. Once they are in-tune with the effects on their children, setting appropriate time limits will control the negative effects and responses video games can cause.