Straight Talk Advice

Jul 05, 2006

Video games really do fry the brain

Dear Straight Talk: Our son, “Greg”, is 16 and things started out innocently enough with an X-box for his birthday two years ago. At first he played an hour or two a day three or four days a week. Unfortunately it has grown into a daily obsession. Though we limit Greg to two hours a day, I know when we’re gone he plays non-stop. I can tell because he has the “zombie” look.

Greg has developed what I consider an anger problem. He has lost interest in activities he used to enjoy and only seeks friends who play a lot of computer games.

I’m not sure whether being angry is age-related, but I think it’s related to the gaming. I absolutely don’t understand the benefits of playing video games even though I see different studies touting them and everybody seems to be letting their children do it. His dad and I both work and we can’t monitor him all the time. Now that it’s summer how do we get a handle on it so he doesn’t play all day long?—Lincoln, CA

Dear Lincoln: There are at least 50 ways, the most common being to move the computer into your bedroom, install a password that must be entered before the computer can be turned on, confiscate the keyboard, enroll Greg in summer camps, and so forth.

But first, you need to believe in your instincts. The personality shift you’ve described is classic in kids who’ve become hooked on gaming. To varying degrees and in varying combinations, they can’t focus outside the game, they stop interacting socially, they become edgy, angry, fidgety, and are often sick.

Lack of exercise, snack foods, and inadequate sleep, add insult to injury for chronic gamers but there’s more to it than that.

What we are told in numerous articles is that video games increase visual tracking, improve self esteem, encourage teamwork, and help burn calories. What we see is a generation of angry, antisocial kids with attention issues.

The most extensive research yet shows what you already know: playing video games really does fry the brain.

Japanese professor Akio Mori at Toyko’s Nihon University found that the more people play video games the less active the prefrontal region of their brain becomes. With chronic use, this part of the brain, which governs thought, emotion, and creativity, is reduced to an activity level of zero. It stays at zero even between games.

When awake, our brain runs mostly on beta waves which are associated with the lively tension of wakefulness. When the brain is at rest, alpha waves dominate.

Mori found that subjects who almost never played video games had beta waves that were always stronger than alpha waves—and they remained stronger even when they played a game.

Gamers who played one to three hours a day, three or four days a week, had roughly equal beta and alpha waves before starting a game, but once they started playing the beta waves dipped sharply below the alpha waves.

For gamers who played between two and seven hours every day, the beta wave activity in their brains was constantly near zero—even when they weren’t playing. In other words, chronic game players barely have use of the prefrontal region of their brain.

Many of the subjects in this group reported that they got angry easily, couldn’t concentrate, and had trouble associating with others.

It’s important to note that subjects who didn’t play video games but spent a lot of time watching TV developed prefrontal brain inactivity identical to the heavy gamers.

With the prefrontal region of the brain suppressed or switched off entirely, it’s no wonder our children are experiencing emotional problems, attention disorders, antisocial behavior, and lack of drive.

Many of our kids really are addicted—the effects you’re noticing are real and could be permanent. They need you to step in and help them.


  1. By annon, age , from chicago on 01/06/2014

    im sorry have you thought of telling him its broken and then hiding it making him get a job like cutting grass to earn money to get a new one then follow up how you would like?
    is this the only comment you have gotten? im sorry

    Reply to this comment

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