Playing games professionally can earn you money, but there are potential draw backs.

Starting in the 1970’s, cult classics such as Pac-Man, Asteroids, and Pong helped pave the way for video games to become an increasingly popular form of entertainment. Encompassing a myriad of genres, video games provide many unique experiences, but who would have thought that they would legitimately become a competitive sport? Human beings by nature are competitive, yet we are also able to cooperate to accomplish some amazing feats.

Video games feed into these 2 ideas, as players try to achieve a new high score or beat an opponent, but also work together as a team to finish a dungeon. The feelings of success or failure we experience in real life can be just as real in the digital world. Video games have been shown to provide a social, emotional and cognitive experience, benefiting individuals’ mental health. But there are always two sides to every story.

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40 Working as 1

Originally released in 2004, World of Warcraft has seen a significant boost in its player population, reaching a peak of 12 million subscribers in 2010; as of December 2013, it stands at roughly 7.8 million. Deemed as one of the most successful massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), the reason for its success is the level of cooperative and competitive play needed to accomplish set tasks in-game. One of the key driving forces was the inclusion of raids. Raids were originally the only way to receive some of the best equipment in the game and required the coordination and effort of up to 40 players. This cooperative play meant that all of these players, through trial and tribulation, would eventually become a well-oiled machine, with all the individual parts working in unison to successfully defeat a dungeon and its bosses.

For some, these raids were often more than just obtaining epic armor and weaponry. Activision/Blizzard, the company who developed the game, began to include a set of achievements, the most prestigious of which was “World First.” Not only would a guild or group of players have to learn the ins and outs of the dungeon and its encounters, but they would also now be in a race against time. Players world-wide would try to become the very first guild to complete new raid content. The successful raid group would then be announced, with their names and achievements recorded for all to see. The amount of coordination necessary, coupled with the stress related to this endeavor, meant a closer comradery between fellow team members. Your team provided you the means to complete a dungeon, but your team and other players in the world were also your competition for equipment.

World of Warcraft Competition

As new expansions and additions to the game were released, Activision/Blizzard would up the ante’ with bigger and better rewards, ever increasing the amount of cooperation needed to remain competitive. After introducing PvP (player-versus-player) battlegrounds, players were now able to square off against others for additional equipment made especially for this type of gameplay. The efforts required to achieve these rewards were so staggering that players often would forgo sleep in order to play and increase their skills. Players find the thrill of fighting real-life players in dungeon encounters exhilarating. These digital experiences for some, translated into real-life fear, trepidation, and excitement, as they got an instant rush when engaging in these activities. Most of these feelings are brought about due to the team aspect of play. The social stigma of being a bad player versus a good one has similar far-reaching effects in the virtual world. Your character has a reputation; if the reputation is good, you’re more likely to be brought along on quests and events, where as if your reputation is bad, people will tend to ignore or avoid you.

The social aspects of the game are quite similar to those of real life. The very same interactive experiences you might encounter in your day-to-day life were practically there in digital form. World of Warcraft provides a means for some players to stand out and excel. By offering an opportunity for people to gain leadership skills that are required to manage a guild, a raid party, a PvP team, or coordinate events, gamers could adapt these skills for use in their real lives. As exceptional players increasingly worked with other exceptional players, World of Warcraft eventually provided these elite players a means to put their virtual reputation on the line and compete for real money.

During BlizzCon 2013, players were squared off against one another in heated PvP combat. This was a global event where players from all over the world were invited to participate. By focusing their efforts on PvP, world-class teams competed to earn the title of Global Arena Champions which earned them a grand prize of $105,000 to be split among their teammates.

Answering the Call of Duty

First-person shooters (FPSs) are generally twitch games. Your reflexes are the key to performing well. These reflexes are critical to being able to instantly aim down a sight and maintain a clear shot at a target. Research has shown that these twitch reflexes improve over time as gamers become more familiar and comfortable you become your ability to predict or make quick decisions improves as well all of course by trial and error.

Call of Duty

Barone Firenze

The Call of Duty franchise is considered to be one of the most successful and competitive games in the first person shooter genre. Call of Duty offers some of the most competitive online battles whether you go it alone or as part of a team. The more skillful you are in play, the higher up in ranking you move. The ranking or ladder system will show where you stand against other players in the world. Call of Duty, along with several other games in this genre, was one of the first to offer cash prizes to those who were able to overcome their opponents in a wide variety of different game modes.

In the textbook Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, there is an analysis regarding how to improve teaching methodology for nurses. Methods that are beginning to gain acceptance employ several technological innovations, including: simulators, virtual worlds and video/computer games. By utilizing these tools, future nurses could develop the skill set needed to rapidly analyze patients’ ever-changing conditions and to apply high-order strategies that turn these critical actions into positive outcomes for patients. Similarly, players of Call of Duty and many other games may unknowingly be applying the same principles. By continually playing, they are exposing themselves to a wide variety of different threats and environments.

Video games provide a form of interactive stimulation through simulation. The stimulation from engaging in set tasks or challenges results in the release of dopamine as the players mind is increasingly excited by the situations arising in the game world. Similar in scope, the University of Texas found that the brain is a prediction machine of sorts; as more and more prediction errors occur, the brain, due to its excited state, would begin to release more and more dopamine. These prediction errors occur when the brain continually tries to predict what will happen next, and is most responsive when there is a difference between what the brain is expecting and what actually occurs. This action-oriented simulation spurs the brain’s biochemical energy, fueling the interactive decision-making that occurs in complex situations.

StarCraft – Raising the Bar on Competition

A gamer participating in a StarCraft tournament

StarCraft was the game that inspired a generation of youth in South Korea to pursue the path of perfection. In South Korea, StarCraft players are treated like NBA superstars. Similar to how Michael Jordan was considered a legend in basketball, Lim Yo Hwan earned a salary that exceeded $400,000, had an entourage of female followers, and received many promotional opportunities. These professional players spend 8 to 10 hours or more a day going through some of the most rigorous training to perfect their art, as they only have a few years of play time before they are considered too old. The age of retirement for typical StarCraft professionals is 27, as many believe that at this age, hand-eye coordination begins to deteriorate and they are not quite as nimble as they once were. These dexterous movements are identified as actions per minute (APM), and as players age, the APM stat tends to suffer.

Elite StarCraft players are able to achieve APMs in the range of 200 to 300. Using a series of macros or keyboard shortcuts, these players are able to move and shuffle infantry, build siege weapons, and more. StarCraft‘s main objective, similar to other games such as chess and poker, is to anticipate your opponent’s moves and successfully counter them, sometimes before they actually occur. These precise and accurate movements trigger an adrenaline rush where these elite players are constantly reacting to every action in an ever-changing landscape. The tide of battle can change quickly based on how well players are able to interpret the information being presented to them onscreen and react accordingly. The competition in StarCraft and many similar games, such as League of Legends, is so fierce, that often times players become so infatuated with the virtual world that they become addicted.

Extreme Gaming to Extreme Addiction

As players build an almost ritualistic schedule for playing some of their favorite games, this could potentially lead to a dependence of sorts. What started as something fun and as an escape becomes routine and, for a few, a compulsion develops, brain activity changes, and dorsal regions of the brain are affected by dopamine release. Players become so overly involved with the characters, teammates, or game world that they lose all sense of time and rationale, often failing to properly allocate time for sleep, eating, or studies, and succumbing to over-exhaustion.

There have been several cases of video game-related deaths caused by over-exhaustion and fatigue. The most recent example was an 18 year old Taiwanese gamer who had purportedly spent 40 hours straight playing Diablo III while at an Internet cafe in July 2012. An employee had seen the young adult essentially passed out where he sat, and he woke him up. Apparently, he only managed to walk a few feet before collapsing; he was pronounced dead a short while later. Another video game-related death was a 33-year-old man from China who died of heart failure and malnutrition after a staggering 650-hour long gaming session (27 days!). Reports state that over this period, he barely drank any fluids, had very little sleep, and was on a light diet of ramen noodles.

A study performed by Indiana University indicated that brain scans have shown that violent video games do have an effect on some players, influencing regions that control emotions. Similar studies also seemed to find a correlation between gaming and being overweight. The video game industry unknowingly provided the basis for an experiment of sorts for scientists and provides an insight into the neurobiology of learning. Being able to analyze information such as reflexes, visual stimuli and coordination from the behavior of gamers who are immersing themselves in these digital worlds, spending countless hours in pursuit of digital rewards, may reward us with a prize far better than what we anticipated.


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