Conventional research on digital gaming has primarily focused on the negative aspects of computer games. Specifically, most studies have sought to understand the psychological consequences of partaking in these leisure activities. Owing to the negative perception associated with this line of inquiry, computer games have conventionally been relegated to the periphery of sporting activities. However, the development of highly sophisticated multiplayer games in the course of the past decade has reversed this trend. The popularity of these games has grown on the back of rapid technological advancement, coupled with an ever broadening internet access. The sheer ubiquity of these games across the globe is a testament to the acceptance of computer games into the mainstream. Their burgeoning popularity has spawned a new genre of sports that is quickly picking up pace in the developed world. Electronic sports or eSports as they are commonly referred to, have grown into a multi-million dollar industry in North America and parts of Europe and Asia. Modern college environments have provided the necessary space for this genre to thrive, culminating in structured competitions with large amounts of prize money to be won by both individuals and teams. However, some scholars have, through studies, expressed concerns over the impact of this phenomenon on college students. An example is Burgess, Stermer and Burgess's article titled Video Game Playing and Academic Performance in College Students, in which they draw correlations between participation in computer gaming and lower GPA scores among undergraduate college students. This position will be refuted in the subsequent sections herein. While eSports may contain certain drawbacks, their positive effects on college students outweigh the disadvantages.
The Argument and its Rebuttal
The theoretical underpinning of Video Game Playing and Academic Performance in College Students is the time-displacement hypothesis, which posits that time spent on a certain activity makes it impossible to focus on another more productive or meaningful activity (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess 377). Accordingly, college students who spend their time engaged in computer games end up spending less time on school works, thereby performing poorly on assessment tests. The authors also assert that students who spent more hours per week on computer games than the average college student spend less time on completing homework (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess 382). The implication made here is that gamers inevitably struggle with concept comprehension in the long run due to less academic practice, thereby adversely impacting their overall GPA scores. Interestingly, this study conclusion applies just as much to spectators as it does to the gamers (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess 382). Finally, the authors state that violent computer games in particular have a notable deleterious effect on academic performance since gamers become more aggressive and antagonistic in their interactions with fellow students and teachers, thus hampering their academic progress (Burgess, Stermer and Burgess 385). One fundamental flaw with this research study is that it is primarily dependent on older studies whose results have been invalidated, or at least questioned, by newer studies. Further, the authors exhibited selective bias by conveniently ignoring substantial research which did not find the link between eSports and poor academic performance. Another weakness in their argument pertains to the applicability of the time-displacement theory. The assumption that time spent on competitive computer gaming could be spent on academic pursuits instead, rather than other leisure activities, is simply erroneous. Besides, the link between poor performance and gaming does not necessarily prove causality as there could be other moderating factors or explanatory variables involved.
The Counterargument: Positive Effects of eSports
eSports are beneficial to college students in the sense that they provide a source of emotional and self-esteem support. The nature of eSports is that a community of individuals with mutual interests develops around a particular game. The interconnected nature of the platform on which these games are played facilitates real-time communication among players and spectators who are spread out across the world. Conversations within this framework extend beyond the game itself and can involve personal exchanges. Consequently, college students on these platforms can find friends, with whom they can share experiences, concerns and aspirations, thereby providing a supportive environment. The successes achieved by completing milestones also have a positive effect on the gamers' perception of life self-efficacy, which in turn bolsters their self-worth (Lee and Jeong 1475). Further, playing in a competitive online platform is a healthy outlet for the stresses of college life.
Another positive effect of eSports is that they boost problem-solving skills through creativity. Many of the games which are popular today on most eSports platforms are of a strategic nature. Players are required to think critically and creatively to find ways to achieve given objectives within limited time periods. Therefore, one is rewarded for employing higher order thinking to attain a particular milestone under high-pressure conditions. Over time, players stimulate their brains to engage this higher order thinking even in real life situations. Further, the use of teams of students as the fundamental eSports formation creates a space for brainstorming on how best to meet the objectives. Consequently, one is exposed to different ways of solving problems. In fact, research shows that player exchanges on the World of Warcraft online platform demonstrated higher order scientific reasoning skills (Connolly, Boyle and MacArthur 669). The importance of such skills in real life cannot be understated. For example, the world for which colleges are preparing the modern student places a premium on strategic thinking. If one is to succeed in it, they would need to be able to synthesize substantial amounts of information from diverse sources and leverage this information to formulate solutions to emerging challenges. Therefore, the fact that eSports facilitate the development of these skills should prompt stakeholders in higher education to encourage their adoption.
eSports are also advantageous in the sense that they add significant value to the conventional learning process. The modern college student is technologically-aware and values being engaged in their pursuit of knowledge. In light of this reality, the traditional mode of instruction where learning was a one way street is no longer feasible. Educators have to come up with ways of delivering content in such a manner as to capture attention and tap into the curiosity of the student. For this to happen, the student needs real-time feedback that is based on practical learning. Some of the games which comprise eSports can be customized to deliver this objective. For example, one study conducted on an undergraduate mechanical engineering class found that the use of computer games to teach complex numerical concepts caused the students to be more engaged in that particular unit than in their other engineering courses (Coller and Shernoff 308). Therefore, one could argue that the incorporation of these games into the instructional toolkit increases college students' intrinsic motivation to learn. It is also worth noting that situating concepts taught in class in a virtual world, and allowing students to practically manipulate them via gaming platforms, can go a long way in facilitating understanding and appreciation for subjects such as History and Geography. In essence, the educational potential of eSports is virtually unlimited and more applications are likely to be developed with the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence witnessed in today's technological sector.
eSports also have a positive effect on the behavior of college students. A significant body of research into computer games and their behavioral impact has focused on aggression. These studies have sought to link gaming with increased aggression (Connolly, Boyle and MacArthur 661). However, the truth of the matter is that there exists a wide variety of eSports games that is focused on prosocial behavior. In these games, the players cooperate with each other in the pursuit of the stated objective. Where one player suffers a setback, the game is structured in such a way that their colleagues will come to their aid. The key values contained in such set-ups are teamwork, kindness and empathy. Therefore, students who play such games can over time learn to appreciate these values. Their appreciation will manifest itself in their helpful behavior in the real world. In fact, a research study conducted among undergraduate students in the United States indicates that individuals exposed to prosocial games are more likely to experience an increase in prosocial behavior than the average student (Gentile, Anderson and Yukawa 752). The validity of this particular study is underscored by several other studies carried out across multiple cultures and age-groups, which arrived at similar conclusions. Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, eSports can actually contribute to socially-desirable behavior by fostering collaborative teamwork and emphasizing empathy in the pursuit of a common goal.
Another benefit of eSports that is often overlooked pertains to physiological gains made by gamers. There is a predominant notion that computer games offer no real physical benefit to the human body. It is thus common for these games to be only associated with physical risks such as obesity and cardiovascular conditions. However, eSports boost the development and fine-tuning of motor skills. In general, ardent gamers tend to have better eye-hand coordination than the average person. They also exhibit greater dexterity in arm movements as a result of rapidly manipulating controls during game play. These physical benefits are especially useful in contexts which require high situational awareness. Students studying courses which require fine motor skills, such as medicine and engineering, can immensely gain from engaging in eSports. However, it is worth emphasizing that these advantages are not just reserved for such students alone. Students who participate in conventional sports can also benefit from a boost to their motor skills. Therefore, it is clear that eSports can serve a useful physical health role in the long run.
Time management skills are also another benefit of participating in eSports. Owing to their competitive nature, these games require intensive practice whereby a team can work on multiple strategies to take down their opponents. Inevitably, a player has to make a time commitment to the sport and fine-tuning their skills and strategies. For a college student, this means finding a balance between the game and an equally demanding academic schedule. Many critics of eSports view the pursuit of this balance as something impossible, meaning one's academic performance is likely to suffer in the process. However, such an assertion is untrue. Just like conventional athletic engagements such as college basketball, eSports also inculcate in the student player the discipline of apportioning time to their obligations in the most optimum way possible. Knowing that he has to succeed in both undertakings, the college student will devise ways of making the most use of their time. Such discipline has benefits which extend beyond college life. For example, the modern work environment is fast-paced, with the typical worker being required to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Developing multi-tasking skills in co...
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