Most of us grew up with our parents warning us not to sit too close to the television or we would get square eyes, and these days, the warnings are much more intense. But are games and other screen time that bad for us, and should our screen time be restricted for our health and welfare? A recent review by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has put the whole subject back into the spotlight.

Games have come a long way since the classic video games of the 1980s. Today, the gaming market is worth more in Britain than music and video combined, with total annual revenue of £3.86 billion, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association. What’s more, these figures don’t include free games like the hugely popular Fortnite, which has over 200 million players worldwide.

The Benefits of Gaming

Gaming advocates claim that playing games teach us a raft of useful life and work skills. With modern games so complex, it is no longer good enough to only get Mario to jump over stuff and collect coins. Players need to apply creative thinking, problem-solving skills and logic to progress through the levels of the game. Many games also require players to work as teams, learning how to pool resources, share strengths and trust fellow players.

These are all skills that you would never get from watching television or from the basic early games. Indeed, players are so well-trained from gaming that the armed forces have recruited gamers to take advantage of their skills. 

The Drawbacks of Gaming

Of course, the flip side of gaming is the long hours spent indoors, in front of a screen, with little in the way of social interaction. The BMJ review found “moderately strong evidence for associations between screen time and greater obesity/adiposity and higher depressive symptoms.” However, there is no proof that one caused the other. It could be that people with low social skills or body image problems gravitate to gaming disproportionately to their more gregarious, healthier counterparts.

Finding the Middle Ground

As with all things, moderation is perhaps the key, with the experts at University College London (UCL) suggesting a checklist to make sure that our screen time is healthy and not harmful. They propose four questions to keep screen use in proportion:

  • Is your screen time under control?
  • Does screen use interfere with what you want to do with family and friends?
  • Does screen use interfere with your sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time?

The advice is to stop worrying too much if you can answer these questions positively. If not, then perhaps it is time to start pulling back the amount of time you spend on your devices.

Even device manufacturers are slowly coming around to the idea of self-policing screen time. The latest update to Apple’s iPhone operating system provides users with a weekly report on their usage, including time spent on games, social media and the like. That is a useful tool for monitoring your consumption and avoiding your screen time creeping up without you noticing.

No Evidence of Harm

Responding to the BMJ review, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said that there was “no good evidence that time in front of a screen is toxic to health” in young people, and modern devices were “a great way to explore the world.” With so much to learn and many valuable skills to develop through gaming, there are a significant amount of benefits to screen time than there are drawbacks.

At the end of the day, screens are here to stay, and we cannot ignore them completely, nor should we. The days of limited channel TV and “bip-bip” tennis video games are long gone, and there is now a whole world of information, fun and games to explore. So as Dr. Max Davie from RCPHC suggests, maybe we should “get on and live our lives and stop worrying.” After all, we never did get square eyes from watching TV, did we?