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Computer games have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world today. Globally, computer games are played by over one billion people in 2018, generating revenues of approximately $33.4 billion (that's equivalent to the GDP of Cyprus!).

In the United Kingdom, 38% of men and 26% of women play computer games, which ranks the country's in sixth place globally. Spending on PC hardware, peripherals and accessories, and game software is well over a billion pounds. With 2,261 UK companies operating across the range of game technologies, the industry is projected to grow even larger in coming years.

What is a computer game?

Computer games are interactive software codes which are designed to mimic fantasised real world activities. As the name implies, computer games are controlled by computers which display visuals or texts based on pre-programmed scenarios and input by users. Traditionally, user inputs are fed to computers using mice, keyboards, and/or joysticks. They are not to be conflated with video games, which is an umbrella term used to describe all forms of software-based games such as computer, console and mobile games.

Value creation of the computer game industry

The pioneering and innovative zeal of the computer game industry has created massive value across its entire design, manufacturing and supply chain. This ranges from employment for hundreds of thousands of software developers and support personnel (as well as creating demand in specific sectors of tertiary education), large-scale manufacturing of hardware and peripherals, and sales of gaming consoles and mobile devices. It would not be an exaggeration to say that computer games are the primary driving force behind hardware development owing to progressively higher computing and graphic processing demands required by games.

Beyond that, computer games also offer play in a role in hybrid experiences. A good example of that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where comic books and movies are augmented by computer games. Computer games are also responsible for the creation and development of competitive gaming in the form of e-sport, which is now even drawing live crowds! Traditional industries such as music composition, voice narration and writing have also become integral elements of the gaming industry.

Aside from that, cutting edge technologies developed by the gaming industry are transferrable, and have been used in various other fields such as education, military training exercises, artificial intelligence and simulators.

The Army Experience Center in Philadelphia which features simulations and interactive computer game stations. Image courtesy of U.S. Army photo, Department of Defense

Negative impacts of computer games

The two strongest characteristics of computer games, i.e., sense of accomplishment and competition, have also been cited as the most harmful from a psychological, social and physical perspective – especially for children and adolescents. Since computer games require more immersive participation from players compared to passive entertainment such as TV shows, many believe that they generate more negative effects on users.

Video game scenarios typically place users in the role of aggressors, and their aggression is rewarded. The repetition of the aggression and reward scenarios could lead to psychological conditioning, especially among younger users, which will manifest in real life. Exposure to and participation in aggressive and violent activities may also numb users to real-world violence, and reduce their empathy. Further, gender stereotypes and sexualisation of female characters could alter and affect users' perception of gender roles and body image.

Gamers can also develop an addition to games. Participants who spend excessive amounts of time playing games will experience adverse impacts on their academic and work performance. Relationships with family members, loved ones and colleagues may also deteriorate due to this.

Excessive playing time will naturally decrease physical activities, and as such, lead to increase risks of obesity, cardiac diseases and muscular disorders, among others.