Time Out Features in Video Games and the Effect Too Much Screen Time Has on Gamers
Video games provide hours of entertainment, with single player, open world games being around quadruple the size of games released in the 1980s. 1 In addition to this increase of game time, global weekly hours spent gaming in 2021 averaged out to 8.45 hours a week. 2 With these statistics in mind, it might be refreshing to know that some video games implement a warning about the dangers of playing too long. Some of these mechanics are simply a message that pops up after a prolonged play session, while others involve actively interrupting the game by way of an action that pauses the adventure, like the phone call that Dad does in Earthbound.
Many of the games that implement a time out warning happen to be developed by Nintendo. A message in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker at the beginning of the game in Orca’s brother’s house warns: “Do NOT stay up all night playing!”. In Wii Sports, a message will pop up to advise players to take a break. In the lifetime of the 3DS, the Zelda franchise in particular used a few different means to remind the player of how long they were playing. In Ocarina of Time 3D and Majora’s Mask 3D, the fairies Navi and Tatl remind Link, “Hey, you’ve been playing for a while! Why not take a break?”. In A Link Between Worlds, the bird statue save points would issue a warning message to have the player rest their eyes, and would spin around and make noise to get the player’s attention.
What Medical and Psychological Advice Says About Screen Time and Children
While this mechanic of issuing a time out feature to a video game can be helpful in terms of reducing potential eye strain and encouraging more physical movement, particularly for children and their parents, who might be concerned about how much screen time their young ones are exposed to, the feature can annoyingly break immersion for older players who might not be worried about things like screen time. However, it is possible that using the time out reminder with older children or as an adult might prove beneficial as well. For example, older children could independently use the reminders to decide on how to schedule breaks from schoolwork, and adults could also make use of reminders to stay on task with responsibilities while allowing themselves to take a short break. The idea of reminders to take breaks while gaming likely comes from some of the research available on how much screen time is an acceptable amount to have in a day, especially when screens are everywhere. This research as well as what certain systems offer to keep track of screen time when there are not in-game reminders will be detailed below.
Screen Time Allotments for Young Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends about one hour of screen time a day, with around two hours of screen time on the weekends. This time limit is intended for children from the ages of 2-11. They offer the following as an appropriate guideline to consider:
“But the most important ingredients for young kids’ well-being are: That the content is high-quality (in other words, worth their time and attention, not just trying to sell them things or have them zone out), that they have opportunities to laugh, play, read, and move during the day, and that they have caregivers who are trying to help them understand themselves and manage their emotions.”American Academy of Pediatrics
In addition to outlining the guidelines of screen time, there are further resources that warn against too much screen time for young children. Meta-analyses suggests that children given too much screen time might experience problems with sleeping, lower linguistic skills, though educational screen time was suggested to mitigate that, and that there may be a minor link between more screen time and more aggression in children. The conclusion that analyzing the meta-data led to is that, while monitoring screen time is important, it is minimal, as screen time is but one dimension of a young child’s day. It is deemed more important that screen time is spent doing something educational, and to balance out screen time with learning other skills and emotional expression. 3 These sources do not say much in regards to playing video games, but, there will be a brief analysis of what is available in a later section. For now, the potential health risks of the 3DS, where most of the examples of time out messages are come from, will be explained.
The 3DS and its Potential Health Risks
When the Nintendo 3DS released, there were worries about health concerns especially in regards to children. An abstract of a study published in 2013 reveals that “In adults excessive use may cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness or nausea. In children a visual impairment could be reinforced and an amblyopia could become manifest,” 4. This abstract could be part of the reason why warnings on taking breaks in-game appear in so many 3DS games.
It is worth noting that players can turn off the 3DS’s 3-D effects, though, it is understandable why such in-game breaks were important for the 3DS after its release. In addition to this, a 2DS without any 3-D capabilities was released in 2013 and was marketed toward children predominantly, as evidenced by the following quote by Nintendo of America’s president:
“The Nintendo 2DS really focused on that entry level gamer…The four-, five-, six-year old that is just getting into gaming, but wants to play Mario Kart, wants to have a Super Mario Bros. experience, wants to play Pokémon. And we feel with Nintendo 3DS XL at $199 that it’s a fully-featured product, that it is, if you will, the Cadillac of handheld gaming. And then we heard from consumers, ‘Boy, I wish there was something in between,'”.5
This 2DS could also work for those who are negatively affected by the 3DS’s 3-D mechanics, in theory. From the in-game break warnings and the 2DS, it is noted that Nintendo took potential health concerns from overuse of the 3DS into consideration, at least to an extent. From here, how one should set preferred screen time and selecting games for younger children, in the age range of 2-4 will be touched on.
Setting Preferred Screen Time and Selecting Games for Younger Children
In regards to preferred screen time, it is suggested that parents find quality apps or shows that can be enjoyed in a routine while being played on or watched together. It is also recommended that the parent is aware of what emotions the child is feeling and does not allow their child to essentially reduce their stress or use the screen time as a primary coping mechanism, if they have not yet learned healthier ways to cope with their emotions. 6
With this in mind, it seems as though time out warnings in games, particularly if the parent is watching or otherwise participating in the game as the child plays, would serve as a good time to check in and monitor what the child might be learning from the game’s story or how the child is feeling. In addition, the parent and child may discuss any brief extensions in screen time allotment, if appropriate. Having moments to check in on a child’s well-being built into the games they encounter feels like good game design. Next, how screen time affects sleep will be explored.
How Screen Time Affects Children’s Sleep
Sleep is critical for development, and a lack of sleep can have bad effects on things like health and the ability to work or study. In the case of children and adolescents, it is recommended that “children between 6 and 13 years old get 9-11 hours of sleep a night. Teens age 14-17 years should aim for 8-10 hours per night,”. Screens can negatively impact a person’s sleep, so it is considered good practice to not allow children to have screens in their bedroom, to decrease the exposure to the type of light emitted by screens. This type of light has been shown to decrease sleep quality. In addition to all of this, it is recommended that children not be on screens an hour before it is time for them to go to bed. 7 To this end, an in-game reminder to take a break, depending on when it shows up in relation to bed time, could serve as a good means of getting children to engage in a different relaxing activity before going to sleep.
From here, after detailing what the American Academy of Pediatrics and some psychologists say about how screen time and video games affect children, it is important to see what more recent research and what options there are for parents to set the rules regarding screens. Fortunately, these days, a player need not be reminded in game that they should take a break as the only means of monitoring screen time. Nintendo and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) have a couple of solutions, detailed below.
Parental Controls Are an Option
If there is no in-game reminder to take a break due to health concerns, someone can use parental controls to ensure that children in particular are following best screen time practices. According to Nintendo, one can enable the Switch console’s parental controls by downloading their “Nintendo Parental Controls App” and using it to limit playtime, which can be set up based on time allowed per day, based on the allotted screen time per day. In addition to this, parents can automatically suspend the activity on the Switch once time to play has expired. They can also disable alarms for the day when needed. 8
In terms of different consoles, the ESRB provides ways to control any console through detailing how to do a variety of activities, such as limit spending or time, based on a text walkthrough based on the console someone selected. They also have a guide on understanding the ratings of different video games, and they offer an app, so that parents can look up ratings, including the summaries for ratings while they are out and about. The use of Parental Controls likely makes an in-game reminder unnecessary, unless an older player might prefer an in-game reminder, as opposed to using something as rigid as parental controls to help them schedule their own screen time activities. 9 While screen time and limitations to it have been examined in a medical sense, it is also important to consider the psychological impact of children gaming. In lieu of that, a longitudinal psychological study surrounding gaming and children’s well-being, as well as a more conclusive study that examines gaming and cognitive functions in preteens will be discussed after observing different countries’ takes on time allotments for people under the age of 18, namely, those of China and Vietnam.
China and Vietnam’s Handling of Appropriate Screen Time for Minors
China has had a mandate in place since 2021 that people under the age of 18 will be allowed to play video games for no more than three hours a week. This caused a massive economic drop in Tencent’s profits, as they were making games primarily for younger audiences. The time allotment extends on the weekends, and potentially on certain holidays. 10 As China keeps track of minors via their ID, it is easy to stop children from overplaying on their own devices. However, some people have been getting around this legally mandated time allowance by playing on a relative’s device who is not age-restricted. There are concerns as to what using face recognition for stopping this loophole might mean for the privacy of minors. 11
Vietnam, similarly, has a 180 minute time limit for minors when it comes to playing video games. In addition to this, Vietnam has some strict guidelines in regards to ratings and what kinds of things could be included in video games targeted to minors, clearly defined below:
“18 and up (denoted as 18+): Games with continuous protest and combat activities using weapons of a violent nature; no sexually explicit activities, sounds, images, language, or suggestions.
12 and up (denoted as 12+): Games involving resistance and combat activities with the use of weapons, but the weapon imagery is not displayed in close-up or clear detail; there is a moderate amount of sound and weaponry during combat; there are no activities, images, sounds, languages, dialogues, default character imagery, explicit content, or scenes that draw attention to sensitive body parts.
Players of all ages (denoted as 00+): Animated simulation games in which there are no weapon-based activities; there are no eerie sounds or imagery, horror, or violence; there are no activities, sounds, languages, dialogues, default character imagery, explicit content, or scenes that draw attention to sensitive body parts on the human body.
The draft decree released in July 2023 also adds an additional ’16+’ age category:
16 and up (denoted as 16+): Games that involve protest and combat activities using weapons; no activity, imagery, sound, language, dialogue, sexually suggestive characters, or content that draws attention to sensitive body parts.”Vietnam Briefing News
The gaming market in Vietnam is somewhat difficult to get into, as gaming companies looking to get into the Vietnamese market must be part of a Vietnamese company as well. This likely allows these censorship laws to remain to the national standard. Regarding playtime for minors, the new draft for Decree 72 would limit the 180 minutes per week to an hour per week. On top of this, the draft proposes that a warning should be displayed every half hour about playing for more than 180 minutes a week could badly impact one’s health. 12 However, unlike China or Korea, Vietnam does not keep track of its minors on a stricter national scale, thereby making this limiting of screen time harder to enforce. 13
On one hand, rigorous regulations should help improve minors’ health in terms of making it easier to stick to recommended guidelines given from the sources above. On the other hand, the methods that are used to maintain these regulations may make it harder for minors to protect their identity on the internet or while they game. This potential lack of privacy could, in turn, concern parents of these minors, at the very least. In worse, albeit, extreme scenarios, minors could potentially either get into legal trouble themselves, or, if they were found to be using an adult’s device to game, potentially cause trouble for that adult. Of course, this depends on how the law is carried out in regards to these time limits and minors finding loopholes around them. This possibility of legal trouble could certainly be a deterrent for over-indulging in screens. Either way, while it is nice that some countries are taking screen time seriously enough to impose cut off times or reminders themselves, which would help children form better screen time habits, there needs to be a balance between collecting the identities and data of minors and how these cut offs are enforced.
What Psychology has Actually Determined About Children Who Game
Psychology has taken how video games affect children into consideration with quite a few studies. Some of these studies suggested that video games make children more aggressive and violent. 14 However, within the past ten years or so, psychological studies have drawn different conclusions in terms of how video games affect children.
According to a clinical psychologist in an NPR interview, children can benefit from video games. Generally speaking, a video game can allow someone to feel grief or shame in a space that makes it safer to feel these emotions and explore them. In addition, video games can be a stress release for kids, as well as a way for them to socialize. Time spent gaming is also not a mental development indicator, and it is recommended that parents engage with their children when they game in order to better understand their kids and why they game. The activities that children engage with are often complex, an involve a matter of planning and creative thinking. 15
With regards to the amount of time children spend gaming, a study, summarized by the University of Houston, has found that:
“The team looked for association between the students’ video game play and their performance on the standardized Cognitive Ability Test 7, known as CogAT, which evaluates verbal, quantitative and nonverbal/spatial skills. CogAT was chosen as a standard measure, in contrast to the teacher-reported grades or self-reported learning assessments that previous research projects have relied on.
‘Overall, neither duration of play nor choice of video game genres had significant correlations with the CogAT measures. That result shows no direct linkage between video game playing and cognitive performance, despite what had been assumed,’ said May Jadalla, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University and the study’s principal investigator.”16
Furthermore, a longitudinal study that was done in the form of at-home visits, spaced one year apart. The study examined the psychosocial health of the children participants. The measurements involved parent reports on time spent gaming, and how often the children reported gaming. A questionnaire was also administered to see how the children recalled their gaming sessions. This study revealed that violence was not influenced by the time a child spent gaming. However, a child’s prosocial behavior could be negatively impacted by excessively gaming competitively, for more than 8 hours a week, specifically. 17
In addition to this, a study was conducted in Vietnam with adolescent middle and high schoolers to determine if there was a link between gaming disorder, parent-child relationship, and discipline style. Out of over 2,000 participants, 11% were determined to have gaming disorder, meaning that their life is affected by “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,”. The factors that led to gaming disorder were theorized to be harsh physical punishment, or, on the other extreme, no supervision on the child’s screen time. The study also concluded that it was possible that gaming disorder formed in the affected participants due to a need to either socialize in a purely digital context during lockdown, or, in the case of a negative parent-child relationship, as an escape from their home situation. 18
With all of these studies in consideration, it would likely be best to monitor the time a child spends gaming, which an in-game take a break reminder would aid with. In addition to having an in-game reminder to take a break, or with the use of parental controls, playing games with one’s children seems to be effective for both understanding one’s child and for spending time with the child in an engaging activity. Next, there will be a conclusion of why it is necessary to monitor one’s gaming time, despite the impact or social aspect that gaming could have on one’s life.
Socializing Through Gaming and Why you Should Monitor Screen Time
Gaming can be seen as a safe social space, especially for those who might be othered by society in some way by giving the player a way to be anonymous or potentially erase the need for picking up on cues that might leave them anxious or overwhelmed in an in person setting, and this obviously extends out to teenagers. While gaming can be seen as isolating by some, it can also give players the ability to reach out and talk to others, depending on the game. For example, it could be common to hop online and play with a friend at a certain time each week, and, in fact, it has been noted that in particular, boys do set aside time to do this with their own friends. In fact, people have a tendency to meet their online friends that they game with, though this can be potentially dangerous to do. 19
Furthermore, a cross-sectional study in the Netherlands sampled over 9,000 adolescent students over the course of four years to determine if heavy gaming without or with an online social component, including social media and instant messaging use would result in gaming disorder, when measured against psychological well-being facets like depression, social anxiety, loneliness and self-esteem. The participants were also given the Videogame Addiction Test to see if they met the criteria for gaming disorder. Surprisingly, while male participants who had high game use, defined in this study as for longer than four hours a day and for six days or more in a week, and only online friends reported being more depressed, male participants who had high game use, but online friends and friends they met with in real life had lower depression scores and did not suffer the adverse affects observed in the Videogame Addiction Test. Female participants, however, were not able to replicate similar results when accounting for their online and real life friends, though female participants who engaged with games with a social component were less prone to social anxiety than their non-gaming peers. However, loneliness and low self-esteem were also present with high gaming use. So, it is recommended that diagnosis gaming disorder of takes the criteria of into account with other social aspects present in the person’s life. 20
In addition, there has been a small positive finding on video games improving well-being in adults. 21 The finding comes from one study and needs more research done to replicate and verify the finding, however, it also seems to be pointing to gaming disorder being a complex case, when examined in conjunction with the previous studies. In this regard, then, gaming can be seen as a potentially positive social act, rather than one done in isolation. However, gaming can also cause harm to psychological well-being if it’s done too much or too often, as has been repeated in previous sections, potentially leading to gaming disorder, especially in adolescents, so, having a timer in place for you to be more aware of your screen time is recommended.
In conclusion, in-game time out features could be a fun reminder for children to stay within healthy limits for their allotted screen time. They could be useful reminders for older players to keep more aware of their potential online or gaming habits. However, having a reminder pop up during a particularly action-packed moment, or, having a reminder in general can break the immersive nature that video games need to effectively present their narrative. Should the time out function be more like an in-game feature, like the phone call in Earthbound, or, is the method of a pop-up message sufficient? Regardless, while gaming can be a social activity, and there is evidence to suggest this aspect of gaming as a positive thing for most people, it might be time to set limits and heed those time out suggestions if you notice that your gaming habits might be depriving you of a fulfilled life with meaningful socialization in real life in addition to the socializing done during gaming, slipping education or career goals, or if, despite socializing with online gaming, you start to feel lonely, stuck, or depressed in your day to day life.
- Amenabar, T. (2022, March 18). Video games keep getting longer. It’s all about time and money. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2022/03/18/game-length-open-world/ ↩
- Clement, J. (2021, April 23). Average time spent playing video games worldwide | Statista. Statista; Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/273829/average-game-hours-per-day-of-video-gamers-in-selected-countries/ ↩
- Screen Time Limits for Young Children. (n.d.). Www.aap.org. https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/media-and-children/center-of-excellence-on-social-media-and-youth-mental-health/social-media-and-youth-mental-health-q-and-a-portal/early-childhood-questions/early-childhood-questions/screen-time-limits-for-young-children/ ↩
- Pallas, A., Meyer, C. H., & Mojon, D. (2013). Nintendo 3DS: Technologie, Physiologie und mögliche Risiken für Kinderaugen [Nintendo 3DS: technology, physiology and possible risks for children’s eyes]. Der Ophthalmologe : Zeitschrift der Deutschen Ophthalmologischen Gesellschaft, 110(3), 263–266. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00347-012-2696-7 Translation accessed via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23224123/. ↩
- Nintendo Explains Why The New 2DS XL Exists. (n.d.). GameSpot. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from https://www.gamespot.com/articles/nintendo-explains-why-the-new-2ds-xl-exists/1100-6449760/ ↩
- Preferred method of screen time/Selecting best shows/games for toddlers. (n.d.). Www.aap.org. https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/media-and-children/center-of-excellence-on-social-media-and-youth-mental-health/social-media-and-youth-mental-health-q-and-a-portal/early-childhood-questions/early-childhood-questions/preferred-method-of-screen-time/ ↩
- Screen Time Affecting Sleep. (n.d.). Www.aap.org. Retrieved November 2, 2023, from https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/media-and-children/center-of-excellence-on-social-media-and-youth-mental-health/social-media-and-youth-mental-health-q-and-a-portal/adolescents/early-adolescence-questions/screen-time-affecting-sleep/ ↩
- How to Set Play-Time Limits | Information from Nintendo to Parents and Guardians | Nintendo. (n.d.). Nintendo Official Website (Singapore). Retrieved November 2, 2023, from https://www.nintendo.com/sg/parents/switch/time/settings.html. ↩
- Parental Controls. (n.d.). ESRB Ratings. https://www.esrb.org/tools-for-parents/parental-controls/ ↩
- Ye, J. (2023, January 20). China’s video game makers come in from the cold as crackdown eases. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/technology/chinas-video-game-makers-come-cold-crackdown-eases-2023-01-20/ ↩
- Yang, Z. (2023, August 9). China is escalating its war on kids’ screen time. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2023/08/09/1077567/china-children-screen-time-regulation/ ↩
- Huld, A. (2023, September 12). Vietnam’s Regulation of Video Game Services: September 2023. Vietnam Briefing News. https://www.vietnam-briefing.com/news/vietnam-moves-to-tighten-legislation-on-video-game-industry-insights-for-foreign-investors.html/ ↩
- Are Vietnamese people under 18 really only allowed 180 minutes of playtime in games by law? What happens if you break the law? (n.d.) [Online forum post]. Quora. https://www.quora.com/Are-Vietnamese-people-under-18-really-only-allowed-180-minutes-of-playtime-in-games-by-law-What-happens-if-you-break-the-law ↩
- Lobel, A., Engels, R. C. M. E., Stone, L. L., Burk, W. J., & Granic, I. (2017). Video Gaming and Children’s Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(4), 884–897. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0646-z ↩
- Noguchi, Y. (2023, May 30). The impact of video games on child development is often misunderstood. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2023/05/30/1178919273/the-impact-of-video-games-on-child-development-is-often-misunderstood ↩
- Strong, S. (2023, February 7). Study Finds Video Game Playing Causes No Harm to Young Children’s Cognitive Abilities. Www.uh.edu. https://uh.edu/news-events/stories/2023/february-2023/02072023-video-gaming-research.php ↩
- Lobel, A., Engels, R. C. M. E., Stone, L. L., Burk, W. J., & Granic, I. (2017). Video Gaming and Children’s Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(4), 884–897. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0646-z ↩
- Cuong, V. M., Assanangkornchai, S., Wichaidit, W., Minh Hanh, V. T., & My Hanh, H. T. (2021). Associations between gaming disorder, parent-child relationship, parental supervision, and discipline styles: Findings from a school-based survey during the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 10(3), 722–730. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.2021.00064 ↩
- Fishman, A. (n.d.). Video Games Are Social Spaces: How Video Games Help People Connect | ResponseCenter. Www.jcfs.org. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from https://www.jcfs.org/response/blog/video-games-are-social-spaces-how-video-games-help-people-connect ↩
- Colder Carras, M., Van Rooij, A. J., Van de Mheen, D., Musci, R., Xue, Q.-L., & Mendelson, T. (2017). Video gaming in a hyperconnected world: A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 472–479. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.060 ↩
- Gaming may not be as bad as you think – Oxford research | University of Oxford. (2020, November 16). Www.ox.ac.uk. https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/arts-blog/gaming-may-not-be-bad-you-think-oxford-research ↩
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