If you grew up with parents who weren’t enthusiastic about you playing video games, chances are they used one or more of the following dangers to scare you away.
They make you anti-social. They damage your eyesight. They make you more violent.
People have had concerns over the physical and psychological impact video games have on us since they first became a popular form of entertainment more than three decades ago.
The difference between now and then is that many scientific studies have been conducted to see if video games truly have negative effects we should worry about. If what the average adult in the 90s said is true, video games really do make us dumber, asocial and unhealthy.
But what if playing video games can actually improve our lives by helping us both physically and mentally?
The following are some benefits that researchers are now saying video games can provide. Of course, it goes without saying that sitting in your chair playing video games for 10 hours a day might not be the best thing for you. The good news, however, is that video games are capable of helping us in so many ways that scientists are now suggesting that everyone should play them.
Video games help you learn
Perhaps the most popular and widely-believed myth about video games is that they make you, to put it bluntly, dumber. This belief might have been born from the fact that kids who spend too much time playing video games naturally find less time to do their homework and study.
This particular case concerns poor parenting skills more than anything, but parents who neglect to regulate their child’s game time see grades dropping and put the blame on video games.
How games affect the brain
According to recent research, playing video games (in moderation) can actually help us become better learners. One of the most convincing studies was performed by Dezhong Yao and a team who actually performed MRI scans of the brain on two groups: amateur gamers and expert gamers.
Since there was already plenty of evidence showing that expert action game players have enhanced cognitive abilities, amateurs were also tested to see if there was a noticeable difference.
While scanning the 30 amateur gamers and 27 expert gamers, Yao had the scans focus on networks within the insular cortex. This region of the mammalian brain includes cognitive functioning, including motor control and perception. While studying every gamer’s MRI scan, it became clear that of the two groups, it was the expert gamers who boasted superior functional connectivity in their brain hemispheres.
They also discovered that the expert gamers had more grey matter in their brains, especially in the central insular sulcus and left insular cortex. Since grey matter is associated with how fast the brain can process information, more of it means that the person is better at processing data. In other words, they are better at learning.
Action games and learning abilities
Researchers from Princeton University and the University of Rochester also sought to explore whether video games affect learning in a negative or positive way. What they found out was that people who play games with fast-paced gameplay tend to exhibit enhanced task performance and learning capabilities.
Their study involved a visual test that had both gamers and non-gamers identify the orientation of blurry shapes on a screen. While the pattern discrimination task proved difficult at first, all the participants got better and better as it went on. But, as anticipated, the action gamers performed better at identifying the shapes.
Even more interesting was their next test, which trained a group of people who spent little to no time playing games. Half of the group played fast-paced games like Call of Duty for 50 hours while the other played slower, less active games like The Sims. Both groups then took the same visual test as before, with the ones who played the action games doing much better.
A mental boost
Although research into how video games affect our learning abilities is still very new, there’s no denying the results. With each new study, we find that playing video games can improve certain skills like multi-tasking, perception and learning. Now you can play your favorite games knowing that each time you play, you might just be boosting your mental abilities while also having fun.
- Study Finds Gamers Are Better Learners – IFL Science
Video games make us better decision-makers
[Infographic source] Good Magazine
If there’s one skill that we all want to keep improving, it’s decision making. No matter what you end up doing for a living, whether it be a secular job, military or stay-at-home, the ability to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of several choices is important. Fortunately, gamers can breathe a sigh of relief; new studies have only served to confirm that playing video games can help us make better decisions, faster.
How games help you make decisions
Looking to see if fast-paced games can help us think and react faster, C. Shawn Green, PhD, conducted an impressive study during his stay at the University of Rochester, N.Y. Since video games require a player to view constantly-moving peripheral images, Green sought to prove that active gamers were better at receiving sensory data and translating it into accurate decisions.
His theory was that this ability, which in brain labs is called “probabilistic inference,” is enhanced by playing video games because it forces us to make better decisions based on what we are able to see and hear. As Green puts it:
Our eyes don’t take in everything and our ears don’t either, so you take the sensory data that you have, and make a decision based on the probability of being right.
Green had two groups made up of people between the ages of 18 and 25. One part of the volunteers were tasked with playing 50 hours of fast-paced video games while the other played slow-paced games. Afterward, both groups were given a decision-making test. The first involved determining whether moving white dots were going left or right, and the second had them wear headphones and guess if a single pitched tone sounded in their left ear or right ear.
Consistent with other similar studies, Green discovered that the action gamers performed much better. This is because action games like first-person shooters can actually change our brains by enhancing some of our low level perceptual functions involved with hearing, smelling and seeing. Shooting, aiming, running and other actions force players to make decisions and press the gaming controller buttons accordingly.
Improving your cognitive abilities
The problem that people find when it comes to these studies is that unlike randomized controlled trials, they often involve specific subjects: gamers and non-gamers, action gamers and slow-paced gamers, etc. Most of these studies also hint at a higher cognitive performance from people who are neither non-gamers or avid gamers. Thus, while games can help us make better decisions faster, don’t forget to perform other healthy activities that serve to improve your cognitive abilities as well.
Some games help us stay fit and healthy
Another widespread danger associated with playing video games is health problems. Since most video games require no more than the movement of your fingers, it’s easy to understand why.
While it’s safe to assume that someone spending several hours a day playing games is probably not getting a healthy dose of physical exercise, this doesn’t mean that games can’t help us stay fit. With the advent of motion controls, games have recently become a great way to burn calories, increase your heart rate and even shed off extra pounds.
Video games as a moderate exercise alternative
Concerned about younger gamers, scientists from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center decided to test if games can serve as a good form of exercise.
They targeted a young age group since recent generations have exhibited higher risks of diabetes and obesity due to the advent of activities that require little to no movement: social media, texting, watching Netflix, etc.
Kevin Short, Ph.D, the principal investigator on the project, had his researchers measure the energy expenditure, self-reported exertion and heart rate of children between the ages of 10 and 13. Subjects were monitored while performing three separate activities: playing active video games like Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution, watching television and walking on a treadmill at three different speeds.
Dr. Short and his team were pleased to discover that playing motion-control games was comparable to walking at a speed of 3.5mph. Both these tasks resulted in two to three times more calories burned than while watching television. Higher heart rates, energy expenditure rates and perceived exertion were also elicited.
Researchers from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville also sought to prove that while playing regular video games all day isn’t good for our health, active games are a different story. Their study also involved younger volunteers who were asked to keep two accelerometers, one on their hip and the other on their wrist. The kids participated in two events: 20 minutes of playing Kinect Adventures for Xbox 360 and 20 minutes of unstructured outdoor playtime.
Hollie Raynor, director of UT’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory, and her colleagues found that playing the Kinect video game resulted in a higher percentage of moderate to vigorous intensity. Raynor believes that unlike playing outside, Kinect Adventures! encourages a wider range of body motions by offering fun challenges with goals worth achieving, at least in the eyes of children.
Good for you but not a substitute
Even though certain games have proved good for our health, you should still go outside for some physical exercise; this goes for both children and adults. Fresh air and sunshine are just a few of the many benefits of outdoor physical activity that isn’t offered by video games.
But in places where it gets too cold to go outside, it’s nice knowing that you can still get a workout without ever leaving your house. Best of all, motion games let you burn those calories while climbing mountains, running through forests and enjoying other virtual settings.
Video games help foster stronger relationships
Respect, trust, communication—these are only a few of many factors that go into forming a strong and healthy relationship. One of the most important of these, which unfortunately is not being met by couples forced to both work full-time in today’s economy, is spending time together. Whether it’s relaxing in front of the television set or running together, couples who find time for one another are more likely to “make it.”
A great way to have fun and relax
Howard Markman, a psychologist from the University of Denver, agrees that the time invested in fun and relaxation greatly affects the happiness between a couple.
The researcher claims that this part of a relationship is more important for the man than it is for the woman. As most male gamers will say, what better way to spend stress-free time with your significant other than by playing games?
Marksman’s long-term study, which began in 1996, doesn’t actually involve video games themselves. Instead, he and co-director Scott Stanley created a fun and friendship scale with various statements such as “We regularly have great conversations where we just talk as good friends.”
Nearly 200 couples in their second year of marriage were asked to select the statements that they felt applied to their relationship. They were then asked how often they shared in exciting activities, as well as fun, relaxing activities.
If there’s one activity that offers both fun and no stress, it’s video games. Gamer couples are usually more than anxious to brag about how great their relationship is thanks to the time they spend playing Mario Kart, an online MMORPG or any other game that lets them play together. The best part is that video games is something that also allows the couple to talk as well, which studies show is important for women during this shared free time.
Video games help kids do better in school
Like other popular forms of entertainment, video games are always deemed responsible whenever a child starts bringing home low test scores and homework assignments marked incomplete. We won’t argue that a child who plays Playstation 4 from the moment they get home to just before bed probably isn’t going to excel in their studies.
However, the latest research has shown us that unlike television, which is another pastime linked to poor academic performance when done in excess, video games might actually help kids pay more attention in school.
Paying attention in class
In a previous section, we covered a study where a group of expert action gamers were shown to possess more gray matter volume in areas of the brain related to attention and sensorimotor networks. To add to these studies, Vikranth Bejjanki and a group of colleagues documented their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences after performing their own tests.
Curious to see if first person shooters were capable of boosting our attention, cognition and perception, the team conducted a series of experiments on small groups of gamers. These showed that gamers with previous video game experience excelled at perceptual tasks, including pattern discrimination, when compared to the non-gamers. Similar to other studies, the team then had the non-gamers play games for several hours before retaking the tests.
As expected, subjects did much better the second time. Findings such as these have led to theories suggesting that video games may be a better way of teaching than our more traditional methods. Video games can be both fun and stimulating, which means that students will pay more attention. The fact that they are interactive also helps us focus, because solving challenges serves to create a more stimulating environment than chalk and a blackboard.
Video games even improve math skills
But what about math, a subject that many students tend to have difficulty with? In a recent study done by Stanford University, results actually showed that kids who played video games for only 10 minutes a day saw their math skills improve significantly. Since third grade is when students start learning valuable mathematics such as geometry, fractions and multiplication, tests were done on subjects from this group.
The volunteer group was asked to play a particular video game for no more than 10 minutes a day, three days a week, for one month. This game was Wuzzit Trouble, a digital math game developed by Brainquake designed to serve as a fun way of building children’s math skills. A second group was involved in the study, but were not given the instruction to play the game.
After a series of tests, the gamer group that played Wuzzit Trouble did 20.5 percent better than the other group. Of course, the researchers clarified that their study doesn’t prove that any and all games improve math skills. The gamer kids got better at math because they were playing a mobile math game; if it had been Pokemon or Clash of Clans, the results might not have been as impressive.
Video games as today’s educational tool
While games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed will continue being the top-sellers at the end of the year, there are still plenty of great educational games worth checking out. Many of them are not only useful for helping kids have fun while learning, but they are often beneficial for adults as well. This is why Nintendo’s Brain Age titles proved such a success just before mobile games became so huge.
The next time someone tells you that video games make us pay less attention in school, you can share what the latest studies actually have to say about games as an educational tool.
- Playing Video Games Is Good For Your Brain – Here’s How – IFL Science
- Stanford Study Shows Dramatic Math Improvement From Playing Video Games Just 10 Minutes Per Day – Forbes
Video games might make you more social
Even if games have the power to keep us in shape and make us better learners, it might not matter if they also turn us into modern-day hermits. We’re talking about people who spend so much time in front of a screen that their social and psychological wellbeing suffers because of it.
Although there are studies that show excessive video game playing can form negative behaviors, there are just as many convincing us that games aid in promoting our social skills.
How video games improve our ability to form friendships
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology wanted to see how playing games affects a young person’s ability to build healthy relationships.
Does playing video games make us lazier and more aggressive toward others, or can they actually have the opposite effect?
Daniel Johnson, director of QUT’s games and research and interaction design lab, had this to say after the tests:
We are seeing clear evidence of improvements in mood, stress reduction, increased feeling of competence and autonomy and really strong feelings of being connected with the people they are playing with.
Dr. Johnson claims this is because today’s average games evoke a sense of cooperation between players, especially in competitive games that put players in the same team. He also went on to say that parental involvement and regulated playtime determines the influence games have on younger players. In other words, playing 10 hours a week with friends and family may not have the same effect as the teenager locked in his room playing World of Warcraft 40 hours a week.
Online gaming doesn’t make you a loner
Studies done by three separate universities also support the idea that gamers, mainly those who play massively multiplayer online games, aren’t all antisocial. In fact, the researchers from York University, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University all saw that only a small group of online players demonstrate poor social behavior and negative attitudes.
This study involved going to more than 20 gaming events in the UK and Canada regions and observing the gamers there. These events ranged from competitions hosting thousands of players to local bars with only two dozen people. As researchers watched how the players responded to one another in a live social setting, they were surprised by their highly social demeanor.
Instead of being the antisocial nerds so often depicted in movies and television, they were talking and drinking just like any other group of people. These results matched another study done by Penn State researchers, who found that gamers who use games as a way of forming social bonds boasted stronger relationships than the average person.
Antisocial basement dwellers are the minority, not majority
We can all think of someone who receives little to no real social interaction all because they’re constantly glued to their PC monitor or TV set. While games, like any other entertainment mediums, can be addicting enough to turn us into antisocial people, they can also help us form strong friendships.
As more and more people start playing games, mostly due to the advent of smartphone and web browser gaming, we’re confident that the “all gamers are introverts” stereotype will go away.
- Study shows video games build relationship skills – The Daily Telegraph
- Gamers Have Friends, Healthy Relationships – Science Daily
Video games don’t make you sexist or violent
Of all the dangers associated with video games, the claim that they make you more aggressive and disrespectful toward women is a clear favorite. The news media especially prefers blaming games whenever a school shooting or other violent event occurs, conveniently ignoring the fact that most movies and television shows today show just as much (if not more) violence.
That anyone would believe playing Grand Theft Auto makes you a violent criminal but watching Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead doesn’t affect you in any way, to the average gamer, is silly.
No connection between games and sexism
Only a few months ago (as of this writing), a German longitudinal study was conducted to see if there really was a link between sexist attitudes and gaming. The published study showed that, contrary to popular belief, gamers did not demonstrate higher levels of sexism.
Designed around the cultivation theory, the study sought to prove if long exposure to certain media content, in this case video games, can impact how we perceive the world and others. As a longitudinal study, it was done over a lengthy period of time—over a few years, to be exact.
Far from confirming that games evoke sexism, the researchers were surprised to find how far the industry has gone in representing females in a respectable way. One of the better examples is Samus Aran from Metroid Prime, who doesn’t don a skimpy outfit to save the planets she explores.
Video games don’t increase aggression
Tackling another common but disputable theory, Oxford University conducted a study to see if games really make kids more violent. Its goal was not only to see if certain types of games affect a child’s behavior, but if the amount of time they spend playing games does, if at all.
The study involved interviewing more than 200 British school children around the ages of 10 and 11. They were asked about their playing schedule and habits, including their favorite kinds of games. At the same time, teachers were tasked with assessing the children’s behavior and ability to cope with problems in the classroom.
While more than half the kids said they play games on a daily basis, only the ones who played for more than three hours a day demonstrated higher aggression and did poorer academically. Even more interesting was the fact that the type of game they played was irrelevant; what mattered was how long they played games each day.
Video games are easy to blame
It’s no surprise that video games are a favorite target today when a child starts misbehaving or a person shows signs of sexism. Although there are still plenty more studies to be done, it’s good to see that the latest ones are showing that there is no solid connection. But as Oxford’s research showed, playing games in excess as opposed to in moderation might encourage negative behaviors in not just younger players, but adults as well.
Video games still have much to prove
Most of you reading this probably grew up with video games your entire lives, whether it was in arcades, with computer games or on a home gaming console. However, it’s important to realize that games as an entertainment medium is still quite in its infancy, especially when compared to film and television. Because of this, there is still so much to learn about how video games really affect us as people.
But as you may have seen while going through each study, video games are just as capable of helping us as they are of hurting us. While playing Wii Sports and Brain Age may help us exercise our body and mind while we game, sitting for 10 hour marathons each day, no matter what game you play, probably isn’t the best thing.
Now that we’re seeing the positives that video games have to offer, the best thing we can do is figure out how games can help us individually. This includes regulating our own time and deciding which games are right (or wrong) for us.