- Video games have been subjected to a ton of flak, but there’s plenty of evidence that shows it might not be warranted
- Here are a number of ways your gaming habit could actually be good for you thanks to a variety of different benefits
- Check out more video game stories here
Video games have been at the center of a ton of criticism and controversy since Pong first took the world by storm. Over the decades, they’ve served as an ever-popular scapegoat over the decades for parents who complain about kids spending too much inside and politicians who use them as an easy target instead of exploring the many factors that are actually responsible for the violence they’re accused of causing.
As is the case with anything in life, it is possible to have too much of a good thing; to paraphrase the dean from Animal House, spending the bulk of your existence glued to a chair or couch while your eyes are glued to a screen for hours on end is no way to go through life, son.
However, contrary to what your parents may have led you to believe, your brain isn’t going to rot away because you play video games. There’s actually a ton of evidence you could be doing your mind a favor by doing exactly that, so let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits.
7. Fast-Paced Video Games Help Dyslexic Children
According to a 2013 study run by Dr. Andrea Facoetti, who has focused a large portion of his career studying the relationship between dyslexic children and video games, action video games can actually improve a dyslexic child’s ability to read quickly without sacrificing their reading accuracy.
The study focused on 10-year-olds and followed them as they spent (over the span of a long period of time) 12 hours playing an action video game. The results from the study concluded that the effects of playing an action video game were equivalent to more than a year’s worth of reading development.
This is one of many studies done to try and understand if video games can have any benefit to dyslexic children, and all of them have concluded that there is a benefit for dyslexic children to play video games.
It’s worth noting that Facoetti (who is dyslexic himself) isn’t necessarily saying video games are a magical cure. He based his study on the idea that dyslexia, a condition that we know relatively little about despite affecting 10 to 50 percent of the world’s population, is a disorder with a child’s visual attention rather than an issue with learning the language itself.
He says that by playing a fast-action video game, dyslexic children are training their brains to react to sights and sounds a lot faster in order to survive in the video game!
6. Playing Video Games Prevents Mind Deterioration
We’ve all seen the commercials on TV for video games that help your mind from deteriorating due to old age, but is there any scientific evidence to support that claim? Yes. Yes, there is. There’s a lot.
To start, a study at a senior center in Pensacola, Florida, revealed that the Wii bowling game boosted the heart rate of senior citizens by 40%. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab stated that the Wii console is perfect for seniors because the games are not only easy to play, but gets them moving at the same time. These games can help them with their reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills, and spatial abilities!
In another study done by researchers at the University of Iowa, 681 healthy adults over the age of 50 were assigned either a video game called Road Tour or told to complete a computerized crossword puzzle. The game Road Tour asked players to identify an image of a car, displayed only for a second at the start of a game, to a similar image as well as matching road signs from a series of constantly changing options, most of which were put there as wrong answers. As players progressed through the game they were given less and less time to complete their matches so they needed to rely on their quick-thinking and sharp mind to complete the game.
After playing for 10 hours, either at home or at the lab, players of the game gained three years of cognitive “reserve,” which means that participants were able to hold onto their quick thinking and memory for three years longer than someone who had not participated in the study! Some people that played the game for an extra four hours managed to increase their cognitive reserve by 4 years!
Could video games be used to fight off dementia? We’ll see.
5. Play Video Games and Control Your Dreams
Have you ever played a video game for so long that when you went to bed, you dreamt that you were still playing the video game? This doesn’t have anything to do with the study, I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t alone.
According to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, dreams and video games both represent alternate realities. They only differ in a few ways, one of which is that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, whereas video games stem from technology. Despite their differences, she believes that by playing video games for hours a day, gamers are preparing themselves to control their dream environments because they are so familiar with controlling their gaming environments.
So, does she sound like a total loon to you? Well, she’s not. She has performed numerous studies to back up her hypothesis and to further her understanding of what causes lucid dreaming.
Jayne Gackenbach’s first study suggested that people who frequently played a lot of video games were more likely to report experiencing lucid dreams. Gamers would also report dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies and they were unable to control their dream environment by influencing or changing their dream worlds. Her results were too broad, so Gackebnach tried to narrow down uncertainties in a second study.
In the second study, Gackenbach examined dreams that participants experienced from the night before, and spent more of her time focusing on gamers. In her second study, she concluded that although gamers could control themselves, they were still unable to influence their dream environment. The second study also revealed that gamers were more likely to experience a dream from a third-person perspective, and more likely to switch between first and third-person.
Gackenbach, who is arguably the world’s most prominent expert on how video games can impact dreaming, says she is excited about the future and believes that lucid dreaming will become more popular thanks to the development in virtual reality gaming, with gadgets such as the Oculus Rift!
4. Video Games Make Surgeons Mess Up Less
General surgeon Dr. James Rosser conducted an experiment with a total of 300 surgeons at the Florida Hospital Celebration Health in Kissimmee, Florida. The study involved half of the doctors playing a variety of video games—including Super Monkey Ball 2 on the Nintendo Wii and Super Monkey Ball on GameCube for a total of six minutes—before performing a virtual surgery.
Based on the results participants who played the video game tended to score higher than those who did not play anything before performing a simulated laparoscopic surgery:
“Surgeons who played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37% fewer errors, were 27% faster and scored 26% better overall than surgeons who never played video games. It is the error reduction that will have the most significant impact on patient safety.”
In another survey performed by researchers in New York, the skills of a group of 12 surgeons and 21 surgical residents were tested during a simulated surgery drills course known as “Top Gun” in 2003. In addition to those surgery drills, the surgeons were monitored while they played three video games for 25 minutes each. The study found what many other studies have already discovered: video games help with fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual attention, and depth perception.
I mean, I’d like to believe that any surgeon performing an operation on me will make zero mistakes, but I guess we can’t live in a perfect world. I’ll just have to ask my next surgeon whether or not they are familiar with Super Monkey Ball.
3. Violent Video Games Do Not Cause You To Be Violent
Remember when everyone was saying that video games cause children to be violent? They lied. In fact, the opposite might be true!
A long-term study into violent media led by psychologist Christopher Ferguson found that there was no link between violent media (including video games) and behavior. Ferguson and his team also made the claim that previous studies about violent media were done incorrectly, saying many studies “provide exposure to brief clips of media, rather than full narrative experiences” and that “the resultant aggressive behaviors are also outside a real-world context in which the aggression appears to be sanctioned by the researchers themselves.”
In other words, Ferguson and Friends believe that researchers were taking violent media out of context, delivering it to their test subjects, and claiming that it made them aggressive.
A second study looking into video game violence used data from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to look into a hypothesis that said when violent games were released, youth violence increased. The data revealed that between the years 1996 to 2001, youth violence actually declined when violent video games were released. So, maybe it was just a coincidence, right?
A third study, this time done by Villanova Associate Psychology Professor Patrick Markey and his wife, Charlotte Markey, revealed that violent video games do not incite violence unless that person already has certain personality traits. After looking at 30 years of FBI crime statistics and realizing that, consistently, every time a violent video game was released the homicide rate dropped, Mr. and Mrs. Markey decided it was time to perform a study of their own.
The couple studied a sample of 118 teenagers and told them to play violent video games. Lack of practice, bad gaming controls, and games that were difficult led to frustration in gamers, but the violence in the games had very little effect on the participants’ mindsets. That is, of course, unless they had certain character traits that caused them to be violent after playing video games. These people are considered a minority and should stop giving gamers a bad reputation.
So there you have it, video games don’t incite violence in everyday people. In fact, the opposite might be true…
2. Violent Video Games Makes People Nicer To Each Other
A 2014 study, bluntly named “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive” done by researchers at the University of Buffalo suggests that bad behavior in a virtual environment can cause players to feel bad after playing their game, causing them to act nicer in real life.
In other words, the study revealed that gamers may try to compensate for their horrific actions in their virtual environment by having enhanced moral sensitivity to others in the real world, making them nicer.
Researcher and co-author of the study Matthew Grizzard said, “Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity. This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”
The study involved observing and directing participants as they played incredibly violent video games. The video game forced participants to violate two of the five moral codes found in the game: care-harm, fairness-reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity-sanctity.
Grizzard stated that after someone played a game and violated two of the five moral codes, particularly care/harm and fairness/reciprocity, the participants felt guilty for their actions, even though the people they were hurting weren’t real. This, in itself, is totally contrary to the idea that video games are violent.
The study was done in a controlled environment, so please don’t try to evoke empathy out of yourself by running over hookers in Grand Theft Auto. They have a hard enough life as it is.
1. Playing Video Games Makes You More Aware Of Your Surroundings
Naturally, people who are good at video games are good at paying attention to multiple things at a time. Gamers need to have this skill in order to excel at whatever game they have decided to play. If they have their blinders on the whole time and can only pay attention to one thing at a time, they probably suck.
Scientists from the University of Rochester have discovered that playing an action video game trains people to react and make the right decisions faster. Games focus on a person’s ability to multitask and can help them with driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around a city. As a result, you can actually improve these skills by playing video games filled with action.
In a second study, researchers tested dozens of people between the age of 18 and 25 who didn’t usually play video games. Researchers split the participants into two groups. One group played 50 hours of fast-paced action games (such as Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament) while the other group played 50 hours of the thrilling, action-packed game that is The Sims 2.
After playing these games, the groups were asked to make quick decisions that were designed by the researchers. In the tasks, the participants had to look at a screen, monitor what was happening, and answer a simple question about what was happening in the quickest time possible. In addition to visual tests, participants had their auditory skills tested. As you can imagine, the gamers that played the action video games as opposed to The Sims 2 were able to answer 25% faster and just as accurately as their peers!
Still not convinced? A third study, this time performed by Dr. Brian Glass, divided 72 volunteers into three groups. Two groups were asked to play slightly different versions of the game StarCraft for 40 hours over a period of six to eight weeks and the third group played The Sims (apparently researchers believe this game is mind-numbing). Frequent psychological evaluations of the participants found that the groups playing StarCraft were exhibiting higher mental celerity and cognitive flexibility when compared to the people playing The Sims.
“Our paper shows that cognitive flexibility, a cornerstone of human intelligence, is not a static trait but can be trained and improved using fun learning tools like gaming…”
Take this information and do what you want with it! For all I know, you could just be skimming this article with your parents/partner/spouse/friends to try and convince someone that you need to play video games every single day of your life, because it will make you smarter.
And to you, I say: play on, man. Play on.