Are playing video games one of your favorite pass times? Now you can stop feeling guilty about it. Playing video games (responsibly) actually has some serious health benefits. Now you can go tell your parents that they were wrong!
Turns out video games are actually good for your health. Recent research indicates that they don’t lead to isolation, violence or obesity but, on the contrary:
- Help improve basic mental abilities, particularly the cognitive ones;
- Can slow down the aging process and cognitive degeneration;
- Reduce pain and anxiety associated with chronic diseases and even medical procedures;
- Help kids with dyslexia improve their attention span;
- Train vision to better analyze optical data at fast pace;
- And even help with recovery after strokes.
Improved vision is one of the most obvious health benefits. After all, video games imply fast moving images, an exciting action, and continuous stressful, decision-making related situations. Those who practice such games become better at visually judging a situation, noticing details and taking decisions accordingly.
Stress relief is another common advantage. If you take into account the connection between stress and the risk of various chronic diseases, you can go even further: that playing video games can keep you healthier. It takes all the stress and the tension gathered throughout the day. It helps you feel better and focus on everything else that matters.
Weight loss is probably a shocking but not impossible connection. A study from the Health Sciences Center inside the University of Oklahoma conducted on children between 10 and 13 years old revealed this connection. More precisely, avid games were burning just as many calories as the children who practiced a moderate sport like bowling. You probably didn’t realize how much these games are consuming you, but they do.
Pain handling is something I already suggested and now I will detail. Playing video games won’t mysteriously take your pain away. But it can definitely help you better cope with it. A game that fascinates you will also distract you from the actual pain. It gives you a new, pleasant focus, making the pain more bearable and the need for painkillers less acute. That was also a study!
Stroke recovery is connected with the patient’s need to make consistent, repetitive moves in order to regain mobility. Video games are extremely useful because they make these people perform numerous movements, not just random and repetitive moves, but goal-directed. Their strength is significantly improved and the fact that everything is achieved while playing makes the process much easier and delightful.
Most of the benefits listed up to this point have to do with helping fix an underlying health condition. There are also tons of benefits for healthy people with no existing conditions, listed below.
Playing video games brings cognitive benefits
This isn’t just some rubbish made up by the huge industry of video games and meant to fool us. And for you naysayers that don’t think it’s possible that video games have any benefits, The fall edition of The American Journal of Play, 2014 would disagree with you. And yes, it is backed by scientific studies. The issue featured a very interesting article on how video games bring positive, long-term effects on some of the most important mental processes: memory and attention, perception, and even decision-making abilities. Researchers used two simple strategies to test this theory:
- A correlational analyze – a comparison between two control groups;
- An experimental study – a series of experiments with measurements taken before and after exposure to video games.
The correlation involved two groups of people: who used to play such games regularly and who never played. Players had better scores at all the tests, making researchers assume that gaming made all the difference. But they didn’t stop there…
Here’s how they proved that video games gave the previously mentioned benefits. It involved a series of experiments with people who never played video games before. These people were divided in two groups. One with people who started to play particular games, by a given schedule, and the other one with people who continued not to play any kind of video game.
They compared their abilities both before starting the experiments and after they subjected part of the attendees to video games. Those who started to play experienced much better results at the end of the experiment. This can only indicate that cognitive benefits are a result, not a cause, of playing video games.
Playing video games makes you smarter
The study I previously mentioned pointed that passion for these games can improve a series of mental attributes. Researchers are interested in these attributes individually, but psychologists associate these attributes, in general, with intelligence. So the more you work on such skills, the smarter you become.
Of course, some other studies back up this theory as well. A group of British researchers, for instance, discovered that some particular types of video games could actually improve the brain flexibility of the player. For scientists, this so-called brain flexibility is nothing more than… “the cornerstone of human intelligence”.
This new study was the work of the University College London and the Queen Mary University of London. Over 70 volunteers took part and the test was, again, rather simple. They divided the subjects into two groups and had them play a total amount of 40 hours. One group played The Sims and the other group played Starcraft. In the end, they were all tested and those who played Starcraft had significantly better results with the cognitive tasks, more accuracy, and higher speed.
Researchers now still need to find out whether these improvements are permanent or temporary. Furthermore, since both tests involved video games, they also have to determine what exactly from Starcraft (that The Sims didn’t have) improved the abilities of the players.
Playing video games can make you better at your job
…if your job involves virtual surgery, computer simulations, delicately handling massive machinery, and so on. In fact, any kind of activity that requires visual acuity and precision in handling particular instruments can be improved through playing video games.
This one is a study dating back since November 2012 and was conducted inside a medical university from Texas. It compared three different groups: high school game players, college gamers, and normal, medical residents. Those still in high school played about two hours a day; those in college about four hours a day; and the residents played every now and then. The best results belonged to those in high school.
This can only point out, again, that for the best results it matters not only what games you play, but also how much you play. More isn’t always better and medical residents should obviously focus on their day to day medical training. But playing video games shouldn’t be considered a total waste of time either. After all, an independent study indicated that surgeons who play around 3 hours of such games every week make fewer mistakes in their laparoscopic surgeries. With 37% less, to be more specific!
Playing video games can make you more sociable
Some people might think that over-playing video games will make you isolate yourself from your friends; become more sedentary; lose interest in more engaging and healthier activities. This is in fact, true. But, the keyword here is “over-playing”.
If you’re playing video games all day long, then you have a problem. If you’re reasonably enjoying this activity up to two hours a day or just a few hours a week, then you can get serious benefits without much if any downside:
- Become part of a community of online players and transfer your virtual friendships into real ones – if you stay on chats or enter local groups of players from your neighborhood;
- Corrupt a friend or even your better half to play such games too and spend quality time together with this shared passion;
- Learn new discussion topics that you can approach with your friends when you go out;
- Become more interested in your computer and all the other gadgets you use to play – become a more technical person, save money to upgrade your system, work hard to achieve what you want, even if related to gaming;
- Could actually develop a passion that will allow you to make it a lifetime career – think you can become a video game scriptwriter, a video game tester, a level designer, a gameplay programmer and many more;
- Develop aptitudes that will let you become better at real-life activities, like playing a sport, reading more and faster, thinking and making connections much faster than everyone else around you.
People think that you risk becoming an addict and losing interest in the real world by playing video games. But you should know better than to let yourself get caught up in gaming 24/7. You can actually turn playing video games into the best thing that has ever happened to you if you do it with responsibility. In fact, these days you can also make millions of dollars as a pro gamer.
Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.