Playing online poker and other video games have been shown to boost the mental, emotional and physiological health of young players. For years, many mental health professionals have argued that video gaming is dangerous to a young person’s emotional and mental health.
It promotes gambling addictive behaviors, they say, keeps kids from physical activity, can cause headaches and other physiological problems, reduces time kids spend socializing, can desensitize young people to violence, and may promote vision problems, memory loss, personality swings and depression.
Now a new body of research is looking at gaming in a different light with a call for a more balanced perspective.
Gaming may actually strengthen a number of cognitive skills in young players, research indicates, including reasoning, memory and perception and spatial navigation. According to a 2013 study, shooter video games, which are violent and have been the most strongly criticized seem to work as well as academic courses in improving a gamer’s capacity to think about objects in three dimensions.
Isabela Granic, lead author of a 2013 study entitled Benefits of Playing Video Games, wrote, “This has critical implications for education and career development, as previous research has established the power of spatial skills for achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” Granic’s team tested these skills among young people playing other types of puzzle and role playing games and found that the enhanced thinking skills were not present in such games.
Since 2013 additional research has revealed a number of other findings about the benefits of playing video games. They include:
Video gaming may be a key to helping people overcome dyslexia. Dyslexia, a learning disability that causes readers to see words and letters backward and creates problems in reading, writing and spelling, may be overcome through video gaming that focuses on games that are action-packed.
Researchers believe that the reason is that in such games, the player needs to learn how to focus intensely on a constantly changing environment.
While better coordination may not be at the top of the list of desired outcomes from video gaming, consider that research shows that laparoscopic surgeons do better when they play games for at least 3 hours per week.
In a study reported by the National Institute of Health’s journal Public Medicine, researchers determined that video game play of 3 hours or more every week correlated with 27% faster completion and 37% fewer errors among the game players as compared to non-video gamers.
The most successful gamers performed 39% faster and made 47% fewer errors overall. The study concluded that past video game experience and video game skill are significant predictors of surgical skills in laparoscopic surgery.
Rather than causing vision problems, researchers have found that playing games in moderation may improve the player’s vision. A small study carried out jointly by the University of Rochester in New York and Tel Aviv University in Israel examined an element of vision called contrast sensitivity function (CSF) — the ability to see things that do not stand out from their background.
Contrast sensitivity, noted the researchers, is one of the “main limiting factors in a wide variety of visual tasks” and is most easily compromised. In comparing the CSF between action gamers and non-action gamers the researchers found that after 10 weeks of play, gamers were better able to discern between different shades of grey.
Players with a “lazy eye” were asked to play games with their good eye covered and at the end of 10 weeks they showed significant improvement in the affected eye.
Many genres of games encourage and reward leadership skills. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan demonstrated that playing digital games impacts positively on the formation and development of leadership skills.
The researchers studied 50 gamers and 50 non-gamers and determined that 89% of gamers demonstrated organizational skills, 66% of gamers impact the thinking and behavior of others and 68% of gamers demonstrate personal leadership. Additionally, 89% of the gamers were able to manage a group and 67% of gamers could apply creative approaches to solve problems.
Video games can actually make kids more active. Some video games promote interaction on a whole-body level. In others, especially those that focus on traditional athletic sports, the games may inspire children to take up the sport themselves in a real-world, physical manner.
So-called “brain games” (games that involve problem-solving, puzzles, memory, etc) have been shown to positively affect older players. NIA-supported researchers published research in Behavioural Brain Research in September 2020 which described a study in which individuals between 60 to 80 years of age played 30 to 45 minutes of video games every day for four weeks.
Memory tests showed that, among subjects who had shown equivalent memory performance prior to the gaming activity, after two week, the gamers showed improved recognition memory. After another 2 weeks, memory among the gaming group continued to improve. Improvements persisted after daily gameplay ended.
The image of the video gamer as a loner isn’t necessarily true. Thanks to multi-player games, gamers socialize through their gaming activities as they work together to solve problems. In addition, over half of video gamers get together with friends at least some of the time to play together with other players.
More and more doctors are suggesting that people play video games in order to alleviate pain. It’s not all in the mind – research has shown that playing video games actually produces an analgesic pain-killing response in one’s higher cortical system. The Scandinavian Journal of Pain reported on findings that showed that both traditional and VR-enhanced game distraction effectively improves pain outcomes.
Some people see video games as time-wasters and brain corrupters. Increasingly, however, psychologists, behaviorists, and other researchers are finding that video games actually have many benefits for gamers of all ages. University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green summed up the latest studies when he said “Video games change your brain.”
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