Ever sat down expecting to spend 20 or 30 minutes at the video game console, only to check your watch 3 or 4 hours later? You wouldn’t be the first person to say so. It’s true, video games can hook you in fast. And now more than ever, with so many different types of games and many different platforms—including computer games and mobile apps—it’s easy to get sucked in fast without realizing it.
The question is, as children and many adults fill their schedules more and more with these kinds of games: what will be the long-term consequences?
For years, the scientific and childhood development communities have tried pegging down exactly what kind of consequences come along with playing these types of games. Even beyond all the speculation that video games, computer games, and mobile may be detrimental to your health, is it also possible they provide some benefits?
Let’s take a closer look at just how video games can improve your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Strengthening Your Brain
If someone’s ever told you to cut it out with the gaming because it’s killing brain cells, maybe it’s time you have them take a look at this study:
Under the instruction of German neuroscientists, 23 participants were asked to play Super Mario 64 at least 30 minutes a day for two months. At the conclusion of the study, MRI results showed that many participants experienced growth in various parts of the brain.
For example, some players’ MRI scans showed development in the right pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls organization of material. Other players improved their precise movement and motor skills, as evidenced by a change of the cerebellum. Yet others had development in the hippocampus, responsible for mental mapping and spatial awareness.
As it turns out, just about every area of the brain is activated when playing these types of games—all of which develop skills that can be used in the real world.
Slowing Down the Aging Process
Who do you picture when you think about the ultimate gamer? Well, the image of the fifteen-year-old gamer boy in a dirty bedroom is changing. That is to say, the world of gaming is casting its net further than ever before. Today, children as young as two and three and adults into their eighties and nineties are finding games that suit their interests, talents, and skill level.
In fact, when it comes to the elderly in particular, many care centers for the elderly are beginning to utilize video games as a way to keep older people active, and their minds sharp.
A study including 681 healthy individuals 50 years or older concluded that a mere 10 hours of video games could delay the natural decline of memory and other cognitive abilities.
The mental energy exerted for these kinds of games is easily transferable in the elderly and can lead to ease of mental function in daily activities.
Coping with Mental Illness
The mental benefits of video games don’t end with those physical attributes. As scientists have long thought, there is a clear link between mental and emotional stability. Strengthening of one can also help strengthen the other. Sometimes, there’s no better way to combat mental illness such as depression or anxiety than by examining the situation from a fresh perspective.
In a 2012 study conducted by New Zealand scientists, 168 teenagers with the previous diagnosis of depression were split into two groups: those who would receive routine counseling and those who would experiment with a new video game SPARX (smart, positive, active, realistic and x-factor thoughts).
In this novel video game concept, teens created avatars with the goal of crushing “gloomy negative automatic thoughts”. In addition, teens were periodically given facts about depression and strategies fro coping throughout the game. The results were dramatic. At the conclusion, about 44% of the SPARK group reported no further symptoms of depression, while the control group (who received traditional counseling) experienced only a 22% reduction in those with depression.
So while everyone with a mental illness will find different ways of coping, why not give video games their fair shot too?
Improving Motor Skills & Understanding of 3-D Dimensions
Video game technology is always advancing. Today, games feel realer than ever because of sophisticated graphics and special effects.
Besides a better gaming experience, this enhanced 3-D experience, like in first person shooter games, strengthens players’ perceptions of space. Players gain a heightened sense of direction, as well as mental mapping.
In addition, these games can improve players motor skills as well as eyesight, because of sensitivity contrast.
Building a Community
Let’s dispel the myth once and for all that gamers game alone, are anti-social, or take up interests that most people can relate to. In many cases, it’s just the opposite. Video games now accessible on mobile phones, for example, are appealing to people on the go, people waiting online, people relaxing with a cup of coffee—just about everyone.
It may surprise you to hear that nearly 1.2 people play video games worldwide. Finally, these groups of gaming enthusiasts are getting some of the attention they deserve. They’re sharing ideas and building their skills together.
Through gaming, frequent players get to meet others with similar hobbies and interests. Whether it’s in a competitive setting or just some friendly back-and-forth, gamers can quickly find a community that they can relate to. Some gamers meet up at conferences, while some actually first interact through games online which call on team members to interact via headsets, cameras, etc. and slowly build up a friendship based on this common interest.
Little by little, these communities are changing the way the world look at them.
Farewell to the days of gamers framed as outcasts or obsessives. The tables have been turned as scientists take a closer look to reveal that video gaming has its long list of benefits after all. While these advantages are unique to each person, it’s safe to say that a little gaming here and there can go a long way in keeping you happy and healthy.