Video games get a hard time. They truly do.
For the most part, a lot of the attention that was given to the industry from a research perspective in its earlier years was focused on pointing out the negative effects that can come about from an unhealthy consumption of games.
But what if we told you that it’s not all bad news?
While we’re certainly not saying that spending days on end in front of a screen is a good thing, to deny the positive benefits of a good old-fashioned gaming session would be completely wrong.
As the years have gone on and the industry has continued to grow into the cultural staple that it is today, more and more research has emerged celebrating the benefits of introducing a few weekly gaming sessions into your life.
So without further ado, here’s an overview of how playing video games can actually benefit you and your overall wellbeing.
Anyone who has played an open-world game will know exactly what we’re talking about here.
Whether you’re traversing the great open plains of Skyrim or checking out the mountain ranges of Los Santos in GTA V, the immersive experience of playing video games allows you to keep your memory function sharp in a simulated world without leaving the comfort of your own home.
A 2015 study that was conducted in the University of California examined the positive effects that gaming may have on the brain’s memory function – and specifically, how the hippocampus can be benefitted by regularly playing complex 3D video games.
Testing a group of regular gamers against a set of non-gamers, it was found that the memory-skills of the gamers, on average, surpassed the non-gamers when each set of participants was put to the test with a series of trials relating to hippocampus function.
Furthermore, the same study also found that a group of non-gamers who were introduced to regular gaming showed clear signs of improvement in their hippocampus function after extended exposure.
Helps With Spatial Awareness
The American Psychological Association ran a study back in 2013 that argued about the merits of first-person shooters in improving your ability to consider objects in three dimensions.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
Whether you’re carefully navigating a stealth mission as Venom Snake in Metal Gear Solid 5 – where an incredibly precise level of attention to detail is required, or, you find yourself under fire from hostiles in an intense shootout in Call Of Duty – and awareness of your surroundings is an absolute must as a gamer.
The fact that your mind is being trained all the while in terms of your spatial awareness really does make it all the more fun.
Improves General Mood
There are few feelings quite like kicking back after a hard day’s work and digging into one of your favorite games and as you would expect, evidence exists that proves gaming’s benefits in improving your general mood.
A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association showed the therapeutic power of complex and immersive video games and the escapism they provide while also celebrating the benefits of short and simple video games in the vein of Candy Crush and Angry Birds.
Be it a short break from a day’s work or an evening distracting yourself from a stressful exam on the horizon, video games – if used correctly – can be a tool to improve your mood just as much as they can train and improve your brain in other areas.
Improves Hand-Eye Coordination & Reflexes
Take one look at a professional eSports gamer and you will quickly notice that their ability to make split-second reactions and informed decisions in the heat of the moment oftentimes borders on inhuman.
But that’s exactly what is required to be a high-level gamer.
Like any sport, you need to make yourself so in-tune with the process that your moves are ones springing from pure instinct, muscle memory, and above all else, heightened reflexes.
Yes, that’s right; gaming can also dramatically improve your reflexes.
That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has spent hours fine-tuning their sharpshooting abilities on Fortnite or timing their aerial skills on Rocket League.
With the increased level of realism to be found in everything from shooters to driving games these days, when you begin to appreciate just how skilful the elite-of-the-elite are in these gaming communities, it’s easy to see just how beneficial their hours spent practicing have been.
Improves Decision Making
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
For anyone who has spent hours upon hours helplessly stuck on a particularly challenging portion of any given video game, the news that gaming can benefit you in this regard will come as no surprise.
C. Shawn Green of The University of Rochester ran a study that saw him take on two groups of young adults with no gaming experience – one that was tasked with playing a high-intensity action game for 50 hours, and the other a slower, more strategic game.
The idea was to make note of how video games force us to pay attention to moving peripheral images and whether extended periods of time spent gaming would have any prominent effect on our ability to receive sensory data – which, in essence, would allow us to make better decisions on the spot.
The results were conclusive in showing that the high-octane, high-pressure environment of the first test-pool required its participants to be far more alert, while utilising their peripheral vision – leading to an increase in the power of the subject’s low-level perceptual functions.
Turns out that damn-near-unbeatable boss you failed to be defeat fifty times was your friend after all!
Engages Strategic Thinking
Whether it’s an RPG, an RTS, a platform game, or a shooter, there is absolutely no doubt about the benefits that gaming can bring to your ability to problem solve.
This one needs very little in the way of validation. Take one look at strategy-heavy titles such as the Civilisation or Total War series’ and you will immediately notice the immense level of care given to ensuring that you are being mentally stimulated from the word ‘go’.
But all across the board, as video game AI becomes more and more advanced, naturally, we, as the gamers, will be forced to engage in an even more challenging battle of wits in order to come out on top.
From sports games to narrative-driven thrillers and everything in between, gaming as a concept requires you to outthink the machine – making it less surprising to hear of the actual positives that it can bring about.
Whether you’re learning to be persistent in the face of failure, or figuring out how best to approach a multi-pronged problem, there is perhaps no greater benefit to acquire from being a gamer than the improvement that it may cause to your strategic thinking and overall problem solving.
Improves Eye Sight
A 2009 study, again from The University of Rochester, measured the visual capabilities of a group of veteran first-person shooter gamers against a group of those who stuck to more slow-paced, casual games – finding that the FPS players had the better vision of the two.
According to Daphne Bavelier, who led the study, playing action games increases an ability called contrast sensitivity function – which in layman’s terms is the ability to distinguish between and focus on changes in shades of a certain colour, which can be helpful when driving after hours.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that 10 hours a day is a healthy amount of time to spend gaming, but research does show that there is some benefit to playing games that require a certain level of focus and quick-thinking.