I don’t know about you guys, but after a hard day at work, sometimes there’s nothing like relaxing in front of the game console. Whether it’s beating up bad guys, racing against the clock, or solving puzzles to save the day, video games have provided millions with hours upon hours of mindless entertainment.
But what if games really weren’t mindless, brain-numbing, or intellect-killing?
In the 1990s, a congressional hearing took place, resulting in the stigma that video games are “bad.” It was said that when children played video games like Mortal Kombat, their cognitive, social, and behavioral skills were all impacted negatively. Children who played violent video games would grow up to be violent themselves, the hearing concluded. There have also been studies done that say video games cause ADHD, antisocial behavior, and a whole slue of other diagnoses.
There are some scientists out there now, however, who disagree with this dire prognosis of gamers.
Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green are both psychologists who have been studying the effects of video games for years. Their interest is in a field of study called “neuroplasticity,” or how the brain adapts itself to new situations. Their interest in video games started when Green, an 18 year old undergrad lab assistant at the time, designed a test to see how well a person could pick out a certain shape in a busy scene. He thought there was a bug in his code, because he scored much higher than he thought he should when he did a self-test. He went on to test his friends, and they scored much higher than average as well. But when he went on to test other people, they scored more closely to the average range. What was the difference?
Green and his friends were all avid video gamers.
This finding spurred Green and then adviser, Bavelier, to look further into the phenomenon. After many years of research, their findings are quite fascinating.
According to their research, gaming can increase a wide variety of cognitive skills, not just picking out shapes in scenes, but focusing on visual details, being more sensitive to visual contrast, and have a better sense of spacial reasoning. Reaction times, they found, are better among gamers, and hand-eye coordination is better, providing for faster, more accurate results than with non-gamers. Players are also able to switch more easily between detail-oriented focused to general environment focused attention. They are more persistent, have better problem solving skills, and can switch from one task to another with more ease. Players who were involved with more social, cooperative games proved to be more cooperative with their peers outside of the gaming world as well.
Green and Bavelier’s research shouldn’t just be used as validation for gamers' good times, however. They are now looking into the infinite possibilities this might hold for people with different disabilities and brain injuries. People with attention issues, autism, dyslexia, and more have all benefited in ways from playing games, and now with this research, people can develop games specifically to address these problems.
Are games always the answer? No, of course not. There are still questions about the addictive behaviors some games can trigger, and the question about violent behavior is still up in the air. But gamers over the few couple decades can attest that games have improved their lives in many different ways, as many ways as there are people. From stress relief to the social aspects of the games, whether it’s the Lego games or Portal, Destiny or Super Mario Brothers, people have been turning to games for fun and relaxation for many years now. It’s nice to see that these games can also be appreciated for their truly beneficial aspects as well.
Want to learn more?
“The Brain-Boosting Power of Video Games,” by Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green
The Brain-Boosting Benefits of Gaming, by Arie Kaplan
“8 Reasons Video Games Can Improve Your Child,” by Cheryl Olson
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in several magazines, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse, an independent gaming company. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors.