How video games can help you
By Lauren Paulsen, Senior Columnist
Countless studies have been done to determine whether video games are actually harmful, particularly to children. It has been said that playing video games can lead to violent behaviour, addiction, obesity, and social isolation. Researchers are now proving that many of these beliefs are either unprovable or outright false. Video games can actually offer a great deal of beneficial effects to players.
Firstly, playing video games can be therapeutic. Not only can it help the average person to unwind and relax (depending on the game, of course), but it can also help people with chronic or mental illness. It has been found that when a person with an injury or other type of pain plays video games there is actually a reduction in the pain level. It allows the brain to focus on something else and essentially distracts the player. Not only that, but it also causes the brain to produce an analgesic or pain-killing response. The more immersive the game, the better this response.
Concerning mental health, playing video games has been known to help people with depression and anxiety. Just like when you exercise, dopamine is released in the brain while playing video games. This is a chemical that induces a “happy” feeling in people. It can also help boost a person’s confidence, particularly when the player succeeds at a challenging task.
Another benefit that video games provide concerns the health of your body. Those games that get you active and up out of your chair are very good for exercise. But even when you are sitting and using a controller, the use of the controller actually improves your fine motor skills in your hands. This has successfully helped stroke victims regain use of their hands.
A somewhat surprising benefit of playing video games has to do with your vision. Playing fast-paced first-person shooter games is now known to improve the players “contrast sensitivity function,” which is a person’s ability to determine subtle changes in brightness. This is something that is crucial when driving in the dark. Playing these types of games has also proven to be successful in treating both cataracts and the condition known as lazy eye.
Playing video games also increases the gray matter in certain parts of the brain, including those spaces used for spatial navigation, memory formation, and strategic planning. A German researcher, Simone Kühn, believes that because of these findings, video games could be used to help patients with mental disorders that shrink brain matter, including schizophrenia, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s. It has been proven that when elderly people play puzzle games and other brain teasers it actually slows the onset of dementia, and just playing two hours per week is enough.
The idea that playing video games creates social isolation has been proven false. Playing video games has actually been shown to improve social skills in children and they become better team players. This is because when playing multiplayer games it is necessary to act as a team. Also, many virtual social communities have popped up surrounding many different games. It turns out that most people don’t actually even play alone. Over 70 per cent of gamers play with friends for a large portion of their gaming.
Other benefits gamers can gain are improved problem-solving skills and decision making, increased cognitive flexibility, increased multi-tasking abilities, and better hand-eye coordination. It also enhances creativity and a large portion of games indirectly teach the players studious skills such as language, math, and history. It even increases a person’s attention span, something proven to help kids with dyslexia. After playing video games, these kids were better able to focus on reading afterwards, most likely because the fast-paced action games they had been playing require intense focus.
Video games really do have a lot to offer us. On top of everything else, they are just plain fun.