The vast majority of video games certainly encourage sedentary behavior, and a lot of them seem mind-numbing. However, what’s going on behind the scenes in your (or your child’s) brain when you’re playing games may be beneficial. Dr. Andrew Przybylski’s study, for example, “Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment,” found that regular gaming (less than 3 hours per day) may yield some interesting benefits.
An Exciting Alternative to “Brain Training”
An article recently published in the journal “Computers and Education” compared players of the brain training game “Lumosity” with the triple-A puzzle game “Portal 2”. Players of each game completed before-and-after cognitive tests, and the group of Portal players won handily. The study used an admittedly small sample population and short game-play time, but it sets the stage for future studies and at the moment implies that keeping our minds working strong could be easier and more entertaining than we previously thought.
Faster (But Still Accurate) Decision-Making
According to a University of Rochester study, regular players of action games can make accurate decisions about 25% quicker than non-gamers. Everything else being equal, a 10-minute game of speed chess between two non-gamers would be equivalent to an 8-minute game between two action gamers. Speed of decision-making is paramount in every realm of the real world from stock trading to surgery to everyday human interaction, and apparently spending time in certain realms of the fake world have shown the ability to increase that speed.
Improved Visual and Spatial Acuity
That same University of Rochester study found that gamers are better at navigating, driving, reading small print, and keeping track of people in crowds. For driving, it’s a matter of keeping track of extra personal space: your game character takes up more space than your point of view, just as your real-life arms and legs extend beyond your eyes. Unlike your arms and legs but like your car, however, your game character’s body doesn’t provide tactile feedback. This is to say nothing of the possibility that gamers may be experimenting with unsafe driving in their games and learning from those mistakes.
For the visual aspects, we can ascribe it to the aforementioned brain training, though it’s more subconscious than a puzzle game would entail. Gamers learn to look for important aspects in characters, objects, or locations, such as shading, silhouette, or color palette, so that they can react accordingly.
Video games often provide a sense of achievement as players conquer various obstacles, and often come back to them later to see how much they’ve improved. What once was a trying “boss battle” may quickly become a trivial challenge. This can be dangerous when it is the sole source of feeling accomplished – video game addiction is a very real problem, often as a result of this. As part of a healthy and varied lifestyle gaming can be help improve self-worth, and even provide people with a new way of seeing their everyday challenges.
There are many more – but often more obvious – benefits to playing video games, such as improved technological literacy, mathematical skills, multitasking ability, planning and resource management skills, and teamwork. We need to be careful with how long and often we use video games and allow our children to do the same, but knowing the potential benefits will allow us to utilize them when the opportunity arises.