June 11, 2014
The Benefits Of Video Gaming
I was just reading an article in an in-flight magazine where the writer was lamenting the fact that electronic devices are taking up too much of our time and attention, and that he remembers being a kid growing up near the beach, “surfing the waves of the ocean rather than surfing the web.” That’s a nice, tidy use of phrasing there. But making the point that we should spend more time doing stuff we used to do rather than playing on gadgets is so predictable these days that he may as well have written an article revealing that cake tastes nice.
Along the same lines are Louis CK’s ranting against smartphones (okay, I know we have to love everything Louis says because he is the man right now, and because he is good at comedy he must be right about everything, but I happen to disagree with this one), the viral article in which a man is “getting a divorce and who can blame him,” where the divorce is, wait for it, from his phone, and the common observation in the UK, very possibly elsewhere too, that you see fewer kids playing in the street these days.
For adults, complaining about how technology adversely affects their own life or the lives of other adults is complete nonsense. It is an excuse for their own mental or physical laziness. If you want to go to the beach, just go to the damn beach! If you want to spend more time talking to your wife or taking a bath together while listening to Michael Bolton rather than playing Angry Birds: Star Wars, just do it. You don’t need to divorce your phone, just put it down and pick it up again later when you have realized that taking baths together is mostly just trying to sort out a not-uncomfortable position for arms and legs, and that Michael Bolton is crap.
As far as kids go, well, the same responsibility rests with parents as it does in regard to their own lives. In the same way that kids shouldn’t be allowed to eat McDonald’s everyday, excessive use of electronics can be monitored, too. But rather than give out parenting advice — which I am probably unqualified to do, as a non parent — I would like to talk about the actual benefits of playing video games, when done in moderation.
For younger children, video games improve motor skills, especially when we consider that the alternative to playing video games may not be doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, but more likely would just be watching TV or a movie. As kids get older, video games can help with building decision making and problem solving skills, improving concentration levels, and improving eyesight and visual accuracy because of the need for attention to detail.
Some of these things apply to adult gamers, too, along with other benefits. For people with conditions such as autism and Parkinson’s disease, as well as those suffering from stress and depression, video games have been shown to help with improving states of mind with a sense of reward and achievement, as well as simply a distraction when the struggles of real life can be temporarily suspended. Relief from direct, physical pain can result from playing video games for the same reason.
For adults without any obvious need for therapeutic benefits, video games are still good for our brains, and much more mental agility is needed than for many other pastimes. You might have nice abs if you go swimming all the time, but your brain muscles don’t get that much of a workout. To let German researchers quoted in the Huffington Post put it more technically, gamers experience a “rise in gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum — areas of the brain responsible for spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills in the hands… While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study can demonstrate the direct causal link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase.”
The Huffington Post also points out that long term gamers perform better in training games for surgery than many medical students do. So as long as parents don’t let their kids sit playing for so long that they get deep vein thrombosis, their console-obsessed offspring may even grow up to be doctors.
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