Video games have eaten a lot of crap over the years. At best they’ve been perceived as mindless time-wasters, at worst an anti-social activity that could lead to aggression and violent outbursts. Now as society finds itself trying to deal with an aging population and an ailing education system in need of major reformation, video games have become the media’s sweetheart, now being praised for their utility in areas other than “mindless fun”.
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With 3-D television, augmented reality, virtual reality,and all these other “non-real-realities”, our lives are playing out more like video games every day. And increasing research is also showing that video games aren’t just for kids, Baby Boomers comprise a vibrant video game audience. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), half of all Americans are playing video and computer games. Of those, 25% are over 50 years old; another 45% are between 18 and 49. In fact, the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old.
Instead of fearing the way gaming is changing our world, let’s look at why video games are beneficial to us and how they can help us learn important skills and improve brain performance.
1. Video Games Can Be Educational
Incorporating video games in the classroom can compliment traditional teaching methods and help kids learn in a fun and interactive way. Playing video games engrosses the player into the subject matter. The person isn’t just reading material, they are living it.
A Rocky Mount elementary school in North Carolina has been implementing video games into its curriculum for over 5 years now. The game they’ve been using is a fantasy game called Quest Atlantis where students have to use math, reading and writing to achieve subsequent levels.
In a two year span, the number of fourth grade students who tested proficient in writing jumped from 30% to 60%.
More schools are also embracing the iPad as a learning tool. The iPad is not just some passing trend but a powerful and versatile tool with a multitude of educational uses.
For an in-depth story about how video games are being used in the education system, refer to this NYTimes article.
2. Video Games Can Help Relieve Pain (Duke Nukem vs. Morphine)
One of the best ways to relieve pain is not to think about it. In order not to think about it, we need be distracted by something else. What better distraction than immersing yourself into a virtual world with quests, tasks and goals to achieve! Incredibly, a Simon Fraser University professor in Vancouver has noted that experiments consistently show that people who suffer from serious pain often find more relief in virtual reality environments than drug-based treatments.
A study from Wheeling Jesuit University also reinforces the claim that video games can “distract someone’s attention from a painful activity, and can help people with chronic pain problems, particularly children”.
What’s even more interesting is that the WJU researchers found that violent video games were the most successful in reducing participants’ pain ratings and increasing pain tolerance. They compared six genres of games, action, puzzle, fighting, sport and boxing. Those given sports or fighting games were able to withstand more pain than those playing any other genre.
Playing video games can not only serve as a distraction from pain but also give one a sense of control and positive reinforcement when undergoing a painful procedure.
I would have to agree that playing Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter while the dentist is yanking out my wisdom teeth would really help take the edge off.
3. Video Games Can Improve Your Ability To Make Fast, Accurate Decisions
Reseearchers at the University of Rochester concluded that action video games like (first-person shooters) can foster “quicker and more accurate decision making skills”. These skills can be used outside the arena of gaming and provide gamers a “heightened sensitivity to the immediate world around them.”
Their study involved a group of 18-25 year olds that were not regular game players. They were split into two groups, one that had to play 50 hours of Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, the other that had to fulfill 50 hours of The Sims 2.
After completing their hours, the two groups were subject to tests that would challenge their ability to make snap decisions. Action gamers were up to 25% faster at making correct decisions than those who had played The Sims 2.
Why? In action games you need to strategize and be highly aware of your surroundings. As the researchers claim action gamers are “efficient collectors of visual and auditory information”. Their brains are constantly at work, assessing possibilities, refining probabilities, and gathering every bit of visual and auditory information until the brain has enough information to make what it considers an accurate decision. This heightened state carries through to the real-life decision-making process as well.
The U.S. military has long supported the idea that learning through games can prepare soldiers for the complex, rapid-fire decision making of combat.
4. Video Games Can Improve Scientific Thinking & Reasoning
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at how game-based learning can foster scientific thinking. By analyzing a random sample of nearly 2,000 discussion posts on World of Warcraft (WoW) gaming forums, they discovered that players were actually using scientific methods to assess situations and get ahead in the game.
“They used systems and models for understanding situations and math and testing to investigate problems.”
WoW, which has more than 10 million subscribers worldwide, is a game that relies heavily on character development in order to move forward in the game. As characters become more developed, they acquire talents and skills that will aid them in the game. While the game can be played solo, players who form and join guilds, i.e. work together- are more likely to succeed, faster.
The research found:
“More than half the gamers used “systems-based reasoning” — analyzing the game as a complex, dynamic system. And one-tenth actually constructed specific models to explain the behavior of a monster or situation; they would often use their model to generate predictions. Meanwhile, one-quarter of the commentors would build on someone else’s previous argument, and another quarter would issue rebuttals of previous arguments and models.”
These thought patterns are the foundations of scientific thought.
5. Video Games Can Enhance Hand Eye Coordination
While improved hand/eye coordination in video game players is not a new discovery, a compelling study involving 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that surgeons who played video games 3 hours a week were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to their non-video game playing counterparts.
6. Video Games Can Help Develop Social Skills
With the popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), gamers are actually interacting, cooperating and building relationships with tons of other players. Though these interactions are virtual- think about how much time people are spending on social networking sites like Facebook, communicating with their “real” friends virtually anyway. This kind of social interaction in gaming isn’t relegated to MMORPGs alone, games across all genres can have multi-player aspects. The only difference being the way the hosting works with games in certain genres using platforms like VPS hosting on private servers while MMORPGs run on public servers owned by game publishers.
7. Most Video Games Aren’t Violent!
Out of the 25 best-selling video games of all time only about 4 are explicitly violent.
And even violent games are beginning to put violence in a real moral context. Take Red Dead Redemption for instance. If you kill a random civilian in the game, your honour ranking goes down and the townspeople dislike you. However, if you help a citizen in distress your honour rankings go up and people in the game will be more willing to help you out.
And what’s more, juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30 year low. Though the young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players, 90% of boys and 40% of girls play video games! Putting the blame on the game is an easy cop out that entirely discounts pre-existing issues that would make these kids unable to discern between reality and a video game.
Time To Get Your Game On!
Not only can gaming be good for our brains, it’s good for the economy too! The entertainment software industry is currently one of the top performing sectors of the American economy. Video games are finally beginning to attract some positive attention and it’s allowing this form of technology to be used across many areas other than just “playing”.
The last decade of media attention has equated video games with violence and anti-social behaviour. While there is a positive correlation between aggression and violent games, there has been a significant amount of research showing that the benefits of playing pro-social, skill testing games far outweigh the negatives. And even in realms such as pain alleviation, violent games do have their place.
Games can be powerful educational tools and have many effects we might never have expected.