If you are my age, you may recall a time growing up that your parents would look over at you and say something along the lines of "Why don't you do something else besides play on that blasted machine. It's going to ruin your eyes and turn your brain into mush". This was usually met with a defeated "Okay" as the fantasy world faded to black alongside the dimly lit power indicator.
Were they right? As the gaming industry has exploded over the past 30 years, the science is only now catching up. It's not only catching up, but revealing some interesting truths in the process...
Jane McGonigal is a game designer and researcher that seems to believe we should all be playing more games. Like many concerned friends and family, she's had people approach her telling her to do something productive - that games were literally a waste of time and something to be in regret of later.
Going off the rails for a moment, have you ever had a friend or family member tell you that you should do something more productive with your time? I know I have. Nothing grinds at me more than when someone tells me that my hobby is invalid while their binge watching the entire first season of a TV series is somehow superior. Ranting aside, let's look at the idea of regret with Jane.
She cites a study of hospice workers specifically covering the topic of death bed regrets. The top regrets are as follows, with scientific research into how each are accomplished with games:
Forgoing the obvious factor of games being fun, Jane references a study from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life that reports parents who spend more time playing games with their kids develop a much stronger real life relationship with them.
It goes without saying that the massive social interaction level of games in the 21st century thrive on social atmosphere. Many people use games as the medium of choice to connect with distant friends from across the globe. Michigan University conducted a study that agrees, as it showed games as powerful relationship tools.
East Caroline University held clinical trials that show online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating both clinical anxieties and depression. Thirty minutes of online gaming a day was enough to increase long-term happiness.
Jane argues that online avatars are one of the most fundamental ways that gamers express an idea of who they really are or want to be. Stanford University had been doing research for five years at the point of Jane's talk, with the purpose of documenting how playing a game with an online avatar can lead to changes in the way we act in real life - more courageous, ambitious, and committed to our goals.
Jane herself overcame the long healing process of a severe concussion by turning her very life into a game, which helped her overcome rehabilitation as well as thoughts of suicide. She did this because, as she mentions, when playing a game we are far more likely to solve challenges in creative ways and are more likely to reach out for help when needed. This game was to become known as Super Better.
How can the act of turning your life into a game improve your well being? As it turns out, science can explain why the game works - Post-traumatic growth. PTG is known as the situation in which people can become stronger, healthier, and happier after a traumatic event.
On the topic of PTG, she argues the possibility of gaining the benefits without having to go through trauma. With math at her side, she continues on to describe the four types of strengths - physical, mental, social, and emotional. By exercising these strengths, individuals would not only be able to lead happier lives, but actually increase their lifespan. The math behind it is simple. People who regularly boost these four types of resilience on average live 10 years longer.
You can catch Jane's entire talk on the ted.com website.
Daphne Bavelier, who studies cognitive neuroscience as a professor at the University of Geneva, took to the Ted Talks stage in 2012 with an interesting message: gamers have an advantage over non-gamers. Using the action fps title Call of Duty: Black Ops as a reference point, she and her team ran several tests to measure the pervasive claims that still daunt the gaming world:
Many people to this day still believe that sitting in front of a computer screen will make your eyes go bad. One of the tests that Daphne and her lab team constructed compared the vision of action gamers vs non action gamers. This test, contrary to popular claims, shows that action gamers actually have really good eyesight in comparison. Not only is it good comparatively, but better across the board.
Furthermore, the study shows that gamers are able to better resolve small details in the context of clutter. She uses the example that where some individuals would need to magnify the text on a prescription drug bottle, gamers would be able to discern the text without the need of magnifying tools.
Finally, this study also reveals that gamers are better able to resolve different levels of gray. She states this could be the difference between having or avoiding an accident when driving through fog.
Daphne got the audience involved in this test, whereby colored words would populate on the big screen. It was the audiences job to shout out what color the words were as the began populating more and more quickly. When the word yellow came up on screen with a red color, things started getting more complicated. As she explains:
Why is it hard? Because I introduced a conflict between the word itself and its color. How good your attention is determines actually how fast you resolve that conflict.
She reports that gamers who ran this experiment against non gamers were able to conclusively resolve the conflict much faster. Her studies show that gamers are not only able to resolve these conflicts quicker, but can also visually track objects in larger quantities. She uses the example of a dog running into traffic, inferring that gamers are more capable of tracking the animal while still handling other cars and pedestrians.
Your typical, normal, young adult can have the span of about 3-4 objects of attention. Your action video game player has about 6-7 objects of attention.
Daphne's full video presentation continues on to say that brains of action game players are more efficient than non gamers, as well as debunking a few more myths. I highly recommend giving it a watch!
The NCBI National Library of Medicine agrees with the positive aspects of gaming, saying on their web page:
Studies focusing on the potential positive outcomes of video game play have found links to positive emotions for players. Moderate video game play has been found to contribute to emotional stability and reducing emotional disturbances in children. Significantly, video game play has been advocated as a means of relaxation and stress reduction by regular players.
While the studies are pointing to an ever positive outcome for gamers, it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Both Daphne and the NCBI agree that it's important to take all things in moderation. Remember, someone actually died from drinking too much water and Gatorade.
Violence in gaming leading to violence in the real world has always been a shaky premise. With victims of shootings looking for something to blame, the media had to pin up a target. The NCBI has this to say of the negatives in gaming and correlation of violence:
Traditionally, much of the research on video games has focused on the negative effects of playing such games, and in particular the effects of playing violent video games. This research has provided insights into the ways that pre-existing characteristics may lead to some young people being vulnerable to negative impacts of video games although further research is needed. Increasingly, the impact of violent video games is being considered from a more nuanced perspective with an understanding that publication bias and the emphasis on the use of laboratory measures of aggression may exaggerate relationships between video game violence and aggression, and not accurately predict real life behavior
For many of us, the science is starting to show what we already knew - or at least assumed. Maybe you knew these benefits? Maybe you didn't? The next time someone tells you that your hobby is a sham, feel free to link them here.
I feel healthier already!