Video games are such an intrinsic part of most kid’s lives. They’re now more accessible than ever, from e-sports tournaments on television to mobile games on our smartphones. The internet streaming service Twitch even serves as a hub for people to watch others play various games.
As parents, there will always be that dilemma over how much access we give our children to video games. Are we letting them play too often? Is their gaming becoming an addiction? Are video games bad for kids?
To help get to the bottom of these questions, we’ve looked at some of the more recent scientific research available which looked at these questions. In particular whether video games are good for you, or bad for you.
Here’s a brief synopsis of what we found, followed by details on the science behind this statement.
Are video games bad for you? Video games have been proven to have both mental and physical benefits. Playing video games can help grow parts of your brain while teaching you how to solve real-world problems. In older people, gaming can slow the mental aging process. Through your favorite games, you may get active, improve your vision, and hone your fine-motor skills while acting as a form of pain relief.
In this article, we’ll cover the many mental and physical benefits of playing video games. We’ve pulled a number of studies as examples for you to refer to as well.
If you are the concerned parent of a child who you think might be playing video games too much, then this might give some valuable insight.
It’s also worth mentioning that we run a series of video game design summer camps which can help turn a child’s passion into gaming into something more productive.
We actually published a blog last year which detailed how kids learning to design video games could be setting themselves up for a bright future.
The mental benefits of video games
Video games have grown by leaps and bounds since they first came to be in the 1970s. Whilst gaming was once associated with laziness and unhealthy behavior, there is growing evidence to suggest there are benefits.
Video games aren’t just for entertainment and hand-eye coordination. They can also improve your mind if you know what to look for.
1: Video games can be like steroids for the mind
Studies conducted recently have proven that gaming has the ability to improve the quality of life for the mentally ill and disabled. This data comes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany.
They revealed that playing different video games increases grey matter, or the size of your brain. Games also streamline both learned and instinctive skills. Simply put, gaming impacts the parts of the brain responsible for spatial orientation, fine motor skills, and memory.
Researchers selected two groups of adults for the study. One group was asked to play Super Mario 64 for half an hour a day over the course of two months. The other group played no video games at all. MRIs were taken of the participants at the start of the study to measure their brain sizes. They were measured again at the end of the two months.
The study’s results found that those who play video games have differences in their brain structure from those who do not. A direct link was made between gaming and an increase in brain size.
This led the researchers to conclude those people afflicted with mental disabilities who’ve had areas of their brains shrink such as Alzheimer’s could benefit from playing video games.
2: You can learn valuable problem-solving skills
Video games can teach kids real-world problem-solving skills as well as how to strategize. For instance, the popular Minecraft game (see the FunTech Minecraft summer camps) allows you to use objects in your environment to overcome problems.
Open-ended world-building games such as SimCity also give gamers an opportunity to sharpen their problem-solving skills on a larger and more impactful scale.
Players in SimCity lay out and construct their city and then have to plan ahead for different events. It could be something manmade, like making adjustments to street planning to help with growth. Sometimes more life-altering natural events such as hurricanes or tornadoes occur.
There could even be the rare instance of a giant monster attack which wipes out half of the city.
SimCity works to teach planning and resource management on the most basic level, making it a great game for both kids and older players.
Developing and mastering the strategies in the game can then be applied to the real world around you. Some of them may even become second nature, and kids could start implementing them without even realizing it.
3: Real-time strategy makes you smarter
A study from University College London and Queen Mary University of London reported certain games can increase the player’s cognitive flexibility. The scientists describe this ability to be one of the cornerstones of human intelligence. It can be improved through engaging learning tools, one of which could be real-time strategy games.
The study was based on the results of psychological tests taken by participants after playing either Starcraft or The Sims for 40 hours over two months’ time.
Researchers discovered participants who played Starcraft made noticeable gains in their performance on tests. They completed various tasks with increased speed and more accuracy as well.
4: Video games can slow mental aging
While brain games are a heavily debated topic when it comes to their ability to raise your intelligence (more on this later), playing for two hours a week can indeed start to slow mental decay from aging. This is according to a study from researchers at the University of Iowa.
Over the course of five to eight weeks, participants were given either a computerized crossword puzzle or a computer game called Road Tour. The game consisted of matching photos of different cars and remembering the locations of road signs.
More distracting information would appear as the game progressed, increasing the difficulty. The distracting information mimicked the challenges older people face behind the wheel when processing a lot of visual information.
The study featured 681 people over the age of 50 and ultimately found that playing Road Tour for 10 hours stalled the decline of some cognitive skills. In some cases, the slowdown was up to seven years.
The physical benefits of video games
We’ve established how video games could be beneficial for the mind, but what about the body? You might not think of video games as being a physical activity. After all, it’s common to associate gaming with your kids sitting on the couch or in a computer chair for long periods of time.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
In recent years, gaming has evolved in ways which not only help to exercise the mind, but the body as well.
Next, we’ll check out some of the ways gaming has been shown to help people physically.
1: Exergaming increases physical activity
One way in which video games can have physical benefits is through what’s known as “exergaming”. This is the concept of playing video games that are also a form of physical activity.
Games such as Dance Revolution and the Wii Fit are prime examples of exergaming. This also applies to more recent mobile games such as Pokemon GO, which sees kids getting out and active in the real world while playing the game.
Exergaming has helped to make exercise convenient for some who shy away from the idea of going to a gym. It’s also an interesting option for people with overly hectic schedules who can’t seem to find enough time in a day for fitness.
With exergames, it’s possible to a moderate 30-minute workout from the comfort of your own home anytime you want.
This movement helps with the flexibility of joints, balance, coordination, and circulation. Many exergames will log the player’s progress as they play. It’s even possible to set goals to motivate the player to push themselves harder.
2: Video game can help with pain relief
At the American Pain Society’s annual meeting in 2010, researchers from USC and the University of Maryland both reviewed cases where video games were used as effective methods of pain relief.
Games which placed an emphasis on virtual reality reduced anxiety and physical pain brought on by chronic illnesses or medical procedures. Burn victims undergoing treatment reported a 30 to 50 percent drop in the pain they experienced.
The researchers also found that playing video games helps the brain keep busy with other senses rather than focus on pain sensations.
Even better, gaming causes the body to release endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are most generally tied to feelings of happiness, which can sometimes have a numbing effect on discomfort.
3: Gaming helps with fine-motor skills
Did you know gaming has been shown to improve fine-motor skills?
A 2013 study published in the PLOS One Medical Journal looked at surgeons playing games on the Nintendo Wii console. Gaming was found to help with precise muscle movements as well as the surgeons’ hand-eye coordination. Both of these are essential skills in their field.
A similar study by Dr. James Rosser that was reported on by CBS News showed doctors who played video games on average three hours a week made roughly 37 percent fewer mistakes in surgery and completed tasks fasters than colleagues who don’t partake in gaming.
4: First-person games improve your vision
A study performed by researchers at the University of Rochester discovered that first-person shooter games made gamers more receptive to different shades of color. The study saw two groups of gamers observed.
One group of pro action gamers was tasked with playing Call of Duty, while a group of more casual gamers played The Sims.
The participants playing Call of Duty saw an increase in what is referred to as contrast sensitivity function. This is the ability to pick up on subtle changes in image brightness.
Thought to be one of the earliest visual skills to deteriorate over time, being able to detect bright spots is important to things such as night driving.
5: Gaming can be used as a form of physical therapy
Dr. Debbie Rand of Tel Aviv University conducted a study designed to find a more effective and affordable way to help patients regain their movement and speech after having a stroke.
The study used patients who had been victims of a stroke one to seven years prior. They were then broken into two groups. The first group used traditional rehab exercises while the second played video games.
Both groups showed improvement in certain areas, such as regaining strength in their grip. The advantages of utilizing video games became clear later. The group which played video games continued to improve their hand strength after the treatment was over.
Not only did they perform twice as many arm movements per session, they were more goal-directed and not simply exercising.
The debate over brain games
The brain game genre was introduced to the mass market in the early 2000s, when logic games touted as testing, training, and challenging the brain began appearing everywhere.
If the different types of games we’ve already discussed can be a benefit to you, can the same be said for brain games?
This is a tough question to answer.
Brain games and logic games have had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with researchers for years. Publishers’ claims about what these games can do for you have been the major sticking point.
Some say in only a few minutes a day, you can train your brain and become smarter by playing their game.
The claim that brain games will make you smarter is subject to debate, as a University of Western Ontario study on the subject determined.
Researchers there found no link between improving at a brain game and getting better at other everyday tasks. Brain games shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time, though.
Any activity which engages your brain in some way is good practice at the very least.
There is evidence to suggest that video games are good for you, both mentally and physically. The stereotypes around gaming are starting to fall away as a result.
As they do so, more and more people have opened themselves up to the countless benefits gaming has to offer.
As with anything else though, the best way to maintain those benefits is through playing in moderation, particularly when it comes to children.
If you would like to find out how you can turn your child’s video gaming passion into something productive, head on over to our tech summer camps page to see the range of courses