Benefits of Playing Video Games: What We Actually Know

It’s a fantastic time to be a gamer – 20 years ago you had to be kind of ashamed of your gaming habits, as people would say things like “video games rot your brain”, “video games make you a mass murderer”, etcetera. And now everyone’s suddenly changed their tune (except gamers, who knew all along). As well we have a bunch of cool gadgets for gaming.

It turns out playing video games actually make you handsome wealthy smart!

Don’t believe me? Just check out some of these studies compiled from top researchers and scientists.

Video games will improve your dexterity

Laparoscopic surgeons show remarkable improvement over their colleagues when they’re also video game players. Laparoscopic surgery is also known as “keyhole surgery”, and involves making incredibly difficult, minuscule incisions that require high levels of precision. In fact, this research paper from the International Journal of Surgery had this to say:

“We conclude that medical students and experienced laparoscopic surgeons with ongoing video game experience have superior laparoscopic skills for simulated tasks in terms of time to completion, improved efficiency and fewer errors when compared to non-gaming counterparts”.

To perform this study, they selected 30 surgical novices and put them through 5 weeks of video game training in – wait for it – Half-Life!

Yes, that Half-Life. They used surgical simulators to measure the before / after results, and the Half-Life surgeons “showed a statistically significant improvement in score performance between the first and second test occasion.”

Complex 3D games enhance your memory

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience concluded that gamers who favor complex 3D video games showed increased performance in mnemonic discrimination ability (fancy talk for pattern recognition and memorization). The paper emphasizes the point that 2D casual games like Angry Birds made no impact in their test groups, and it was only complex 3D games that made a difference. The paper also concluded that regular video games are probably better at this kind of memory improvement than specialized brain training games:

In contrast to typical brain training, typical video games are not created with specific cognitive processes in mind but rather designed to captivate and immerse the user into characters and adventure. Rather than isolate single brain processes, modern video games can naturally draw on or require many cognitive processes, including visual, spatial, emotional, motivational, attentional, critical thinking, problem-solving, and working memory. It is quite possible that, by explicitly avoiding a narrow focus on a single or small set of cognitive domains and by more closely paralleling natural experience, immersive video games may be better suited to provide enriching experiences that translate into functional gains.”

To paraphrase, Call of Duty will probably make you smarter than a “brain training” game that focuses on highly specific cognitive development.

Call of Duty can save your life (or just enhance your reflexes)

Researchers from the University of Rochester (a team of cognitive scientists, to be specific) concluded tested dozens of people in the 18 to 25 age group, people who were not ordinarily video gamers (they must’ve had to search really hard to find non-gamers in that age group). By splitting the subjects into two separate groups, they had one group play 50 hours of first-person shooters (Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament); the second group played 50 hours of The Sims.

After this, the subjects were asked to perform a series of quick decision-making tasks by the researchers, by analyzing something on a screen and answering what was happening as quickly as possible – whether dots on the screen were moving to the left or the right, for example. The researchers found that the group who played fast-paced action games were up to 25% faster in coming to their conclusions, with the same accuracy as the other group.

This is called probabilistic inference, how fast your brain can calculate information to make a decision based on probabilities. And its life or death stuff, for the record – like, how fast you decide whether or not you should brake or swerve in a dangerous driving situation. To make a long story short, playing endless hours of Tunnel Rush could potentially save your life.

Super Mario 64 (and probably other video games as well) prevents Alzheimer’s 

A study from the University of Montreal was able to hypothesize that video games can increase grey matter in the brain and, get this, prevent the effects of Alzheimer’s. How did they conclude this? By having senior citizens play video games for 6 months. Yeah, no, you read that right. It looked something like this:

Basically, the scientists took three groups of people between the ages of 55 to 75. One group who did absolutely nothing (then why were they even there?), one group that learned how to play the piano, and another group who played Super Mario 64 – I’m going to be honest here, 6 months of Super Mario 64 sounds more like torture than a research study – why not something like Happy Room? The poor little grandma’s in the research group would be like “oh Happy Room, that sounds nice!”

In any case, the research scientists found that the group who played Super Mario 64 had a significant increase in grey matter growth – the piano group gained some grey matter too, but not as much as Grandma Gamer. Expectedly, the group who “did nothing” during the research showed grey matter loss.

Video games enhance creativity in children

A study from the Michigan State University showed that video gamers showed increased amounts of creativity, especially the more video games they played. They did this by surveying 491 middle-school students (of both genders) on their technology usage habits and then gauging their creative abilities with the Torrance Test of Creativity-Figural. Cellphone and internet usage were found to be unrelated to creativity, but the children who spent more time playing video games showed higher assessment scores.

How will the attitude to video games improve in the future? What challenges will it have? Do AI always will be better at gaming or biohacking will give some results and we’d be smart enough to win. For now, we know that blockchain and cryptocurrency will be the biggest trends in the nearest future. But how it will change the gaming and what new advantages of video games we will discover?

This post was written by Katie Greene. She is a passionate game developer with more than 6 years of experience in the industry. She likes science-fiction books and French vintage movies.

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