Anyone who hasn't been fortunate enough to grow up with gamers for parents probably resigned themselves for the duration of their childhood to hearing the same negative messages about gaming. "Don't play for too long, you'll get square eyes" or "I wish you'd spend more time doing something useful, like sport".
Year after year, we hear the same repeated, negative messages. Teenagers who go on murder sprees: it’s all because they played Call of Duty occasionally. The western world's obesity epidemic is nothing to do with diet or exercise; it's because we're all playing too much Mass Effect!
Any gamer knows that the experience of gaming is a far from negative one. Reaction time, problem solving skills and socialization are just a few of the happy side effects of the generally rewarding a fun experience of playing a particularly beautiful or well thought out game. Fortunately, science – for the most part – agrees. Now we are not suggesting you give your 5 year-old child GTA V to play or go on 40 hour Battlefield binges where you don't eat of leave the house, but moderate gaming can improve a whole host of things. We've compiled just a few of the best examples of how gaming can be good for you.
Gaming Can Greatly Improve Spatial Awareness, Accuracy And Motor Skills
Anyone used to playing FPS games will probably be unsurprised that this genre in particular has been noted as a great way of improving accuracy and spatial awareness, with people who played these games on average able to make decisions around 25% quicker than those who did not. Interestingly, in studies acted out by the University of Toronto on subjects playing Medal of Honor, the female subjects tested showed an even greater improvement than their male counterparts, to the point where the expected gender distinction between them was eradicated.
Probably the greatest (and most worthy of bragging rights) study of this kind so far was research from Iowa State University in 2007, which compared surgeons who played video games to those who did not when they performed complex laparoscopic surgery; a method of surgery where tiny cameras, thin tools are used to perform surgery through small incisions without excessive invasion. Those who played games were 27% faster and 37% more accurate than those who didn't.
“The single best predictor of [the surgeon's] skills is how much they had played video games in the past and how much they played now,” psycologist and research head Douglas Gentile said. “Those were better predictors of surgical skills than years of training and number of surgeries performed.”
So, next time anyone you know needs an operation, maybe the question you ought to be asking them is "so ... how much do you game?"
RTS Games Like StarCraft Can Help Make Your Mind “More Agile”
As someone who has ploughed a considerable amount of time into StarCraft II and still can't drag a pitiful Terran force from the dregs of Bronze league, I have no problem believing that a long term commitment to the game could turn you into some kind of genius. In fact, a study at the University of California last year proved that professional players could make decisions and react four times quicker than normal people. Crazy. But earlier this year, researchers at Queen Mary, University of London actually proved that the skills learned in RTS games like this could aid general brain development in those less gifted at the game, too.
As part of the study, 72 female volunteers from the University of Texas at Austin considered “novice” gamers were trained to play certain video games to see how the experience impacted memory skills and tactical reasoning. A third were trained to play StarCraft II managing a single base, a third played the same title but had to control two bases on different sides of the map, whilst the others played The Sims 2. Since putting simulated children in swimming pools and then seeing them attempt to get out once you've removed the stairs requires little to no cognitive ability, it won't surprise anyone that The Sims playing control group saw little improvement. In the StarCraft II group, however, the participants showed much better results in the subsequent psychological tests, with those who had to manage two bases managing much stronger performances still.
According to the head of the study, the fact that StarCraft "emphasizes maintenance and rapid switching between multiple information and action sources" can lead to a "large increase in cognitive flexibility" which can be measured in non-video gaming tasks. So that’s something to quote next time someone tells you that your compulsive RTS habit is dulling your senses.
Gaming Can Improve Your Sense Of Wellbeing
A great deal of focus has been put on research studies – such as one by Indiana University in 2010 – that show excessive playing of violent games can depress brain activity in regions associated with emotion and wellbeing. But “excessive playing of violent games” is not representative of the majority of us, and it has been suggested that – in most cases – moderate gaming can actually improve a sense of wellbeing. This idea goes back over a decade, when researchers found that playing multiplayer in games like Counter-Strike were not only sociable, but “[offer] a way to play with things you may be scared of in a safe way where there are very few consequences."
More recently, researchers in Sydney looked into whether gaming could positively impact the wellbeing of children and young people. Significantly, not only was the answer a fairly resounding "yes", but benefits were reported regardless of the game's content.
"We have shown improvements in mood, reductions in stress, and feelings of competence and autonomy resulting from playing videogames. Our studies of play with others have revealed benefits for young people in terms of social wellbeing and feelings of relatedness. But importantly, we have also found co-operative videogame play to be associated with increased brain activity for younger people."
So far from turning us all into gun-wielding psychopath, it turns out gaming is actually making us into happier, more well rounded people. Who knew?
Gaming Can Make Your Eyesight Better
Shout it from the rooftops! It’s official! All those times your mother told you that your hours of screen time was frying your retinas was a lie. It turns out that even relatively limited amounts of game-time can greatly improve your eyesight.
That’s according to two separate studies by the University of Rochester, New York, who noted that as little as 30 hours played on a first person shooter provided a serious boost to gamers' spatial resolution (otherwise known as "the ability to see lots of small and crowded together objects).
So for anyone who bought Call of Duty: Ghosts or Battlefield 4 the last couple of weeks, that should be your spatial resolution boost good and accounted for!
More dramatically, developmental psychologist Daphne Maure revealed her belief that gaming could also greatly help people born with cataracts, who were almost entirely blind at birth. In tests, those who were given a game to play for just ten hours saw dramatic improvements, and after 40 hours could read an entire two more lines on their eye charts. They've also been shown to help kids with amblyopia (that's lazy eye to most of us), by playing gamed with a patch over their good eye. Let's be honest, if you're one of those kids who is unfortunate enough to have to wear an eye patch, you should at least get some good gaming time thrown in to the bargain.
"If you stepped back and asked what might be an effective therapy for visual defects, first-person shooter games have a lot of what’s needed,” Maurer said.
“They require a person to monitor the whole field of vision, not just what is ahead of them. The player has to monitor everything, because the enemy could come from anywhere. The game is fast-paced. You can’t sit back because you will get shot dead. We know that the game changes neurochemicals. It causes an adrenaline rush. It also causes dopamine levels to rise in the brain. That potentially may make the brain more plastic.”
So there it is. Sure, gaming can have it's negative side even without twelve year olds using their gaming headsets to shout abuse at you online, but it undoubtedly also has a wealth of positives too. So next time someone makes a sarcastic comment about gaming whilst the stare blankly at their smart phone's facebook app, feel comforted by the knowledge of your lightning reactions, extreme mental agility, excellent eyesight and all round wellbeing.
How do you think gaming has improved your life? Do you put your lightening quick reactions down to your childhood spent playing Goldeneye on N64?
Tell us about your positive gaming experiences in the discussion area!