Sunday, 21 February 2016

Gaming Is Good For You...Seriously

Originally written for Forces Of Geek, Friday 12th February 2016. 

I regularly write about the positive effect that games have had on me over the years and I could spout the usual hand-eye coordination argument or make reference to the 'video games saved my life' article I previously wrote, but there are so many other things that gaming gifts to the world.


I want to highlight these less talked about positives, for example, they could even benefit your cat. And we all know how much the Internet loves cats. More on that later.

First, I want to talk about the effects of ageing.

Image: Shutterstock
Forget your day creams, your night creams, your in-between creams and your 50 glasses of water a day (really please do forget, you can actually drown yourself with too much water), the key to slowing down the ageing process comes in a non-aqueous form.

Gaming is linked to increased cognitive function and continued game playing can actually create lasting improvements in the brain. This is because most video games consist of problem-solving, puzzles and utilise your memory regularly. It's the same reason that the elderly are encouraged to do crosswords and daily sudoku puzzles.

I hope I'm still gaming at this age
Not only do they keep your brain young but those who suffer with nerve disorders, such as Multiple Sclerosis can benefit from Kinect or Wii games. These games require physical interaction and regular play of such games can yield improved balance or mobility over time. There are multiple examples of video games providing support and rehabilitation to young people with other physical disabilities too, the UK based charity, Special Effect gives those with disabilities the chance to play games by utilising technology in order to make specialised joy pads and controllers that are unique and tailored to each person they help.



I adore the work that Special Effect do and their work highlights that video games can enhance life for those who usually miss out on physical activities, many of which we take for granted and that's a pretty spectacular thing. Even people who are paralysed from the neck down are gifted the opportunity to enjoy video games with eye-controls and the confidence and physical improvements that come from playing these games offer those with physical disabilities the inclusion they deserve.

Image: Special Effect
Hand-eye co-ordination is often cited in articles about the positives of gaming but this is not something exclusive to gaming, while games may aid fast reflexes and balance they can also make your brain processes faster. We consume information at an almost continuous rate these days, when we're not checking our various social networks, reading emails or scanning news sites we might be ordering the weekly grocery shop online, checking flights, the weather or skimming our twitter feed for interesting news or amusing content.

We can process this information pretty quickly but gamers are better at reacting to this information stream and studies have shown that they are more likely to be quicker at determining what is useful and what isn't over their non-gaming counterparts. A game constantly throws new information at a player, forcing them to process it at speed and adapt quickly in real time. If they fail, they have to start over or try again until they eventually hone their skills, progress and level up. This means we actually level up and gaming trains your brain to make quick but well-informed decisions.

Thus, video games also increase reaction times and reflexes. This is why many studies have been conducted into the success rate of surgeons. When performing small incisions, studies found that those surgeons who played video games for more than three hours a week, were less likely to make errors when performing their practice procedures.

Let's hope the surgeons in those studies didn't practice on Surgeon Simulator!
Games might also make you a better person or aid you socially (with the exception of a minority of bad losers or spiteful trolls that you may encounter, of course), this is because video games allow us to step into the role of someone else, these characters might be heroes or villains, old, young, a different race, creed or ethnicity. This exposure to other viewpoints and a literal stepping into the shoes of someone else can be extremely beneficial to sufferers of autism or others who without adequate social skills.

They can also help people to rethink their views on others and there have been some studies that show, rather surprisingly that gamers might be less likely to be bully others because of the behaviours they are exposed to in video games and the level of remorse they show when performing negative actions in games with morality systems.

Tough choice...just don't look her in the glowing eyes!
While many of these things are reliant on studies and as such, don't provide definitive proof of the benefits of gaming, I personally believe that games are a force for good. On many occasions they have relieved me of pain, stress and distracted me from other, destructive behaviours. I have learnt to problem solve, think on my feet and have even been encouraged to actively research, explore and learn new things - mostly historical - thanks Assassin's Creed.

Gamers are also less likely to give up or quit - okay, okay...I have been known to rage quit (very occasionally) but never completely. I find I am more likely to seek out challenges and actively force myself to go back to something I haven't finished or was too difficult in the past. This is the same in life, I absolutely hate giving up, although perhaps this stems more from my competitive nature as opposed to my gaming habits? Arguably, my competitiveness and determination to succeed is probably fuelled by gaming too.

But enough about me and other pesky human traits, what was that I mentioned earlier about cats?

Why let your cat outside again? Mr Fluffs can stay inside, in the warm and never, ever leave you...
Oh yes, games can help your precious Mr Fluffs. For the modern day cat, playing with actual yarn is old hat. What your modern day, hipster cat needs these days is access to your iPad and use of your thumbs, so that you can search your app store for Game For Cats and download it so that they can chase virtual mice across the screen and paw at them for points...yes, there are even leaderboards for the cat who has something to prove.

Clever girl...
And there are games for your canine friends too, developed for people who want to keep their best friend entertained when left alone in the house. Any dog owner will know the all too familiar guilt of leaving their doggy friend home alone but CleverPet have created a console for dogs. Yes, you read that correctly...a console! With multiple games no less!! They claim that their console will engage your pet with all manner of lights, touch pads, voice commands and sounds. When they solve the puzzle, they are rewarded with delicious kibble.

...I wish my Xbox would reward me with treats.

There you have it, gaming is good for you, your friends, your wellbeing, the physically disabled, your cat, your dog and your surgeon. Are there any other benefits of gaming I've missed? Let me know in the comments.

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