Video games are a huge industry and a big part of our society — take a look at Microsoft’s recent purchase of a game studio for $US2.5 billion — but games get a bad rap.
They’re often portrayed as antisocial, violent, and as an addictive waste of time that encourages obesity.
But that’s not necessarily accurate, and it’s definitely not the full story.
Lots of people play video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 59% of Americans play games. Despite problems with sexism in the gaming world, 48% of those players are women, and the average player is 31 years old.
It’s a big business too. The global gaming industry was worth $US67 billion in 2013 and is projected to grow to $US82 billion by 2017. Robert Morris University announced this year that they would start giving scholarships to League of Legends players — a game that top competitors make a ton of money playing.
Contrary to their reputation, many games have educational, physical, and psychological benefits for players. Games that use repetitive actions, such as the swinging of a bat or targeting a moving object, train the brain and muscles to perform better in real-life activities.
Video game brain training has the same effect as reading a book or riding a bike — when the brain is learning, thousands of new connections are being formed. The addition of a reward system motivates players to continuously improve their skills.
Fast-paced games require quick thinking and fast reactions to avoid being killed. In real-life situations, active gamers have a better sense of what is going around them and are able to make decisions faster, according to scientists from the University of Rochester.
In the one study, participants aged 18 to 25 were split into two groups. One group played 50 hours of the action-packed first-person shooter games 'Call of Duty 2' and 'Unreal Tournament,' and the other group played 50 hours of the simulator game 'The Sims 2.' The action game players made decisions 25% faster in a task unrelated to playing video games, without sacrificing accuracy.
'Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference,' study researcher Daphne Bavelier said in a statement.
According to a study published in the journal Nature, researchers 'discovered that swerving around cars while simultaneously picking out road signs in a video game can improve the short-term memory and long-term focus of older adults,' The New York Times reports.
A group of adults between the ages of 60 and 85 were were recruited to play a game called NeuroRacer for 12 hours over a month. Six months after playing the game, the older adults were better at multitasking, retained more information in a short period of time, and had stronger attention skills.
Another study led by Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester, showed that video games improve vision by making players more sensitive to slightly different shades of colour, known as contrast sensitivity.
People who played action-based video games -- particularly first-person-shooter games -- were 58% better at perceiving fine differences in contrast, the researchers said.
'When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing,' Bavelier said in a statement. The training might be helping the visual system to make better use of the information it receives.
Playing video games on the Nintendo Wii improved skills needed for laparoscopic surgery, a procedure in which a thin tube with a camera is inserted into the abdomen to see organs on a screen, instead of cutting patients wide open.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that doctors who spent one month playing either Wii Tennis, Wii Table Tennis, or a balloon warfare game called High Altitude Battle performed better in simulated tasks designed to test eye-hand coordination and movement precision.
The Nintendo Wii 'may be adopted in lower-budget institutions or at home by younger surgeons to optimise their training on simulators before performing real procedures,' the researchers concluded.
A small study in the journal Current Biology found that playing action video games helped children with dyslexia read faster and with better accuracy.
Twelve hours behind the controller 'improved children's reading speed, without any cost in accuracy, more so than one year of spontaneous reading development and more than or equal to highly demanding traditional reading treatments,' the researchers write.
By improving attention span, video games lead to better reading skills.
New research from the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture finds that kids who play sports games are over time more likely to actually go and play the real version of the sport, as reported in Pacific Standard.
It can be hard for kids to learn the ins and outs of a sport, but playing a virtual version of soccer, football, or hockey helps them learn the rules and basic skills before they get onto the field or rink.
Additionally, the researchers said that there is a confidence connection -- playing those specific types of games was associated with higher self-esteem, perhaps because of the increased knowledge provided by the game. That, in turn, made it more likely for them to go try the real thing.
Counterintuitive as it might be, playing sports video games might be the key to teaching kids to get outside and play sports with their friends.
Researchers at the University of Washington are experimenting with virtual reality games as a way to distract burn victims from their pain.
'Being drawn into another world drains a lot of attentional resources, leaving less attention available to process pain signals,' according to the university's HITLab.
In a preliminary case study, two patients with severe burns played Nintendo games while their wounds were being treated. Both patients reported feeling significantly less pain while playing the game.
Their follow up research showed that this ability to alleviate pain was useful for others suffering from pain too, not just burn victims.
A recent Oxford University psychological study of 5,000 kids found that the ones who played video games for moderate amounts of time -- less than an hour a day -- were more 'well adjusted' and got along with peers better than kids who played no games.
They were also less hyperactive, had fewer emotional issues, and were more likely to help others.
The researchers think that this may be because the games gave kids a common language to talk about, making it easier for this group to socialize. They say this should provide a more nuanced perspective for people who worry about potential negative effects of games.
Video games are not just for entertainment. They can also 'help solve educational and scientific challenges,' according to Stanford physicist Ingmar H. Riedel-Kruse, who designed a collection of action games to teach people about biological processes.
The games involve a single-celled organism contained inside a square fluid chamber. The player interacts or 'controls' the living paramecia by applying electrical fields using a hand-held device that resembles a video game controller.
Since the reaction of the paramecia is real and not based on simulations, the games can teach players about micro-organismal behaviours, diffusion, and other biophysical concepts, the authors write in a study published in the journal Lab on a Chip.
They add: 'Students might be motivated to discuss and understand the observed phenomena in order to identify other winning strategies in such games.'
Slow-moving strategy games can change our thinking behaviour so that we can learn to make wiser, more ethical decisions in real-life scenarios.
That's the idea behind Quandary, a game that places human colonists on the Planet Braxos and requires the player, or captain, to help work out dilemmas among the settlers.
Writing for Boston.com, Scot Osterweil, creative director at MIT's Education Arcade explained: 'We don't believe that playing the game will automatically help players take better perspectives in their own lives, but we think the game represents a playful way of introducing ideas that can be further developed through reflective conversation with others, and through additional activities provided on the website.
Re-Mission is a third-person shooter game created by HopeLab to help young adults with cancer. In the game players control a nanobot named Roxxi who races through the human body fighting cancer with various weapons, such as the radiation gun. Players must also monitor patient health, learning about different forms of treatments and how they work along the way.
In a trial of 375 patients, researchers found game players took their antibiotics more consistently and were more likely to adhere to chemotherapy treatments than others. The players also knew more about cancer and had a stronger belief in their own ability to reach goals while undergoing cancer therapy.
The negative effects of screens at night aside, video games give people more control over their dreams and decrease nightmares, according to a psychological research out of Grant MacEwan University in Canada, described in LiveScience.
A few studies have shown that gamers are much more likely to be lucid dreamers, people who can consciously control what's happening in their dreams.
Psychologists think that this may be related to the 'practice' that gamers have in inhabiting an alternate reality.
Additionally, this seems to also to provide some protection from and even control over dreams that would qualify as nightmares, especially for men.
A small study from Deakin University in Australia found that children ages three to six who played interactive games, like Wii, had better object motor skills than those who played non-interactive games. This includes skills like kicking, catching, throwing, and bouncing ball.
It's likely that electronic games improve hand-eye coordination, but researchers also note that children who already have better object motor skills could have been more drawn to interactive games in the first place.
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