Surprising Benefits of Video Games

This month’s issue of Nature features a surprising finding: video games may actually improveĀ brain function. The headline may be music to my teenage brother’s ears, who has heard my mother tell him that Call of Duty is rotting his brain all too many times, but it does come with some caveats. The video games tested in the study, which Nature wince-inducingly calls “game-changing”, are not typical commercial video games, but rather specially-designed games to utilize specific areas of the brain.

The study showed that the participants, aged 60-85, could perform as well as 20-year olds after sufficient training on the racing game used in the study. More importantly, they were able to transfer the multitasking and cognitive skills gained in the game to other tasks. Many mental issues which feature loss of cognitive control among their symptoms could be alleviated by these special video games, according to the University of California scientists’ findings. This could affect a wide variety of people suffering from ailments as diverse as ADHD, dementia, and autism.

This exciting finding and its even more exciting implications got me thinking- what other benefits are there to “wasting your time” on video games? Here are some other studies that give you an excuse to slack off on the Xbox a bit.

  • Video games can help to alleviate stress and depression. This study, featuring the popular PopCap Bejeweled game, showed that gamer display positive changes in mood and heart rhythms while playing the game.
  • First-person shooter favorites like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor can improve vision, contrary to popular belief.
  • Games are being used to help patients communicate their pain levels to doctors and evaluate treatment methods in some hospitals.
  • Split-second decision making in video games actually translates to the same capability in real life, according to this study.
  • Studies show that surgeons who play video games are more adept at laparoscopic surgeries than those who do not.
  • Video games help women to improve their skill at manipulating 3D objects, reducing the traditional gender gap for that particular skill.

For a long time, video games were mostly associated with negative health issues like carpal tunnel syndrome and violent behavior in children. Now, more and more research is coming out showing positive benefits of playing video games on both physical and mental health. Playing games can improve many skills such as decision-making, creativity, and multitasking. Though no one will probably argue that you need to spend all of your time on the couch, you needn’t feel so guilty about indulging in some quality controller time.