Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock-n-roll.
Our online market research company specializes in niche panels, the coveted gamer sector being a chief one when it comes to consumer surveys. As a marketer this makes me happy, but as a parent the idea of promoting video games concerns me (especially as one who many moons ago delved deeply into them…ah, those long hours of Doom, Baldur’s Gate and StarCraft).
However, my concern is evaporating like summer mist in the Seven Kingdoms. Our data paired with qualifying analysis reveals that video games can be a positive force to the mind and heart of any individual, beyond just entertainment value. I won’t share qSample’s data (much of it tied to universities and companies we partner with), except for the video at the end of this article. Yet I can share recent studies that support the benefits of video games.
Video Games are Good for the Mind
The worst thing a kid can say about homework is that it is too hard. The worst thing a kid can say about a game is it’s too easy. ― Henry Jenkins
A joint study by the Princeton University and the University of Rochester details how playing fast-paced action games may enhance learning capabilities—thus improving task management. The reasoning is that video games assist the brain in becoming more efficient at building models (or templates of reality). This enables individuals to better predict events. Furthermore, the study concluded, video gamers have an accelerated learning curve when it comes to perceptual learning tasks.
A Washington Post article summarized several studies on the impact of video games. It highlighted a recent report by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study focused on playing action video games (the violent kind that I regularly played and mildly decried when I got older and more hypocritical). It found that these games enhance perception, concentration, and cognitions.
Linking this study to other current ones, the author of the piece deduces that:
…there is now a wealth of research which shows that video games can be put to educational and therapeutic uses, as well as many studies which reveal how playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination. For example, research has shown that spatial visualization ability, such as mentally rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects, improves with video game playing.
In one specific experiment, researchers trained gamers with little previous experience of playing action games. They were given 50 hours of practice. Afterwards, it was revealed that the newbie gamers performed much better on perceptual tasks than before their training.
Video Games are Good for the Heart
I like video games, but they’re really violent. I’d like to play a video game where you help the people who were shot in all the other games. It’d be called ‘Really Busy Hospital. ― Demetri Martin
Even more impressive is the psychological benefits of video games. The author of the Washington Post article states:
Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, they can be used as a form of physiotherapy as well as in more innovative contexts. A number of studies have shown that when children play video games following chemotherapy, they need fewer painkillers than do others.
Lastly, video games have been found to be helpful to social development—removing that trope of gamers sitting in the dark of their mother’s dusty basement, waiting to take their vengeance out on the world because of some rejection.
In The Benefits of Playing Video Games, a long paper that supports the above findings as well, the author writes:
Social skills are also manifested in forms of civnic engagement: the ability to organize groups and lead likeminded people in social causes. A number of studies have focused on the link between civic engagement and gaming. For example, one large-scale, representative U.S. study (Lenhart et al., 2008) showed that adolescents who played games with civic experiences (e.g., Guild Wars 2, an MMORPG, or massive multiplayer online role-playing game) were more likely to be engaged in social and civic movements in their everyday lives (e.g., raising money for charity, volunteering, and persuading others to vote).
This makes reasonable sense, as most action video games today connect many people in an ecosystem where altruistic ideals and problem-solving goals are celebrated (I guess with exceptions like Grand Theft Auto).
Despite all this research, it should be noted that too much of anything can be a bad thing, as seen television, alcohol, and other recreational activities. Research estimates that 72% of American households play video games, with nine percent of that showing signs of addiction and four percent categorized as an extreme addiction.
Nevertheless, in moderation video games point to being a positive recreation in many aspects, a form of high-tech Yoga. Maybe it won’t be as in Ender’s Game, where the future of humanity rests on a group of gamers that take video games to a cosmic level. Yet it’s certainly not the societal wasteland many predicted.
In fact, before the next online market research campaign, I might even ask my teen daughter if she would like to play some Doom with me to become survey savvy (if she knows what it is…or I can find it…).