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“To make an embarrassing admission, I like video games. That’s what got me into software engineering when I was a kid. I wanted to make money so I could buy a better computer to play better video games – nothing like saving the world.”
– Elon Musk
Video games have always been looked at with suspicion. Whether we’re worried about young children’s attention span, or prematurely aging eyes, video games have long been associated with our sedentary, anti-social, technologically dependent lives. While it’s true that taken to excess, video games may be unhealthy for a variety of reasons, the same can be true of many things in our lives. There are many well-known unhealthy gaming habits to watch for. But you probably didn’t know that gaming could be healthy, did you?
These ten surprising tips outline the ways that video games, in moderation, can actually be healthy and helpful.
Keep Your Brain Fit
Aging comes to us all, and with it, are a lot of health issues. Not just your body and organs age, after all. Loss of cognitive function, short term memory, and attention span are a natural part of the aging process. And studies show several hours of video games over the period of eleven weeks can actually make your brain sharper, better focused, and help you learn new tasks and retain new information for longer.
Better Multi-Tasking Skills
Research also indicated that video games may help you make decisions under pressure, and multitask better. Action games are especially well-suited to developing the skills to handle multiple sources of information, take in sensory data more effectively, and make decisions quickly, even under pressure. Being able to switch from right to left brain thinking and reacting quickly is another skill that a few hours of gameplay can help you develop.
Improve Contrast Sensitivity
You’ve probably heard about the danger that video games pose to your eyesight. The habit of not blinking that many gamers develop does tend to cause eye strain and dry eyes, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It turns out, that in moderation, video games can actually improve your vision! Gaming can stimulate something called the contrast sensitivity function. That improves sensitivity to contrast and spatial frequency and allows our eyes to be more sensitive to color and depth.
Enhance Brain Flexibility
Brain flexibility covers a host of functions. Video games are designed to challenge your brain on multiple levels, to stay challenging and entertaining. Playing brain-training, role-playing, or action-adventure games will keep your brain working. Switching back and forth between right and left brain, between the physical and mental challenges involved in gameplay can increase your brain flexibility and cognitive function. That can help you learn, and retain information longer too!
Treat Depression And Anxiety
Parents often worry when their child becomes withdrawn and disappears into a world of video games. But video games may be effective at treating depression and anxiety, and not a sign of shutting yourself away at all. Used in moderation, video games have been shown to distract from negative self-talk and help those suffering from depression with goal setting. There are even games and apps out now explicitly designed to help adolescents with mental health problems. Much of the data is still new since this is a new approach. But so far, studies indicate programs like this as successful.
Great Low-Impact Exercise
Your Wii fit and other physical games may not be the same as a tough day at the gym, but they’re not far off! Wii Sports and Wii Fit, and other motion-controlled games were recently shown to be as healthy as walking on a treadmill! And motion-controlled games also have an added benefit: They’re great when you’re recuperating from an illness or injury.
Physiotherapists and retirement homes often have a few motion-controlled consoles on their premises, for those people who want to stay fit and healthy, but struggle with regular exercise. So if you can’t make it to the gym, make it to the game room!
Focus and Attention
There once was a time when video games, and the constant flashing lights and flickering motion were thought to be the cause of attention difficulties in children and adults. Now, though, studies are proving the exact opposite. In moderation, video games help keep busy, overactive minds and bodies focused on a task, usually through providing a constant stream of stimulation, which blocks out other distractions. Many educators even suggest video gameplay as a treatment for ADD and ADHD.
This comes as no surprise, especially since we’ve already covered the positive effects video games have on multi-tasking, and brain flexibility. But the ability to react quickly to movement on a screen, and focus single-mindedly on visual cues can have a significant impact on your hand-eye coordination. Recent studies even suggest that teenagers and college students can actually outperform medical residents with the difficult task of virtual surgeries, merely because they’re used to a similar setup with the gaming console. That’s enough to make a case for more time off for med students for sure!
Improve Social Skills
This one goes against everything we’ve been taught to believe about video games. Yes, there’s a contingent of gamers who genuinely live up to the basement dwelling geek stereotype. But research shows that for the players who do get social, they tend to be some of the most gregarious when they are out on the town. And with the increase of online gaming mixing with social media, keeping games social is getting easier by the day, and is a great way to make human connections even if you’re on the shy side.
Improve Relationships and Bonding
Not only do video games help with making social connections, but they can also actually help you strengthen the bonds you already have. Family game night or a romantic night playing your favorite game is a great bonding experience, sure to spark plenty of memories, private jokes, and maybe even a shared hobby.
Like a lot of things in our fast-moving, modern and technologically-dependent lives, video games can be distracting and addicting. But they’re also a great way to de-stress, and can even help develop cognitive function and slow down the aging process in your brain. It’s never a good idea to use games to hide away from the world, but they can be a great way to deal with a variety of mental, emotional, and even physical health problems.