For years, video games have provided great entertainment to kids and adults alike. To some, it served an even greater purpose in terms of coping with stress, depression, and other mental health issues. However, it’s been highly criticized as an activity that belonged only to the lazy, uneducated, and people with no great aspirations in life. Fortunately, this perception changed as our society gained a better understanding of human behavior. In fact, scientists and academics think that there are actual benefits to playing video games.
It’s interesting how this hobby has become a meaningful part of many people’s lives and is now believed to enhance creativity, critical thinking, and even physical health. Learn all about how gaming has evolved and how it can boost your mind below.
A Brief History of Video Games
Video games first became popular in the ’70s although their conception goes way back. The video games you play today, whether on your PC, gaming consoles, or mobile phones, are all a product of a scientific experiment. At a time when computers were physically large and hugely expensive, only universities and top-ranking companies owned them. In 1960, a group of students and professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were given a project to test a computer to its limits. They were tasked to use all of this computer’s resources to create something innovative and interactive. The result of their work was Spacewar!, a game where two players pit each other’s virtual spaceships into battle.
Unfortunately, not many people got to play Spacewar! because of the limited access to computers. One has to have access to a research facility to even see it. That was the case until computer engineer Nolan Bushnell led a team of programmers at Atari to create Computer Space, a game that was commercially released to the public. Bushnell thought to “house” this smaller computer inside a fiber-glass cabinet, and the arcade game was born.
The Birth of the Gaming Console
Magnavox, an electronic company, followed suit and released Odyssey the same year. It is a home video game system that had simple graphics and required you to tape some plastic material over your TV screen. Five years after Pong, Atari released the first gaming console along with its most popular game, Asteroids. Soon, a lot of families had consoles in their homes with games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Advancements continued until the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was invented, and this little console gave the gaming industry a big boost. It became the best-selling console from the ’80s to the early ’90s. If you’re lucky to be alive during those times, you might remember playing games that were popular at the time such as Popeye, Duck Hunt, and The Legend of Zelda.
From then on, Nintendo kept producing more and more consoles like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It had far superior graphics and audio, and this led to the invention of the video games you are playing today.
Myths About the Effects of Gaming
To better understand the positive effects of gaming, it’s good to know some myths about its negative effects. These misguided beliefs are damaging to people who enjoy this activity. More than they realize, people who criticize gaming can make people feel isolated. So, it’s important to clarify these unfounded beliefs and encourage society to acknowledge the benefits of playing video games. Here are some of the most damaging myths about the effects of gaming.
Video Games Encourage Violence
There are plenty of games that are graphic and violent in nature. Shining examples of these are shooters like Call of Duty and Fortnite. Without evidence, many people assumed playing these games make people act more aggressively. However, there has been no scientific evidence of this. Gamers don’t go out and buy guns and decide to plan mass shootings. On the contrary, studies have shown that the link between aggression and gaming is very weak.
Gaming Is a Waste of Time
“Don’t you have more important things to do?” is a line you may have heard again and again if you’re an avid gamer. Gaming has been perceived as pointless in so many ways. This is a dangerous myth because it is a form of attack against media and art in general. Game developers are highly skilled in media, writing, and coding while putting a lot of effort into designing a well-constructed game. A video game is an art form and should be treated as such. Gamers are able to appreciate art in more ways than critics realize. Video games enrich one’s imagination. They elicit powerful emotions and teach you to explore notions such as humanity and culture. Gaming can help people lead more meaningful lives.
To further disprove this, there have been many instances in which gamers have made a career out of their hobbies. Yes, you can now make money playing video games. It can be a sustainable profession and even allow for passive income.
What Are Some Benefits of Playing Video Games?
Contrary to earlier beliefs that video games caused mental problems, studies have shown that there are benefits to playing video games. Playing games—even non-electronic ones—can bring about positive feelings. This is why kids are encouraged to play even at school. Play is crucial in enhancing memory, language, and social skills. In the same way, the benefits of playing video games cannot be ignored even in adults. It teaches gamers how to resolve conflicts and process negative feelings in a healthy and pleasurable way, among others. Here are some ways that video games can help enhance your mind and body.
Video Games Can Make You Smarter
Research has shown plenty of cognitive benefits of video games. Gaming can make the mind work faster and enhance your attention span. If you are a gamer, you know how much focus you need to exert to defeat opponents or achieve your game’s objectives. Doing this forces your mind to practice such skills. You also learn how to analyze situations and people better as you interact either with characters within the game or other players if you’re playing an online game. These effects are especially visible in those who play role-playing games. Pattern recognition is another benefit of playing video games, and this is especially evident among puzzle game fans. Shooters help in decision-making and neural processing through trial and error.
Being immersed in story-driven games helps you gain new perspectives in real-life. Watching how stories unfold for you and other characters in the game gives you fresh outlooks and ideas. It increases your motivation to keep moving through life’s ups and downs.
They Improve Decision-Making
As mentioned above, decision-making skills and conflict-resolution are also some benefits of playing video games. Playing games that require you to plan your next moves enforces your mind to make better decisions. For example, how would you build a character in a new game? What kind of race, gender, proficiencies, and appearance would you choose for your character? Which quests are the most enticing to you and which would you do first? In terms of shooter games, you also have to decide which opponents or objects you need to shoot. This also forces you to act fast because indecisiveness could spell defeat.
Having improved decision-making skills also prepare you to become a better leader. If you are playing with a group or a guild, you have to allocate tasks among your group or guildmates. It would require you to think of the safety of your allies and how you can preserve their health or stats. The way each of you reinforces and complements each other’s strengths is helpful in developing leadership skills.
Gaming Can Improve Your Eyesight
Another misconception about playing video games is that it worsens your eyesight. While it’s true that blue light can strain your eyes, playing video games doesn’t necessarily ruin your vision. When done in moderation, gaming can improve how you identify colors, spot objects, and discern differences in your surroundings. You learn how to see objects in cluttered environments more easily and train your brain to recognize things in greater detail. These are some of the more physical aspects of the benefits of playing video games.
Playing Video Games Improve Mental Health
There’s no question that playing video games help improve one’s mood. You gain a sense of accomplishment after successfully completing a quest or winning a battle. A lot of people find that it reduces stress. Even games that involve a lot of violence can help a person relax because they help them release negative emotions in a healthy way in a safe environment. A great positive effect of gaming is its ability to distract you and help you step back from real-world problems and things that are happening around you. When you deal with your problems again, you have fresh perspectives. While you are distracted and focused on your game, it also reduces anxiety and other intense emotions.
Some other benefits of playing video games that are connected to mental health are having higher self-esteem and a sense of control. Most of the time, there are problems and situations in life in which you have little control. This makes people feel powerless and can even cause depression. In a game, however, you are in full control even with the obstacles presented to you by the game developers. It gives you a boost in confidence as you solve problems and succeed in missions. In turn, it also helps you make positive changes in your behavior. It gives you more motivation to succeed in your career and pursuits in life.
They Enhance Physical Health
There are also health benefits of playing video games. Aside from improving your eyesight, gaming can help ease physical pain. By drawing your attention into the game, your body produces a pain-killing response. It’s like producing a natural analgesic by having fun. Being preoccupied with video games also helps you avoid bad habits or compulsions like over-eating and smoking.
In relation to improving mental health which then reduces stress, your body naturally improves as well. Stress increases cortisol that causes ailments like hypertension, gastritis, and other cardiovascular diseases. Playing video games regularly eases a lot of stress which manifests positively in your physical health.
With the invention of Virtual Reality games and those that require you to move your body, you remain active and fit as well. Wii, for example, lets you move your body and digitally participate in sports. There are also standalone Virtual Reality Glasses that have games built for exercise and dancing. These games require you to move your entire body and get active.
Gaming Can Help Build Social Skills
In the world of Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), you can choose to regularly interact with other gamers. You can join a guild and battle monsters in dungeons together. Even though the interaction is virtual, you can form real human connections. This alone enhances your social skills. It helps you feel more connected. Playing these types of games definitely makes you feel less lonely. You learn how to build social networks and learn how to judge people’s characters more accurately. You choose which types of gamers you want to play with and you can apply that in real-life situations, leading you to people who resonate with you.
In addition, these games often have rules and policies in terms of player interaction. You learn ethical practices such as how to communicate in a non-aggressive way. It also teaches you to be more considerate. Because you meet people from different walks of life, you learn about diversity and how to treat people with respect regardless of their ethnicity or gender identity.
If you are the one being treated with animosity, you learn how to deal with the matter in a healthy way. While misunderstandings and fighting in chats are unavoidable, you can choose to report the player instead, ignore their negative energy, and continue enjoying your game. You can also make new friends. In fact, even if you are playing single-player games, you still gain social skills because of how you resolve conflicts with characters within the game.
Video Games Can Slow Down Aging
Scientists have conducted studies that being mentally and physically active help seniors maintain their sharpness. It is not uncommon for aging people to also engage in video gaming. This may be one of the surprising benefits of playing video games. It helps them exercise and regularly stimulate their minds which helps slow down aging. By playing video games, older adults improve their reflexes as well. It improves their processing speed and boosts their cardiovascular functions. People in their 60s and 70s were found to score higher on performance tests in terms of memory and cognition compared to their non-gamer peers.
What Types of Games Have the Most Positive Effects on the Brain?
So many games out there are strong proofs of the cognitive benefits of playing video games. Here are some of the best games you can play to boost your mind.
These games require players to plan their moves in advance while managing limited resources. Often, you start off with minimal items and low-ranking abilities. How you spend them to increase your character’s strength in the game is a crucial factor in strengthening your mind. You need to be flexible, change strategies if needed, and make sound decisions. These are all beneficial in real-life settings.
This franchise is one of the most critically acclaimed strategy games you can play. You need to plan how you can make your way to becoming the greatest Ruler and make your Civ the best in the world. It’s not only about power but also about advancing your world’s civilization up to the Space Age. There are different ways to win, and you will be participating in wars and practicing diplomacy to become an effective leader.
Another game that demonstrates the benefits of playing video games is Starcraft. It’s a sci-fi strategy game that requires you to think about how you can dominate the battlefield against your adversary. The game’s three factions have distinct characteristics and tactics. You learn how to best manage your resources and sustain your units. This game can highly enhance your brain’s ability to adjust to various situations. Knowing how to be flexible in changing environments is a core factor in human intelligence, and this game helps you sharpen this.
In this game, you will be simulating a situation where you are part of survivors struggling to defeat alien tyrants. You need to exert great mental effort to win battles, succeed in missions, and face surprising challenges. It also has a compelling story that grabs your interest from the get-go. This game not only stimulates your mind but also gives you a fantastic story to immerse yourself into.
Role-Playing Games (RPGs)
Whether it’s online or offline, playing RPGs has massive positive effects on the brain. You immerse yourself in rich fantasy and other fictional worlds. It lets you set goals, read stories, and explore the lore within the games.
As you set out into the world as Geralt of Riva, you soon learn that there are monsters you need to face in order to succeed in your primary quest, which is to find a girl you raised as your own daughter. This game takes you on a stunning open-world adventure that lets you practice decision-making in wildly different scenarios that range from blood-pumping to heart-breaking.
One of the most popular games out there, the Diablo franchise is an intellectually stimulating game, more than people realize. First, you have to choose your character’s class and choose their profession. You have to make sound choices and approach each battle carefully in your quest to defeat the Lord of Terror. It teaches you how to acquire weapons and magical items to win in battles. In turn, you learn how to be resourceful and efficient in your tasks.
The Elder Scrolls
In this rich fantasy open-world game, you can freely decide which quests are worth doing and how you can go about defeating the main villains along the way. It opens your mind to explore places, experiences, and characters. The biggest strength of The Elder Scrolls is its rich lore. Its storylines are overarching and the world is so fantastical that it can be so relaxing even in the midst of challenges. Your primary objective is to develop your character in such a way that you can thrive in the game’s world. It encourages you to read and connect clues within different minor stories to solve the bigger ones that affect the world of Tamriel.
This science-fiction RPG lets you play the role of a commander faced with difficult tasks and choices. It also requires detailed character customization. All your choices affect the end results of multiple stories within the game.
Mimicking real-world settings is one of the best benefits of playing simulation video games. Games like these teach you practical skills that you can use in the real world.
While it seems like a simple and casual game, Sim City presents you with challenges to plan and successfully build a thriving city. You learn about industrial development, urban planning, building transportation, and so much more.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
This simulation game lets you experience aviation that is as close to reality as possible. You gain navigation skills and how to operate under pressure. Moreover, you get the opportunity to interact with other players through its multiplayer feature.
There are so many benefits of playing action-adventure video games. These are fast-paced games that force you to react quickly and solve problems efficiently. They also teach you experimentation and creativity.
This has become one of the most popular games that require the use of so many skills. Minecraft is set in a landscape that encourages kids and adults alike to build things, explore, and plan their way into winning in combats. The greatest benefit of playing this video game is that you can freely choose how you want to play it. You can play in different modes to practice your survival skills and creativity.
Super Mario 64
Though seemingly simple, this game quires you to exhaust all possible solutions to solve various problems that will lead you to succeed in your main goal to rescue the princess. Before you can do that, you need to succeed in different other missions and explore as much of the world as possible. It enhances your fine motor skills and teaches you how to plan strategically to reach your objective.
There are many other games that prove the benefits of playing video games. These can be first-person shooter games, casual games, etc.
This online multiplayer game teaches you how to assess your environment and react in the most efficient way to win. You need to make calls based on information that you gather and the resources you have on hand. It involves a lot of tactical thinking and quick reflexes to pull off insane moves.
Portal is a sci-fi game that is essentially also a puzzle game. Your goal is to flee from a menacing laboratory using limited weapons and tools. As the name suggests, you need to go through portals but these portals are so complex and you need to figure out how to navigate them. It teaches logic, problem-solving, and quick thinking.
Are There Negative Effects of Playing Video Games?
Although this article mainly focuses on the benefits of playing video games, it is only fair to explore its negative effects as well. After all, all activities when done without much consideration can be harmful.
It Can Be Addicting
If you’ve ever truly enjoyed and immersed yourself in a game, you will know how addicting it can be. Anything in excess can be unhealthy. One way to address this is to set some hours within the day when you will play. Limit these hours and set your mind to accomplish other goals outside of gaming.
Sitting on a chair for long hours can cause back problems. Again, it is important to set limits on how long you spend time playing. You can also invest in quality gaming chairs. But the key is to assert control over yourself and not go into 12-hour gaming sessions.
Many games feature in-game purchases. Some games need to be purchased although many are free. One may be compelled to spend real money to purchase items in the game to advance or gain more experience. You may feel the need to buy extensions or downloadable content (DLC) and not realize how much money you’ve already spent on them.
There are still many aspects of gaming that need to be researched and explored. Just like anything, it can have unpleasant effects when it gets out of hand. Still, the fact remains that the benefits of playing video games cannot be denied. The verdict is ultimately yours and how you manage your gaming habits can only depend on you.