“The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the source of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions…we learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources.” – Benjamin Franklin, ‘The Morals of Chess’
In the past five years or so, we have seen an increase in the body of research that considers the health benefits of playing video games. This comes as no surprise considering that 97% of children and teenagers in the United States play for at least one hour every day despite constant warnings from the press that claim video gaming can lead to addiction, violence, aggression and even, in some cases, depression. Yes, the vast majority of research into the effects of gaming has been negative, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that gaming can actually be beneficial to your health in terms of the cognitive, emotional, social and motivational processes that our brain goes through.
For some time, scholars in the the fields of evolutionary and developmental psychology have come to understand the functions of play when it comes to the adaptability and emotional development of children. While adults are able to deal with conflict resolution and emotional issues through direct discussion with peers, psychologists have contributed research to suggest that pretend enactment through gaming can help children with real-life problems whether that involves themes of dominance and aggression or loss, anxiety and growth.
A hugely popular belief when it comes to video gaming is that it leads people to be lazy and unproductive. On the contrary, playing games can benefit our cognitive skills and particularly those that are considered violent such as shooter games, examples of which include Halo and Grand Theft Auto. Research into this has found that when people who were not used to playing these games took part they showed much greater attention skills, improvements in spatial skills and enhanced visual processing. Once tested, it was also found these skills lasted for a considerable amount of time after participants had finished playing the game. “Video games are controlled training regimens delivered in highly motivating behavioural contexts…because behavioural changes arise from brain changes, it is also no surprise that performance improvements are paralleled by enduring physical and functional neurological remodelling” (Bavelier) Another thing that video gaming can help us with is our creativity which also falls under the cognitive umbrella. Studies have shown that video games bring out higher levels of creativity than using technology such as our mobile phone, computer or the Internet.
Video gaming is one of the major ways that people can achieve a sense of joy and fulfilment and there have been a number of studies into the link between positive feelings and gaming. Puzzle games in particular that have limited and simple user interfaces (Tetris, Angry Birds, Bejewelled) have been shown to decrease levels of anxiety and improve relaxation in those who play them. Winning games often gives us a great sense of pride and control which can in turn positively impact the way we undertake real-life tasks. This build-up of positive emotions has been found by psychologists to be vital when it comes to establishing well-rounded relationships with others, as well as regulating the emotions we feel when alone.
If we compare games today to those from 10 years ago we will see a huge difference in the way in which they promote players to be social with others. Games such as World of Warcraft and the popular Facebook game Farmville require players to work cooperatively and competitively with others which then leads to pro-social skills. These games, and others like them, tend to reward effective cooperation and support and require players to undertake the type of engagement that can be directly transferred to every day life. For example, a number of studies have shown that people who play this type of game were more likely to be involved in social and civic movements in their real lives such as volunteering, charity work and persuading people to vote.
One of the major factors that video game developers consider is how to give the game an element of motivation which will in turn lead the player to be motivated and continue to play. By focusing on in-game challenges and goals that appear to have meaning, video game players are automatically motivated to achieve their final goal. This is usually done through positive reinforcement (such as achieving awards or collecting gold coins, as an example) and creates an ideal balance between the frustration that the player feels and their ongoing sense of accomplishment. Gaming also uses failure as a motivational tool. For example, when a player fails a certain task, he/she becomes increasingly more motivated to win because of the joy they know they will feel when they finally do so. This teaches us to foster healthy motivational styles such as persistence and optimism and can lead to greater achievements in work or in school.