PLAYING VIDEO GAMES IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF MENTAL & EMOTIONAL HEALTH
In the Super Mario Bros. franchise, a green mushroom grants the players with an extra life. Image provided by Kristina Alexanderson on Flickr.
“Play too many video games and they’ll rot your brain!” said every parent ever to their kids, at some point in time.
As with any item intended for pleasure or enjoyment, overindulgence is never a good thing. Video games are no exception, but when they are enjoyed in moderation, they can have positive effects on the well-being of gamers. Research has shown that video games can have a productive impact over the mental and emotional health of those that play them.
Cognitive Developments As A Result Of Gaming
Video games can play a key role in strengthening various processes of the body’s most critical organ: the brain. Dr. Peter Gray of Psychology Today provides a list of benefits that have been discovered as a result of research and study in his article, “Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games.” Dr. Gray has combated negative stigmas and fears attached to video games by parents in previous articles, and he seeks to show that video games can help rather than harm the development of the brain.
Gradual effects of playing video games include improved spatial attention and ability to track moving objects in a field of distractors. This means that gaming makes it easier for players to locate and track moving stimuli amidst conflicting stimuli attempting to prevent the player from reaching their target. In conjunction, gaming can help reduce impulsiveness and improve the ability to multitask. Many games, especially role-playing games and/or shooting games such as Fallout and Call of Duty, require players to make significant choices and complete challenging tasks with direct impacts on gameplay, all in a limited amount of time with enemies and obstacles that attempt to hinder their progress. This demonstrates how this cognitive development can occur all while players are having fun embarking on their own virtual adventures.
The long-term effects of gaming include improvements in mental processes that tend to decline as people age, including cognitive flexibility, attention, working memory, and abstract reasoning. According to Dr. Gray, “Many experiments, with elderly participants, show that video game play results in improvement in all of these abilities,” and “one study found that such play led not just to cognitive improvements, but also to better self-concepts and enhanced qualities of life in elderly participants.” Though many elderly people are resistant to video games and other technology because they grew up without it and do not understand it, it may help those approaching old age to try to get into some casual gaming in order to potentially avoid conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia.
The Emotional Impact Of Video Games
Aside from the mental improvements and lasting benefits that can come with gaming, players may also experience a surge in their overall emotional health by frequently playing video games. VideoGames.org.au, a website dedicated to educating people on technology and how to interact with it safely especially regarding children, argues that games (particularly casual mobile games) can play a key role in managing one’s emotional health.
Video games are a great outlet for negative feelings, improving one’s overall mood, and reducing levels of stress. VideoGames.org.au believes that as long as players are not ignoring their problems in favor of escaping the real world for a virtual one, video games “[put] us in a comfortable zone where for that brief moment in time we don’t have to think about real life” and “will make it easier to analyse the situation you’re dealing with and take the appropriate steps to deal with it.” Sometimes, the answers to resolving conflicts at school or work, relationship problems, or one’s own negative thoughts or feelings may be more easily discovered after a gamer lets their mind take a break from everything weighing them down.
Additionally, games can help improve self-esteem. Because games are built upon extrinsic motivation, a gamer completing tasks laid before them will make them feel good. VideoGames.org.au claims that “receiving positive rewards, even if it is through an impersonal machine like a computer or tablet makes you feel good” and “gives you feelings of achievement.” For those that struggle with anxiety, this can be especially beneficial because it helps give the player a sense of mastery and control of their circumstances. This then has the potential of becoming the motivation needed to complete real-life, possibly anxiety-inducing tasks.
These positive benefits of gaming are not meant to be a means of permission for gamers to do nothing but sit around and play video games all time. In “The Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games,” Effectivology affirms that gamers “should expect 80% of the benefits from playing video games to come from 20% of the play time,” meaning that “playing past a certain point will get you diminishing returns on your efforts.” Though it might be fun to grind through the entire campaign of a game in a single day, this will only be detrimental to the gamer and hinders them from benefiting from the pastime's positive rewards.
Thus, gaming is not truly the waste of time it is too often made out to be. Video games that are enjoyed in moderation can have positive, beneficial, and lasting impacts on the capacities of both the mind and the emotions. Though they are not intended to be played from sunrise to sundown, video games have much more to offer than just immersive entertainment.