10 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Video Games on the Mind and Body

by Mike Jones

Want to lose yourself in a game of Overwatch this weekend, but have a partner or parents giving you a hard time about all the time you spend gaming?

Wouldn't it be great if you could tell them defending control points and escorting payloads is actually good for you?

Good news. You can.

10 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Video Games on the Mind and Body
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Video Games on the Mind and Body

10 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Video Games on the Mind and Body

While it's true that, for some people, video games can prove addictive, research has shown that, in a whole lot of instances, gaming does far more good than harm. So, the next time you're looking for an excuse to stay butt-bonded to your gaming chair, use one of the legitimate ones below that show how video games can benefit your mind and body.

1. Gaming strengthens spatial reasoning.

It's true, it does. Especially if you're playing first-person shooter games, which were at the heart of a 2013 meta-analysis showing a correlation between game play and a player's ability to think about objects in three dimensions. In fact, first-person shooters improved a player's ability to think of objects this way in equal measure to academic courses created expressly to improve these skills, according to the American Psychological Association.

Though this increased spatial awareness was not found in players who chose other types of video games, it's not all bad news for non-shooting gamers.

2. Gaming improves problem-solving skills.

While not every type of game challenges a player's spatial perception, the vast majority do require problem-solving of some sort. That's especially true for role-playing games, and that in-game problem-solving translates into the real world, according to this write-up about the benefits of video games published by American Psychologist.

Since games provide little input as to how problems must be solved, but the problems require solving before a player can move on, a player develops skills to think outside traditional means of learning. Some researchers have even hypothesized children brought up in the digital gaming age have developed the ability to solve problems through trial and error alone, instead of requiring the direct styles of instruction by which we have largely learned in the past.

3. Gaming enhances memory, reasoning, and perception.

And it's not just one game, or even one type of game, that sharpens the mind. Multiple studies have found a connection between playing video games and increases in cognitive skill, such as memory, reasoning and perception, according to the APA.

This won't come as a shock to gamers. Anyone who regularly plays video games knows the kind of quick-thinking and information retention it takes to keep moving forward through boards or stages.

Perhaps the most unique impact playing video games has on perception and cognition is the generalized nature of it. While studies have shown that training for specific quick-thinking physical tasks, such as batting in baseball or playing tennis (even if it's just table tennis), improves people's abilities only on those particular tasks, playing video games produces more general benefits that carry over into other aspects of life, according to the Journal of Play. This provides one of the best arguments that video games offer an advantage no other type of brain-training can.

4. Gaming can help with dyslexia.

We often think of dyslexia as a struggle to read. And it is that. But dyslexia is actually based in a person's inability to distinguish spoken sounds, a condition caused by unusual connections in an individual's brain. And a few researchers thought video games might be able to help with that.

The two neuroscientists, Paula Tallal of Rutgers University and Michael Merzenich of the University of California, San Francisco, joined forces to create video games that specifically target the way in which dyslexic people process language. And, so far, it seems to be working.

According to APA, Tallal and Merzenich's system, Fast ForWord, has proven effective at rewiring the brains of children diagnosed with dyslexia, allowing their brains to operate more like those of non-dyslexic people and reducing the time it takes to see positive results from years to weeks.

Even more exciting, perhaps? It doesn't require a video game expressly designed to treat dyslexia to improve dyslexia. An Italian research project found that playing action video games improved attention in dyslexics, which resulted in improved reading ability.

5. Gaming reduces cravings.

We all know that playing video games all day isn't the most effective means of losing weight (no matter how much we might like it to be). It's also not the ideal way to curb addiction. However, according to a joint study by Plymouth University and the Queensland University of Technology, popular puzzle game Tetris could provide some benefit in both regards.

The study followed 31 undergrads through their day-to-day cravings, and found that playing Tetris for three minutes while reporting a craving decreased that craving by nearly 20 percent on average. The study included cravings for food and drink, drugs, such as caffeine and nicotine, and activities like sex and exercise.

While Tetris was the game used in study, there's no reason to think similar puzzle games couldn't produce a similar result. And, since the study was self-assessed and self-reported, it's easy enough to try it for yourself.

6. Gaming enhances creativity.

What is it about video games that enhances a kid's creativity? Researchers aren't entirely sure, but they do know gaming has a positive impact on the creative minds of children. In a study of 500 12-year-olds, Michigan State University researchers found a correlation between the time a child spent playing video games and the child's creativity in drawing or writing. And it didn't really matter what types of games they played. Violent and nonviolent video games produced similar results.

What's more? Other direct engagement with technology, like being on a cell phone or surfing the Internet, didn't produce any uptick in creativity.

It does makes some sense. While researchers might need more data before offering a reason that video games affect creativity as they do, I think we can formulate a common sense hypothesis. Most types of media, like TV, movies and music, have some root in fantasy. Just like video games. Could it be that combining fantasy settings and story lines with the interactivity of a game is key?

7. Gaming relieves pain.

If you've ever been in pain (and who hasn't?), you certainly know how it can take over your life. When pain is severe enough, it becomes the center of your universe, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

But the opposite is also true. Since pain is regulated by signals to and from your brain, if you can distract your brain for a while, it can actually provide some pain relief. Or at least make you less aware of it.

And what provides a really great form of distraction? You guessed it.

In an experiment conducted in New Zealand in 2011, researchers found that playing video games while experiencing pain (in this case the pain of having a hand submerged in very cold water) served as an "active distraction" from the pain, increasing the length of time a participant could endure the pain-inducing condition from 56.93 seconds on average to 76.02. That is a nearly 34% increase!

What's more? The active distraction of playing a video game didn't just prolong a player's ability to withstand pain, it actually decreased the pain itself. Study participants reported a pain score of 49.17 while playing a video game, compared with a base pain score of 63.73 without any distractions.

While passive distraction (watching TV) did provide some increase in participants' abilities to endure pain, the difference wasn't nearly as drastic, with a less than 5% increase in how long they could withstand the pain-inducing condition. And as for actual pain relief, the passive distraction didn't provide any. Participants actually reported slightly higher pain scores while watching TV than without any distractions at all!

So, if you're hurting, instead of just lying on the couch, try reaching for a controller, or a VR headset if you have one on hand, because the more immersive the game is, the better the results.

8. Gaming can help correct a lazy eye.

Amblyopia, more commonly known as "lazy eye," is a condition that develops in early childhood as a result of vision issues, such as cloudiness or misalignment. Instead of trying to interpret divergent signals from the eyes, the brain learns to omit the signals sent by the cloudy or misaligned eye, and, since the eye isn't being used for vision, the muscles stop engaging as well, allowing the eye to drift even further out of alignment.

You might have seen young children being treated for lazy eye by wearing a patch over their stronger eye that forces the weaker eye to compensate. Only recently has this same type of treatment been tested on older children and adults, with varying degrees of success, and some of the most successful of those studies involved action video games.

When participants wore a patch over the stronger of their eyes while playing 40 total hours of action video games in a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, their amblyopia improved, with some participants' who started with mild amblyopia correcting back to perfect 20/20 vision. Participants who wore a patch while doing other activities, including watching TV and reading, had no improvement to their eyesight. Which maybe shouldn't be all that surprising, considering…

9. Gaming improves overall vision.

And, once again, it is action gaming that is key.

In a study funded by the National Eye Institute and the Office of Naval Research, researchers at the University of Rochester and Tel Aviv University found that playing high-action video games improved contrast sensitivity, or the ability to distinguish between shades of gray, by an average of 43% in study participants. Contrast sensitivity is the number one limiting factor in how well an individual can see, according to study leader Daphne Bavelier. It is imperative for low-light vision, such as nighttime driving, and was recently believed to be correctable only with glasses or surgery.

10. Gaming makes surgeons more precise.

Mind? Body? A little bit of both? We suspect it has a whole lot to do with hand-eye coordination, even if the researchers don't say it straight out.

Whatever the root cause, researchers did find a direct correlation between video game skills and laparoscopic surgery skills in a study conducted at the Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program, a medical training program designed to mimic the demands of real-world laparoscopic surgery. (Laparoscopic surgery is the kind where, instead of making a big hole where the problem is, surgeons make smaller incisions elsewhere on the body and work their way to the problem area from within.)

The study compared the Top Gun training scores of 33 Top Gun participants to the time the participants spent playing video games and their overall video game skill. In comparing these scores, researchers found that current gamers scored 26% higher overall than their non-gaming counterparts, with 32% fewer errors and 24% faster finish times. Gamers who played video games more than three hours per week at any point in the past made 37% fewer errors with 27% faster finish times. Gamers, overall, scored 33% higher than their non-gaming colleagues, and 42% higher if they played three hours or more per week.

So, if you would like everything to go as planned during your next surgery, and to get home before lunch, you might want to ask your surgeon their Call of Duty rank. Because surgeons who scored in the top 1/3 of video game scores made a whopping 47% fewer errors in their Top Gun training, and finished 39% faster than their non-gaming colleagues.

About Mike Jones

As a child of the 80's, my fondest gaming memories are playing Pitfall, Frogger, Kaboom! and Chopper Command on our old Atari 8600. These days I've been rocking the Nintendo Classic and learning some new card and board games with the family."

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