I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I was all about video games. Grand Theft Auto, Tony Hawk’s Skater, Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider – you name it, my friends and I were on it.
And yes, I’m showing my age here. Are there any millennials out there? You know what I’m talking about; those games were awesome.
Anyway, my friends and I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when we got to team up and play together. But guess who weren’t the biggest fans?
They were always setting limits, reminding us, “That’s enough for today,” as if those few precious hours were going to turn our brains to mush.
I suppose that’s much like parents today. And I mean, it makes sense. “Addictive.” “Violence-inducing.” Sound familiar? The negative headlines about video games grab attention, and parents are right to be concerned.
But are video games all bad?
Far from it. It turns out that gaming seems to have its perks, ones that often fly under the radar, overshadowed by all the negative press.
Today, we get into seven surprising, research-inspired upsides to gaming.
If you grew up with a controller in hand, you might just recognize some of these traits in yourself.
1) They may be better able to mentally process and remember information
Ever wondered if those hours spent navigating virtual worlds could actually sharpen your mind?
Well, it seems they might.
A 2022 study of nearly 2,000 kids found that those logging three or more hours of game time daily outpaced their peers in both speed and accuracy on a range of cognitive tasks.
But, and it’s a big but, it seems that not all games are created equal when it comes to mental abilities.
Puzzle and strategy games are often praised for their brain-boosting benefits, but even action-packed shooters, which often get a bad rap for their violent content, are in the mix, too.
Games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto, despite their controversies, are actually doing their part in honing cognitive skills.
I thought so, but the evidence suggests these virtual battlegrounds could be fertile ground for developing a sharper, more agile mind.
This next one really surprised me. It might surprise you, too.
2) They could be better academic performers
Here’s something my parents definitely weren’t aware of: Gaming might actually result in better academic performance.
Yes, you heard that right. Researchers have noted that “playing strategic games predicted higher self-reported problem-solving skills, which, in turn, predicted better academic grades.”
Imagine that – all those hours strategizing, planning, and executing in-game missions might actually be crafting a skill set that helps with academic challenges.
If only this research were available when I wanted to play another hour or two of Grand Theft Auto.
3) They may be more emotionally developed
Researchers who’ve delved into the realm of gaming and its impacts point out an intriguing parallel between video games and traditional childhood play.
The essence of how kids play – exploring dominance, experiencing nurturance, facing anxieties, and fostering growth – isn’t dissimilar to what they experience in video games.
Though the body of research specifically focusing on video games and emotional development is still growing, the similarities between digital play and real-world play suggest a significant potential for video games to contribute to emotional growth.
By navigating complex storylines, forming alliances, facing challenges, and even dealing with in-game setbacks, players engage in a wide range of emotional experiences.
As suggested by experts, these virtual adventures could very well be mirroring emotional development benefits traditionally attributed to childhood play.
4) They may have improved hand-eye coordination and visual skills
This one is a bit more obvious, but it’s worth diving into: gamers can develop seriously tuned-up hand-eye coordination and visual skills.
It’s one of those things that just makes sense when you think about it. Navigating fast-paced game environments, reacting to split-second changes, and keeping track of multiple elements at once – it’s practically a workout for your eyes and hands.
Experts in the field back this up, too.
As put by Pediatric behavioral health specialist Dr. Michael Manos in a Cleveland Clinic post:
“Being able to visually contrast, being able to tell the difference between one thing and another, is also a skill that can be developed by playing video games.”
5) They may have enhanced spatial skills
Here’s a fact that might shock you: A 2013 study revealed that playing shooter video games can actually improve spatial skills to levels on par with what you’d expect from formal education courses designed for the same purpose.
Yeah, you heard that right. Those hours spent in virtual shootouts might be giving your brain a serious spatial workout. Crucially, it has been noted that these skills also transfer to other tasks outside the gaming world.
But what exactly are we talking about when we say “spatial skills”?
Simply put, these are the abilities that allow us to understand, reason, and remember the spatial relations among objects or space.
Examples might include being able to visualize different perspectives of a 3D object, navigating a route in your mind, or packing a suitcase efficiently (a real-world Tetris game, if you will).
So next time you’re navigating a complex map in your favorite shooter, remember: you’re not just gaming; you’re giving your spatial reasoning abilities a workout.
6) They might be better problem solvers
If you’ve ever found yourself deeply engrossed in a strategic video game, meticulously planning your next move, or crafting the perfect strategy to overcome a challenge, you might just be honing your problem-solving skills more than you realize.
A study suggested that teens who frequently engaged in strategic video games (think role-playing games full of quests and critical decision-making) showed notable improvements in their self-reported problem-solving abilities the following year.
Put simply, it’s as if each game session was a lesson in tackling complex problems wrapped up in an engaging digital package.
On the flip side, fast-paced worlds of racing and fighting games didn’t seem to offer the same benefits. This brings up an important point: not all games impact players in the same way.
Any parents out there?
Yes? This is a particularly valuable insight for you.
Based on this, you might consider a more nuanced approach to screen time, one that recognizes the potential of certain games to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
7) They may be more resilient
Picture this: You’re deep into a session of Grand Theft Auto, navigating the intricate streets and complex missions with a singular goal in mind. Despite setbacks – maybe it’s a particularly tough mission or an unexpected twist in the storyline – you go on.
Games have a way of nudging us forward, encouraging us not to throw in the towel. And some researchers believe this might influence our reactions to setbacks, though further research is necessary to say for sure.
But it makes sense when we think about it. At the heart of it, video game designers are, in a way, architects of motivation. Their aim is to keep us hooked, ensuring we come back for more, thereby driving their revenues.
A perhaps unintended consequence of this design philosophy, however, is that it instills in players a relentless drive to persevere. Every level or stage in a game is a new opportunity to learn, adapt, and improve. This can cultivate a mindset geared towards growth and improvement.
This touches on what psychologists refer to as the “incremental theory of intelligence.” The belief that our abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort and perseverance, a belief that’s been shown to make us less likely to give up.
The resilience built in-game may inspire players to adopt a similar approach to challenges outside of gaming, fostering a belief in their ability to improve and succeed through perseverance.
The bottom line
So there you have it: gaming might just have a lot more going for it than many believe.
It could well be a training ground for the mind, nurturing everything from problem-solving prowess to emotional intelligence and resilience.
So next time you pick up that controller, skip the guilt; you might just be developing skills that transcend the screen.
Now, to pull out my own very old Playstation.
Until next time.
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