Written by Craig Beddis

2 min read

The health benefits of gaming

  • Gaming

Playing hour upon hour of video games and staring at a backlit screen might not seem to have any obvious health benefits. Our image of gamers is often young generations sitting in the dark and getting lost in digital worlds. After a week at the GDC and being embedded in Hadean (which amounts to working with computing and video gaming wizards), I can honestly say that that view is incredibly old fashioned. So, let’s push our preconceptions aside, assume we won’t get square eyes from game play (despite loud parental protests), and take a look at what gaming could do for our health.

Far from getting lost to the dark side, video games actually offer us vast engaged social networks. Something we are all hankering after in this modern world is human interaction and the feeling that we matter; there have been numerous studies telling us we’ll reap the health benefits of meaningful relationships and that lasting friendships can help us to live longer. Well, the gaming community is one of the most involved, caring and passionate networks out there, and being part of it can give game players incredible resilience, and perhaps even a longer life expectancy.

Health-Benefits-of-Gaming

Another incredible use for video games is in pain relief programmes. The American Pain Society have presented research showing how pain and anxiety can be reduced by playing video games, and lists them as one of its non-pharmacologic Interventions. Okay, that might seem like an obvious use of the technology, but how often is its potential really maximised around the world? Global healthcare hasn’t installed gaming consoles on hospital wards, and that’s a huge oversight. This simple technology is a powerful “cognitive behavioural intervention” that could help.

In 2014 a group of professors published the paper: Action video game play facilitates the development of better perceptual templates” which showed that our brains build models of the world much more quickly and accurately when its trained playing video games. This in turn sharpens our prediction skills, which can help us react while driving, predict what to do in surgery, or even listen more intently. There’s nothing wrong with making good decisions more quickly, especially if those decisions could save someone’s life on the road or on the operating table?

Now, there can of course be adverse effects of video gaming if we all sit inches from our screens from dawn ‘til dusk. Both the Nursing Online Education Database and The Vision Council outline recommended activities to protect your eyes from screens and digital strain. And you don’t have to be a doctor to figure out that it’s all about balance. Video gaming and the advent of virtual realities to get lost in are not all bad. While I was researching this article, I came across a myriad of potential health benefits of playing video games in moderation. Here are just some of the possible positive side effects:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Distracts from pain
  • Increases speed of decision making
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces nicotine cravings
  • Increases collaborative working
  • Increases social connections
  • Increases memory capacity
  • Increases intelligence

I haven’t been able to find a study so far that recommends ditching all physical activity and spending 10+ hours a day playing video games, but there does seem to be a consensus out there that in moderation gaming have a hugely positive impact on cognitive, social and motor skills.