Computer and console gaming can be great for your brain. There are many benefits if taken in moderation. Moving beyond passive exposure activities such as reading a book, listening to the radio or watching TV, video gaming is an interactive medium which can potentially harness the power of all three and more. The interactive component is the key. The participant is required to make critical decisions, and be situationally aware. Gaming is no longer just for kids as it once was, and there is a variety of ways that adults, teenagers, and children engage in this medium. Is gaming always a positive activity? Mostly, it actually is, in moderation. But here comes the catch; all the effort that is needed to start gaming is to double click an icon or press the power button on your gaming console. In contrast, if you want to take a hike, you have to get your workout gear, maybe think about weather, drive someplace, park, and then hit your route. Get back, shower. It’s… harder :). Average person > want to do something > do easiest thing > press power button for game > only had to move finger. So yeah, it’s easy; that said let’s get on with the benefits!
- Improves problem solving skills
- Improves hand-eye coordination
- Improves strategic thinking
- Can be a social & competitive activity
- Has been shown to IMPROVE eyesight
- Especially not good if taken out of moderation
- Often an activity done to excess
- Too much sitting, not enough exercise
Improves problem solving skills
Most games use your brain to solve problems. Portal 2 by Valve, for example, is completely designed around pushing you to your limits by solving thought provoking puzzles, as opposed to blowing things up. You’re encouraged to play collaboratively with other gamers to figure things out. First person shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield or Counter-Strike are actually teeming with problems to solve. Multi-player games pit you against other humans that are trying their best to put one over on you, so you have to be EXTRA crafty. Being able to aim and shoot in these games is important, but understanding the environment, the nature of the match, the action ‘hot zones’, the benefits of upper ground, your adversaries’ mindsets and the mechanics of assets at your disposal are all equally as important. There’s an unusual, intense concentration of problem solving activity in games. The net effect? Makes you better at solving problems of any kind. Practice makes perfect.
Improves hand-eye coordination
By playing video games, you strengthen the links between what your eyes see, your brain perceives, processes and reacts to, and your hands execute. This is a fascinating and sophisticated process, and as with many disciplines, practice makes perfect. Video games are almost all dependent on this coordination, but the fun part is, time flies while you’re doing it. After a few months of clicking like a mad person, your hand-eye coordination improves significantly. Get an orange thrown at you by surprise? Snatch it out of the air with ninja-like reflexes. Learning to use a smart phone? It’s all easier because your brain is used to telling your hands what’s going on and what to do. It’s a benefit that applies to many day-to-day activities. Sorting change, using an ATM machine or playing pool. It’s empowering to be able to strengthen this link.
Improves strategic thinking
Strategic thinking helps with almost all areas of life. Video games are designed to foster creativity and strategic thinking. The human brain reacts in a positive way to stimulus which is attached to cause and effect. Say you try a strategy. In order to identify its usefulness, you must determine if it succeeded or not. Games are a great way to do this because you’re constantly getting that education on your attempts at strategy. Furthermore, not only do you get a reaction, you usually get it quickly. This makes video games intense strategic thinking simulators with very apparent and immediate benefits. Making good decisions in life in general is a complicated process. Being able to connect the dots, identify patterns and make sense of it all is generally useful.
Gaming can be social and competitive
There’s no question that competing and socializing as part of an activity can teach a great deal about group dynamics, one’s limitations, when to be self serving and stand your ground, when to give and support others and more. The interaction can be thick between teammates and adversaries and can develop sophisticated relationship patterns between people. Some games are designed to reward friends that team up constructively. The more they work out their petty issues and recognize what is real between them, the better chance they stand at winning. To be successful they must identify their mistakes, strengths, weaknesses, how to quickly communicate during game time, how they can best exploit their enemy once they figure out said enemy’s tactics and more. A good group philosophy helps win games and can teach good lessons.
This is all great but let’s be real: gamers game too much :/
When taken to excess, gaming takes away from a healthy mix of activities like exercise or even just… moving, and introduces specific consequences. Oddly enough, action games are actually GOOD for your eyes. Aside from that it’s bad to sit on one’s butt for 8 hours straight. The human body wasn’t designed for it. Read my article about posture. It’s bad for your hands to be using them so intently for such long periods without breaks and stretching. Excess gaming can increase the chance of getting Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. How much is too much? Hard to say. But you will know. As with most things, it is better to be preventative than to address symptoms when they appear. If you’re going to play a ton, learn to stretch your hands, back, neck and any other stressed areas. It’ll make you feel better, relieve tension, help you focus better and reduce risk of permanently damaging your body. There is most definitely a law of diminishing returns associated with overdoing anything. The first bite of a chocolate bar is divine. The last bite of the third bar is so lackluster it begs the question “why am I eating this?” Same with video gaming – after a while games aren’t as fun as they were. That’s probably a good time to try another activity :).
Step into the lab with cognitive researcher Daphne Bavelier
The above video courtesy of Daphne Bavelier and TED which can be found here.
How to find games
I would recommend buying games on Valve’s Steam network. I would advise against pirating and torrenting games in favor of waiting for a sale on Steam. If you pirate a game you’ll likely have version problems, not be able to play online with friends/others and possibly infect yourself with malware. Games go on sale for up to 90% off on Steam sometimes, so just keep your eyes peeled. If you’re looking for suggestions here is an EXCELLENT list to choose from. I have linked a YouTube video with gameplay for each one.
Brother’s: A Tale of Two Sons: Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 3 (Single Player)
Wonderful story of two boys that lose their parents and go on an adventure to find them. Surprisingly challenging and fun for all ages. Warning, tells a beautiful story that might make you cry your eyes out. Grown men beware. If you play on a PC you’ll need a controller like the Logitech f310 or the wireless Logitech F710.
Planetside 2: Windows, Playstation 4 (Multiplayer)
Planetside 2 is a giant sandbox battle simulator. It is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online first-person shooter. You can be one of six infantry classes, drive a buggy or tank, fly a hover jet or sky dive out of a flying troop transport. There are battles raging all over and you can completely choose your own level of involvement. Requires a powerful computer and has a steep learning curve but it’s free to try.
The Stanley Parable: Windows (Single Player)
This game is totally freeform and appears to not have any point at first. Every game unfolds differently depending on your choices. Fun for all ages. Original, fresh concept. There’s a Free Demo on Steam (look for download pc demo).
Sanctum 2: Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Multiplayer)
This is a tower defense cooperative first-person shooter. There are two phases to every part of every match. The first is the peaceful thinking time where you decide what towers you want to build to defend your base from hordes of strange beasts. When you’re ready you start the wave, beasts get unleashed and your tower strategy is in effect. However, something else also begins – you have to scramble like crazy to defeat these beasts yourself as this game requires you to blast your way to victory. Both aspects of the game are essential to win. A lot of fun with up to four friends.