Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Gaming Outside The Box: How Video Games Can Be Good For You

How do fast-paced video games affect the brain? Step into the lab with cognitive researcher Daphne Bavelier (Your Brain On Video Games) to hear surprising news about how video games, even action-packed shooter games, can help us learn, focus and multitask.

For decades, and to defy popular misconceptions, research proposing the benefits of video games have shown several studies that concluded that video games (more particularly of the action genre) induce changes in a number of abilities that are important for many real-life tasks, both intellectual and physical. The purpose of this post (albeit not exhaustive) is to help break some of the stereotypes associated with video games and video gamers alike.
One of the aspects that has been the focus of some of these studies is spatial cognition which refers to the ability of recognizing the association between objects and the mental representations of such objects being manipulated. Think about how you put together the pieces of a puzzle; the ability to rotate a piece to match it to another, in your mind, is an example of spatial cognition. These abilities are important for the representation, organization, comprehension and navigation of your surroundings. Many games involve problem solving, visuomotor coordination and social and interpersonal skills. Others involve quick reflexes, split-second decisions, planning, and the distribution and identification of certain objects or events.
Studies have found that action, driving and first person games are correlated with the ability to discriminate and select significant objects and abrupt events in a complex environment as well as with the ability to multitask and peripheral perception (or, simply put, attention). Other beneficial aspects include: speed (rapid thinking, split-second decision and reaction), visuomotor coordination (physical activities such as catching a ball) and working memory (the ability to make decisions based on previous experiences).
"Action and first-person shooter games like Call Of Duty help exercise attention, focus,
speed, visuomotor coordination and working memory."

         Maze and puzzle games involve the use of long term memory (by integrating the use of association and distinction), mental rotation and analytical skills. Role playing, simulation and strategy games involve the use of cognitive tasks such as planning, decision-making, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 
         University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green agrees that playing some video games can improve perception and cognition:“Video games change your brain the same way as do learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating using a map." He further explains how game play causes physical changes in brain structure similar to those encountered when being exposed to the aforementioned activities (The Wall Street Journal).                                   

Squarenix's Final Fantasy (left) and Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda (right) are great examples of popular role-playing games that, when played accordingly, involve the uses of planning, critical thinking and problem- solving. (Image: Final Fantasy Union)

Maze and puzzle games such as Tetris involve the use of long-term
memory, mental rotation and analytical skills.

Click here to play!
       Verbal skills can also be acquired and/or improved. Modern video games can also supplement the study of a second or even a third language by using positive associations, in-context learning and repetition. Music games have a positive impact on speech, language, memory and attention. They allow you to learn sound patterns and to comprehend speech in a noisy background. 
        Modern video games help blur the line even further by integrating physical play. Dance and music games like Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance provide an alternative for people who find it challenging to exercise outdoors or out of their comfort zones. Most of these type of games use an evaluation system consisting of rewards and positive reinforcements such as grades and scores, thus motivating the players to seek improvement and achieve the highest grade obtainable while staying physically active.

Go ahead! See for yourself!

Image result for vr gaming workout
Icaros uses a gyroscopic system which lets you exercise 
while gaming on a virtual reality (VR) headset. (Business Insider)
Learn more at Icaros.net

        While it is true that studies have linked video games to elements of an unhealthy lifestyle such as social isolation, obesity, muscular and skeletal  disorders, as well as nerve compression and carpal Tunnel Syndrome, evidence in favor of occasional game playing challenges these studies as the benefits far outweighs any evidence against it.
         Several studies have shown that playing the aforementioned types of video games help boost their respective skills and functions which, in turn, can be applied to real-life situations. First-person shooter games, for example, contribute to the development or improvement of detection, speed and quick-thinking, functions that may come in handy when driving. They can also be another useful tool to supplement foreign language learning. In addition, video games can help bring families and friends together; and, thanks to the Internet,  modern video games also help players connect, both locally and around the globe.
         In short: video games produce changes in the brain associated with sensory, perceptual, cognitive, speech and even physical functions. Therefore, it is possible to train your brain and even help improve its performance while playing video games. That is, of course, in moderation.

What do you think? Have you ever benefited from playing video games? How? Comment below. Also, feel free to watch the following TED Talks for more. 

Thanks for reading! 
Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Can playing video games make you more productive? Gabe Zichermann shows how games 
are making kids better problem-solvers, and will make us better at everything from driving to multi-tasking.

Hotz, Robert Lee. "When Gaming Is Good for You: Hours of Intense Play Change the Adult Brain; Better Multitasking, Decision-Making and Even Creativity." The Wall Street Journal. 

Spence, Ian & Feng, Jing. "Video games and Spatial Cognition". Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2015, Vol. 2(1) 101–110. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz.

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