The way in which we consume video games hasn’t really changed that much since their inception in the 1970s. While the arcades of old may not be prosperous like they once were, there are still places where you can throw some change into a cabinet and play your favourite title, such as Ms. Pac-Man or Galaga. Similarly, game cartridges have all but been replaced by discs (be they optical, Blu-ray, or something similar) and digital downloads. Those minor changes aside, most of us are still playing said games using controllers of some kind, and the point more often than not is to either finish the campaign or achieve a high score.
What has changed drastically, however, is the mainstream view of video games. They’re no longer reserved for “nerds” or “geeks” without social lives?quite the opposite, in fact, as most titles encourage or, in some cases, require you to play with others. Not only that, but there have been an influx of studies proving that video games are actually good for you?especially your brain.
Last month, Science 20 posted an article that outlines exactly why it’s been found that games are being found to improve brain function. The writer touched on how games can be used in therapeutic and educational ways (more on the latter a bit later) in addition to increasing your ability for spatial visualization. What that last part means is that gamers tend to be better at seeing how they could move 2D and 3D objects in their heads.
While that information had already been reported by previous research, Science 20 pointed to a more recent study. It tasked one group with playing only action-heavy games (such as Call of Duty) against a group only playing more relaxed games (such as The Sims). The outcome was that playing the more fast-paced games “influences performance in perception, attention, and cognition.” In other words, the group members who played first-person shooters and other action-oriented titles performed tasks at a quicker rate and were better at recognising and finishing them than their peers.
What’s of particular interest in regards to studies of gamers is that this isn’t the first of its kind, something Science 20 mentioned several times in their piece. Beyond that, though, there have been studies of other games that have proven similar positives for your brainpower: games, of all kinds, are good for you (in moderation, of course).
For example, seven years ago, the New York Times reported on a Harvard Law School professor who started a poker club to showcase the card game’s educational benefits. Most notably, they argued that it “can be an effective teaching tool, whether for middle school math or in business and law classes.” It’s a valid point, especially when you look at the varying game types and rules?you can check out how to play here, if you’re unfamiliar. Studying the game’s odds, outcomes, and rules can lead to better performance in numbers-heavy scenarios while actually playing poker can improve how you comprehend probability along with how you interact with others on a social level (whether it’s online or in person).
Let it be known, then, that gaming is not the cultural black hole that some make it out to be. In addition to simply being a great form of entertainment, there is plenty of educational value lurking within the games we play. Thankfully some people (namely researchers) have begun to look into it.