You might think the idea of gaming being beneficial to health something of a contradiction in terms, but there is evidence that gaming can aid mental and even physical wellbeing. Apart from the obvious benefit of certain games improving hand-eye coordination are others that, if anything, may contradict gaming’s assumed drawbacks.
Many people enjoy playing games to a greater or lesser degree, and this can range from an occasional small session playing on a mobile to the more hardcore games such as World of Warcraft where huge communities play in a customizable gaming environment.
Fears of gamers becoming addicted, slothful, anti-social and depressed abound - not to mention provoking violent behaviour in some - but for many, where gaming is an integral but not completely dominant part of their lifestyle, there are benefits.
There is evidence to suggest that memory and cognitive abilities can be improved playing certain games - especially if partaking and improving one’s playing strategies in games that are mentally involving. An activity such as this can improve general memory recall and focus; valuable mental exercise for the older generation for whom regular memory stimulus can help as they age.
So what health benefits can gaming offer?
Far from all gamers being holed up in a darkened room with only a bowl of nachos for company, many games offer a chance to socialise, be part of a community and make friends with like-minded people. Many online games have vibrant communities, and there have been many examples of people forging strong friendships and even romance blossoming via their favourite game.
You’d think the opposite would be true when sitting at a console or peering at a smartphone screen, but fast paced games requiring intense attention can train the eyes to view objects and other sights more sharply.
Discerning different shades of certain colours was measurably improved as was an improvement in some gamers’ ‘lazy eye’ performance (where their ‘good eye’ was covered).
Improves decision making
Fast paced games require fast decision making and an ability to assess a situation quickly - not to mention re-assessing as circumstances change rapidly. Studies by cognitive neuroscientists in America suggest that action-oriented games offer useful training in the ability to assimilate information from surroundings and make clear decisions.
Sports-related games may inspire the gamer to actually take up the sport they’re virtually playing, and games using historical contexts can cause players to take an interest and learn more about the period. This can, in turn, cause younger people and maybe some adults to become engaged with learning in general.
Through the distraction of focusing on a particular game and the possible pain killing - analgesic - effects of enjoying and achieving a degree of success in play, pain can be eased in certain cases. Some techniques involve patients playing virtual reality games to help distract their minds from the treatment.
Far from encouraging unhealthy eating and drinking habits, studies have shown that puzzle games in particular reduce the desire to overdo eating, drinking and smoking.
As with easing pain above, the distraction and the possible ‘feel good’ factor or succeeding in certain game play can reduce stress levels.
Are games good for your health?
Of course, it’s important to keep gaming in perspective, but if you do then health can benefit. It may even help your career: certain traits such as increased motivation and reacting efficiently in a crisis can help in the workplace.
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