Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life XP: Why Gaming Makes Us Better

In this article, writer Lily Francis expounds on the benefits reaped from playing games and not just educational games.

Almost all gamers can share a variation on the same story: someone - often a parent or a teacher when they were younger, but sometimes a colleague or a partner - has told them that they’re dulling their mind by playing so many games. Game designers in particular often get it in spades; if the person they’re talking to isn’t a gamer themselves, they often have to steel themselves for “harmless” asides. Games are fun, after all, but aren’t they a little - you know - silly? Aren’t games just a brain-draining time-waster? Luckily, exciting research suggests that the answer to that question is a resounding no. Playing video games appears to sharpen critical thinking, teach skills like collaboration, and otherwise prep gamers to succeed in life. It’s not just educational games which confer these benefits either; no matter your chosen genre, your favorite games are likely to give you a boost in life.  

Problem-Solving & Critical Thinking

One of the reasons children play make-believe is to learn about their world. By imagining themselves in different situations, they learn how to react to situations they probably haven’t encountered in their real lives. Consider it a test drive for their brains, emotions, and problem-solving skills. We never lose the capacity to learn from these kind of games, and this is exactly the well that video games draw from when they increase our critical thinking. For all that the mind is a complex instrument, it also has the ability to process immersive media, such as video games, as lived experiences. New experiences promote new perspectives, which in turn encourage creative solutions in everyday life.

Games also help to fine-tune your ability to think quickly under stressful circumstances: even if you logically know that you’re safe in the middle of a particularly tense mission, your pounding heart and adrenaline rush probably have your body fooled. Next time you have a stressful, fast-paced day at work, think about how you’d react to it if you were playing - it’s a surprising hack might help you regain control of the situation by looking at it from a new angle.

Community & Teamwork

Whether sharing real space with your friends or family, or collaborating with someone you’ll never meet in a city you’ll never visit, gaming can be a team sport. Just like any other team sport, these games can foster social skills which are applicable to every other part of your life. Even businesses have realized the potential games have to spur social development, with Forbes running a story which highlighted the ways in which collaborative gaming trains players in alliance-building, resource allocation, and teamwork. Even after players leave the game itself, the benefits continue. Stories on healthygame-playing often note that “[online] gaming tends to spawn lively and active Internet communities, with gamers frequenting fan sites, forums, and shared databases to discuss developments, tactics and gameplay”. Although social media has made this sort of interaction commonplace, these communities can be highly close-knit, encouraging social skills in a way Facebook can’t compete with.

Relaxation & Creativity

Given the pace society runs at, many people feel like relaxation is a slightly taboo act, something they have to find legitimate excuses for. Forget all of that; anything which relaxes you is beneficial by its very nature, since it’s those moments of happiness which allow for greater productivity, a healthier body, and a less manic mind. Like other hobbies, gaming has the potential to be a relaxing break from “real life”, but it’s also a way to recharge while staying engaged. The stress of work might fade away, but your mind is still active and focused, the hallmark of a healthy hobby. Games - particularly immersive ones - also promote creativity and increased imagination. In this, they come full circle back to the make-believe games of children, with the power to ignite an interest in storytelling and the world around us.

Once upon a time, gamers were seen as unsuccessful weirdos with poor people skills. Games have changed, and people have changed, but more than anything it’s this perception which has changed - or is, at least, in the process of changing. With research to back up these shifts in understanding, it’s possible to be proud of what gaming offers both players and society in general.

Lily Francis writes for a number of ethical healthcare providers. She's always been a keen gamer since she fell in love with Civ in her school days and loved taking the opportunity to prove that all that time plotting world domination had some mental health benefits (as well as being great fun).


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