Take a look at the recent news regarding video games and health, and you will come across a popular January article from the World Health Organization (WHO) defining gaming disorder. Many parents, teachers, and lawmakers are concerned about the effects of video games. In a culture of fear that elevates the negative, and subverts the positive, it is easy to believe video games come with a lot of negativity.
However, it is 2019. Women, people of color, disabled folks, and folks from a number of identities can engage with video games. This is a far cry from the representation seen when video games were first coming. Long gone are the seemingly isolated gamers, as video games today are mostly online community affairs. Instead of dwelling on the negative, we are going to focus on the positive benefits of video games.
7 Positive Benefits of Video Games
1. Improved Attention Span
Psychology Today has an excellent article detailing the cognitive benefits of playing video games. Among the benefits listed is that gaming can help improve gamers attention spans. These attention span gains have usefulness in the physical world.
A paper by Green & Bavelier (2012) found that action games helped players quickly locate a target in a field of distractors. This has implications beyond the world of video games. Being able to quickly locate a target in a field of distractors, means that gamers have learned how to process information quickly and efficiently. This skill helps truck drivers, pilots, and engineers carry out their job with success.
Another improvement to attention span that Psychology Today cites, is that gamers have an improved ability to track moving objects in a field of distractors. This means that gamers can remained focus on an important objective in a busy environment. This helps in scenarios like taking an order at a coffee shop during a morning rush, when you need to sift through various customer’s orders with minimal mistakes.
Lastly, according to a paper by Dye, Green, and Bavelier (2009), action games can help reduce impulsiveness. Reduced impulsiveness is necessary in almost every line of work. The ability to remain patient and calm, while carrying out important tasks is a major transferrable skill from gaming.
2. Improved Problem Solving
Much like puzzles, video games are beneficial because they can improve problem solving skills. Video games generally throughout challenge that ramp up in difficult levels. In Japanese RPGs, you have to take into consideration a variety of information that can evolve at any given moment.
For instance, let’s take an encounter from the recent JRPG hit Octopath Traveler. You’re exploring the Quicksand Caves, and you come across a pack of venomous snakes lead by a queen snake. The queen snake hits hard, can blind your party, and make it harder to hit the venomous snakes. On the other hand, the venomous snakes can bite you, dealing poison damage that debilitates your party over time. Do you take out the lead queen snake first? Or, do you focus on bringing down the venomous snakes so you can focus on the queen snake at the end?
There is no one solution to this problem. Encounters like the Quicksand Caves encounter are solvable in multiple ways. Depending on your party composition there are a number of valid strategies you can employ to come out successful. However, some strategies are more efficient than others and video games can reward or punish you depending on the strategy you employ. Each encounter is a form of training that requires you to change your party composition, skills, and technique to progress. This feedback loop is found in many video games, and helps instill problem solving skills.
Some may think that the challenges posed in video games are primarily stressful, but it depends on the lens you view video games through. Take for example the challenging Dark Souls series. This is a series that taunts the player around every corner. Success in that game series is hard to come by. Enemies that are thrown at you are competent, and will sometimes abuse the systems the game sets in place to throw you off balance.
Overcoming these challenges, especially in action games with tight hit-boxes, requires rhythm. Establishing a rhythm helps you become relaxed in the situation you are encountering. It takes a video game from purely mashing buttons, to a timed, considered, and rhythmic experience where you act in sync with the game world around you.
Many fighting games use this sense of rhythm. Watch most of the fights from the recent EVO2018 fighting game tournament in Las Vegas, and you will see that the top competitive players aren’t hyper, but have reached a level of competitive relaxation.
Overall, video games are relaxing because they ultimately help to reduce stress. Through repetition, action, and exploration, gamers can reach a state of flow that allows for relaxation.
4. Self Expression
The ability to express yourself is a benefit to playing video games. Video games, especially fighting games, are predicated on a player’s ability to adapt to a number of changing situations. While these challenges can be overcome in a variety of ways, the way the player chooses to overcome the challenge is a form of self expression.
In fighting games there are multiple archetypes of characters. There are grapplers, dodgers, characters that specialize in parrying, aggressive play styles, and defensive play styles. How a player chooses to use a character and the toolset they are given is ultimately a form of self expression.
That is why communities like the Fighting Game Community (FGC) are so popular. Individuals are rewarded and respected for their style in using a character in a unique way. At the end of the day, when every player has access to the same character’s other players have, what separates players is the way in which they play.
This reality doesn’t just exist in fighting games. Sports games, racing games, even Tetris involve some form of self expression. Psychology Today, notes that self expression might be one of the most important ways people connect, navigate, and grow with one another. This leads into another benefit that video games provide, a sense of community.
Video games without a doubt help provide gamers with a sense of community. In 2018 we live in a world where there are a number of major online gaming platforms. Twitch, YouTube, Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network are all services that exist online to connect players with one another.
Twitch allows players to band together to watch people play their favorite video games. An online comment board system allows people to comment on the video they are watching, and engage in real-time conversations with the streamer, and other fans.
Online gaming platforms like Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network allow gamers to play with other people from around the world. If you’re a night owl in America, you could stay up late enough to catch games with players from the U.K and Japan. Gaming allows for communities to be built beyond local areas.
Video games don’t just help create online communities, there are also an abundance of offline communities that exist where people meet up to engage in gaming culture. Try a quick search for FGC and your local city, and you are sure to find meet up groups of players meeting to play the latest fighting games.
Community is a pillar of video games, and with the greater acceptance and visibility of women, people of color, and disabled folks, video game culture is shifting to becoming more inclusive. Community is definitely a positive benefit of playing video games.
6. Contextualizing History
When video games choose to be political, and accurately represent the eras they present, they can be interesting time pieces. Take for example Mafia III. Mafia III is a game that came out in 2016.
Mafia III is a game that takes place in 1968 New Orleans during the height of the Vietnam War. You play as Lincoln Clay, a black Vietnamese veteran navigating the racist, mobbed up New Orleans.
This is still the Jim Crow south. Police Officer NPCs, and random civilian NPCs respond to you the way many white folks would respond to black people in this time period, with suspicion. You constantly feel the racial tension in this video game, and see the both the pro-war, and anti-war perspective on the Vietnam War. While there are elements of fiction, placing the player into this setting is immersive, and can stand to contextualize history by providing a re-enactment of that history. In this sense video games can become a form of interactive oral tradition.
Players assume the identity of the characters they play as. In historical pieces, this is used to great affect to teach players about the time period in which they are playing. This has immense educational benefits, and has been used in a variety of games to teach about historical settings. Another example would be Assassin’s Creed Origins.
Assassin’s Creed Origins places players into an Egypt that is being annexed by both Greece and Rome. The game does an excellent job showing the ways in which Egyptian culture, architecture, and even religion was changed by the introduction of Greek and Roman rule. This video game also has a virtual tour that takes players around different parts of Egypt, like the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Library of Alexandria, and provides real historical information about each of these places. In this way, video games are beneficial because they can help contextualize history.
We have already spoken about the benefit of community that can be gained when you play video games. But we also need to talk about the many opportunities for collaboration. Online multiplayer games, especially the team based ones, requires a high level of communication, organization, and a team oriented mindset. Let’s take a lens to one of the most popular multiplayer games of 2016, Overwatch.
This game has exploded in popularity because it puts team composition, and team based play over individual skill. In Overwatch picking the right character to compliment your team, and counter picking characters on the opposing team is incredibly important. You have to communicate with your teammates in order to employ your own strategies, and to counter strategies that your opponents use.
Overwatch has gone on to feature major leagues, with players competing from around the world. The Overwatch League has even appeared on prime time sports network, ESPN, Disney, and ABC. Video games are finally being seen for a high level competitive sport that requires excellent communication. The next time you find someone encouraging someone to join a team based sport, you should ask what video game they play. They may already be in a highly competitive team based league.
As time moves on, we may even see competitive eSports take over traditional sports. If stream views from twitch, Overwatch, and Fortnite are any indication, the collaboration provided by video games is much more enjoyable to watch for viewers.
Video Games Have a Large Number of Positive Benefits
Video games will not rot your brains, cause you to be a social outcast, or any of the antiquated notions that people use to have about this worldwide pastime. Video games offer spaces for folks to express themselves, build community, learn about the modern and ancient world, and helps with problem solving.
There is an overwhelming number of benefits to playing video games. As more research continues, and as the popularity of eSports takes over the nation, and the world, we will probably see video games discussed on a national level more frequently. While there is a lot of negative information presented about video games, we hope you remember these positive benefits. Happy gaming!