Eat your veggies, drink lots of water, and play…. Video games?
After decades of studies that have proven the unhealthy impacts of video games, some researchers have changed their minds. According to the American Psychological Association, video games do have some health benefits. Tech developers at the University of Michigan for instance, have developed the Open Source Bionic Leg: a prosthetic leg that uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to predict the way that the user will move and act accordingly. This use of technology that was initially developed for video games allow amputees to have access to prosthetics that act and work as organically as possible. The legs aren’t on the market yet, but the technology is being developed in labs across the United States and around the world.
Like anything else, there are pros and cons when it comes to integrating video game technology into everyday life, and the facts are hard to deny when it comes to eSports and gaming. Plenty of injuries and risks come with any type of sports or activity, and video games are no different. For instance, active gamers are 40% more likely to develop carpal tunnel compared to those who don’t play video games on a regular basis.
A November 2019 study from the American Osteopathic Association found that some other negative effects of accessive gaming include blurred vision, neck and back pain, and a slow metabolism from a lack of physical activity.
There are also a lot of mental health implications when it comes to excessive gameplay. The top two reported mental side-effects of gaming include anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Spending a lot of time in front of the screen can also cause sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Sleep specialists recommend rest, “screen detoxing”, “forest-bathing”, and taking time to do traditional physical activity such as yoga or jogging to prevent “over-dosing” on screen time and facing any nasty side effects.
Research has found that video games have a lot of other health benefits. For instance, new studies show that problem-solving games benefit players strategic thinking. Short and easy to play games like Angry Birds and Tetris have been proven to boost players mood, relieve anxiety, and help to ease every day stresses.
Video game puzzles such as “hidden object” games or mystery solving interactive games have been found to help with the delay of mental decline in seniors with Alzheimer’s. A 2011 study in a long-term care facility found that one-third of Alzheimer’s patients who played these games regularly had a slower rate of decline.
Dr. Anthony Betrus is a professor of Educational Technology and Business at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He is the NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative, the Advisor for the Video Gaming Club, and the Esports Director for the college. He also works as the STEM director for the National Education Foundation. Dr. Betrus compares the qualities of traditional sports and Esports. His primary research area in using the motivational qualities of simulations and games to promote learning. He believes that eSports are real sports, with the same benefits and deficits as soccer or baseball.
In the video below, Dr. Betrus explains the potential that video game technology has as an industry, as well as in education and healthcare.
Video games also have a positive effect on socializing. The same study on the effects of video gameplay on Alzheimer’s patients found that 70% of people who play video games socialize at the same time. Games such as World of Warcraft and Farmville encourage players to interact through a chat feature in the game, and Words with Friends allows for the player to play a Scrabble-esque game while chatting with their Facebook friends through linking their accounts. This social interaction has been proven to be beneficial to the mental health and mood of people who would otherwise experience little social interaction, such as the elderly, disabled people, bedbound people, and people who are socially introverted or have mental health disorders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has even endorsed videogames as a way to continue to socialize during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve started a Twitter hashtag – #PlayApartTogether – to encourage people to keep playing videogames and chatting online to keep busy during the lockdown that many countries are experiencing during the worldwide health emergency.
In the United States, an organization called the High School eSports League (HSEL) found that offering eSports in schools encouraged attendance in high school classes. The HSEL also found that students who participate in eSports are better critical thinkers and develop the cognitive skills that allow them to do better in Math, English, and Science classes compared to students who didn’t have experience with eSports.
We spoke to Ty Banfield, a 16-year-old competitive gamer from Toronto, Canada about his thoughts on the educational benefits of video games. Ty has been gaming since he was a young boy, staying up all night and often falling asleep in front of the screen.
He says that he believes “there’s something to be learned from any game that you play. There’s a lot of room for development with A.I. technology and virtual reality, which are already used in video games, that can help doctors and teachers in their work, too.”
Ty began online schooling when he was 14-years-old after finding that he learned better from online modules of classes. “A lot of online schooling has demos and walkthroughs like the videogames that I’ve always played. I’m the kinda guy that keeps to himself and learns better from tutorials than lectures. I think a lot of people in my generation could benefit from making online schooling available.”
European studies back up Banfield’s theory. A study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charite University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus in Berlin, Germany found that playing video games increases the size of your brain. The study also found that the gameplay help to refine hardwired and learned skills.
The study in Germany had two groups of adults. The first played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day for two months. The second group was prohibited from any video gameplay. Scientists then did an MRI to measure the brains of both groups before and after the two-month period. Growth in the brains of the group who were actively gaming for that there was a direct link between video gaming and a “volumetric brain increase” AKA brain growth.
The study was lead by Dr. Simone Kühn, a senior scientist at the Centre for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute. She says “While previous studies have shown differences in brain structure of video gamers, the present study proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games.”
From Super Mario, to Animal Crossing, to World of Warcraft, it looks like the world of video games has a lot to offer us in terms of healthcare and education strategies.
Written By: Devon Banfield