Remember all those hours spent in front of the t.v. playing Tetris and Donkey Kong? Maybe that wasn’t your era. How about hearing your mom or wife bark at you to get off the Halo game and interact with some ‘real people?’ It seems that many of us have been under the impression that playing video games was somehow not beneficial and have discouraged our children and partners from the long hours they wish to spend playing. New studies reveal that video games may have a greater advantage on the human brain and psyche than you think. Some even say that video games could heal the world.
Recently, the attention has been on cognitive functions, especially memory decline in the elderly. It seems that those over the age of 65 who have begun to show signs of failing brain processes such as memory, are greatly benefited by playing video games for even 12 hours. Those who played regularly for this amount of time showed even more improvement and rivaled the brain functions of their younger counterparts – 20 something year olds- playing the same game for the first time. The study had individuals facing challenges beyond the simple focus of driving, adding in attention of obstacles and the need to remember where things were. These details, when mastered in the game, had the same effect on the brain as if these tasks were accomplished in real time, thereby improving the mind.
Game maker Jane McGonigal has been making games with the intention to educate people on how to cope with the issues at hand in today’s world. One of her games, SuperBetter, was designed to help people deal with and recover from chronic health conditions. The game challenges symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain in a fun and interactive way. Other games such as Evoke and World Without Oil teach players how to deal with environmental disasters and banking issues by collaborating on a global scale.
According to McGonigal, games can not only help you recover from ailments, improve memory and cooperate with others better, they can actually add years to your life. In her short TED video presentation she explains how:
Virtual reality games are widely being used to tap into the creative problem solving skills of citizens by scientists that can’t quite figure something out. Foldit, was a game released in 2008 with just this aim. The game required that players assemble groups of amino acids in order to perform certain tasks within a cell. The scientists were able to tap the collective genius of the citizens playing the game, and through such a study, had ground-breaking successes. In 2011, players found the AIDS-related enzyme which had stumped the scientific community forever.
The military trains new soldiers with virtual reality games so as to prepare them for battle in foreign countries and now doctors are utilizing the power of games to help the elderly improve the power of the brain. With so many uses for gaming these days one can truly see, as the studies do, how video games have a greater advantage than you might have previously thought.
Some believe that video games are not only an avenue for healing and training, but reveal the deeper fabric of reality as the possible matrix we all interact in. Nuclear physicist for NASA, Thomas Campbell, has proposed that we in fact exist in a virtual reality not too different from the games we create. His theory has been tried and formulated with intense scientific study and spelled out in his massive trilogy entitled My Big Toe (theory of everything). From his eyes, it makes sense that we are constantly in new game sets, with opportunities from life to ‘level up’, gain points and tackle obstacles.
We are finding more and more through experimentation and studies that video games and the knowledge of how to play them have greater advantages to us as humans than you might think. As we explore these benefits, we are finding improvement in cognitive functions, memory, collaboration, self-confidence and strategic planning as some of the many ways in which video games are helping people live richer, more productive lives. The next time your kid or partner wants to play, maybe you ought to cheer them on instead of discouraging the process – who knows, they may be helping to save the world?!
Written by: Stasia Bliss