Updated: Jan 28
There is a growing concern amongst parents that video games are bad news. This can mean that children are limited from playing on video game consoles and mobile app games, unless there are obvious educational benefits to playing a game or sometimes restricted from playing video games at all.
Over the last few years we've seen a lot of media telling us how bad video games are but there are more benefits to video games than what is most likely perceived and that is because the benefits are practically invisible. It doesn't mean they aren't there though!
This is a casual look at the benefits of video games from my own experience, I use further references where possible - Just click the red link to the study. So let's jump in!
Have you heard the study about London Cab Drivers and the relation of a bigger hippocampus in the brain because of what is termed "The Knowledge" - The ability to learn and memorize all of the streets in London?
The Hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and in spatial memory that enables navigation - Thanks Wikipedia!
What does this piece of information have to do with games? Well, have you considered that playing games with a variety of maps that digital navigation will be involved? Which means the brain of the gamer is learning to develop navigational skills through their game play experience. In fact, this skill of seeing in 3D space is beneficial to those who design three-dimensional objects, whether that's assets for games, movies or product design - Even if you don't have access to 3D software, it will help you to develop a sense of depth when it comes to traditional art like drawing from perspective and your ability to rotate 2D and 3D objects in your mind.
This is an idea that I've come up with, due to the fact that when I start a game years after playing it, I still know where things are based on the ability to memorise landmarks in games. That skill relates directly to reality because it allows me to use those skills naturally when I'm in a new city, driving somewhere and creating those landmarks in my mind.
And in games we have a chance to play! We don't always do as we are directed to do in games. We go off script which means we find out things we might not have seen if we stuck to the rules. This increased curiosity sets you up for taking notice of insignificant details that become relevant to your memory association. Sometimes it's those small details that make the difference to knowing exactly where you are in a game world and those same exact skills that help you navigate the real world.
Games can help you practice positive thinking.
This is an important element for me because first and foremost, games should be fun and then education comes second. I see it this way, if you're making maths fun by putting it into a game, you've gamified the experience of maths but if you're making a game, it's got to be fun for the sake of being fun so you naturally benefit from the education because of the joy of playing the game. There are plenty of puzzle based games I've played that use mathematics to solve the riddle and those riddles are directly related to the story line.
So how exactly can games help you practice positive thinking? Get ready for an anecdote.
Recently, I've been playing Fall Guys. When I started the game I was pretty bad at it, over time with practice I have started to get better at it. What I noticed when I started playing the game was my brain comparing my skill to all the other players and then thinking to myself "I will never win this game, everyone else is already amazing at it!" That's pretty negative of me. But I continued playing and introduced my friends to it, so while it was nice to attempt to win a game, the focus shifted to getting to the next level and seeing how far I could go.
This relaxed approached was great but I realised my mindset was still quite negative, I would tell myself in the middle of a course, "I'm not going to make it through this one" and then I heard myself and decided to change my thinking to "I can do this level, I am good at this level, it's possible for me to come first."
I noticed when I switched to a positive mindset and practiced it on every level, if I lost, I was less frustrated, because I knew I could do it and gave it my best shot. I have since finished a few rounds being the first player across the line and won my first competition. It took me 6 months to do what I thought I would never be able to do and win a whole game of Fall Guys. It was challenging, but the persistence paid off and I felt amazing for triumphing at last!
As taken from my computer screen! I wasn't quick enough!
The best thing is that these lessons can be applied to our every day life for goals we want to achieve.
Fall Guys is just a game and in the grand scheme of things doesn't mean much that I won a game. What's more important is the lesson it taught me through application and experience. If I go in with a positive attitude, even if I lose, I'm still going to be okay and be happier to get up and go again. That lesson applies to a lot of goals we want to achieve in life.
It's also a great way to communicate with children because it's something they can relate to and get experience of within their own home. It teaches delayed gratification. We keep going because its fun to play, eventually we will have improved enough to make it to our goal.
Hand Eye Coordination
Not surprisingly, playing video games can help with hand eye coordination simply by playing games using controllers. If you watch a video game player, they hardly ever look at their controller, their hands know exactly where to go and what to do. It means they are able to react from what they are seeing on the screen and press the right controls to accomplish the task without looking.
Every time you play a video game, you are practising this skill and improving your hand eye cooridination.
Here's an in depth look at this subject by Vision Works.
Story-based games give us yet another layer of teachability, we can literally craft worlds, develop scenarios and give the player choice in how that story unfolds based on their actions. While we tend to have less empathy in video games because they are not connected to our everyday life, we do have the ability to teach empathy by the way our games are developed.
For example, Portal gave us compassion for the companion cube. It's just a cube and yet you still, probably, didn't want to incinerate it the moment GLaDOS instructed you to. You tried to find any other option than to destruct the one object that helped you to get through the level. Inevitably, you did have to destroy it to proceed with the game but it did tug on your heart strings to do so.
Companion Cube - Photo by Tom Francis - Flickr
There is so much that can be done with story in a game and getting this right in a game can give the player a lot more to think about from this medium.
What about VR?
VR moves us into physical game playing and the most obvious benefit to playing a VR game is the amount of exercise you can get from this experience. You are totally immersed and reacting to the game play in the movement of you body, it keeps you engaged. It's also a great system for so many other things; reflexes, meditation and mental health applications etc.
Talking about games that get you physically moving, the Nintendo Switch RingFit is another brilliantly developed game to keep you engaged with working out. I particularly enjoy keeping fit. in the past I have spent time playing table tennis for 3 clubs, swimming (you couldn't get me out of the water), playing batminton, tennis, weight lifting, signing up for fun runs, Tough Mudder and Half Marathons, yet struggling to build a habit for these kinds of activities, especially when it comes to running and weight lifting.
The RingFit is an RPG adventure game and it has been crafted so brilliantly. For example, you play the game by completing different exercises, then by the end of the world you have to fight the boss which is the toughest workout you will have to endure. Sometimes you won't defeat the boss because your character is not strong enough aka you haven't been on your fitness journey long enough to defeat him at that stage. This means you have to go back and replay levels to level up and in reality become fitter yourself in the process.
It's an excellent game to keep you engaged with your fitness and right now, is one of the best games to get you using the correct exercise positions as accurately as it can. Personally, I would never do the amount of reps on an exercise that the RingFit gets you to do but because my focus is completing the level, I can will myself to do the last 5 reps to see the battle through.
Overall, we can get tonnes of benefits from playing video games, even if we do just play them for the fun of it. They allow us to learn without knowing that we are learning and that is the best way to learn, especially for children!
From the Creative Director