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How Gaming Makes You Smarter

Video games are frequently accused of increasing levels of aggression in players and causing anti-social behaviour. Recent research, however, shows that there are many important benefits of playing video games regularly. These positive side-effects of gaming may well outweigh the negative points for most individuals. The overall consensus among modern researchers is that regular gaming can develop certain skills which, in turn, can make gamers better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life and the modern labour market.

Games Encourage Faster Decision-making

Research conducted by cognitive scientists at the University of Rochester found that playing action games in particular trains people to make faster, smarter decisions. Regular gaming increases the individual’s sensitivity to things going on around them. This helps gamers improve their performance in the game but also spills over into everyday life. The researchers found that in spite of the short time gamers take to reach a decision, the decision made was generally the correct one. This ability to make fast, appropriate decisions can increase reaction times in everyday situations and is particularly useful when driving.

All gameplay is performance, and all gamers are performers. But some gamers adopt unexpected strategies to make their gameplay more extroverted, more attention-generating, more compulsively watchable, more theatrical — in other words, more high performance.
Dr Jane McGonigal, PhD

Games Teach Critical Thinking

Gaming stimulates the brain, which can assist with the ability to come up with creative solutions to problems. Critical thinking, sometimes simply described as “rigorous thinking”, is important in every aspect of life and gamers who improve their ability to think in this way can go on to make well-informed decisions. Critical thinking is important both in the academic world and in the workplace so improving this vital skill can have positive effects on many aspects of the gamer’s life.

Games Teach Problem-solving

Almost all video games will require at least some problem-solving. Games aimed at children can be particularly helpful as they encourage the young brain to explore creative ways to solve problems. In most cases, the choices the gamer makes will have various consequences and influence gameplay. This helps children in particular learn that the approach they take to solving a problem can have a knock-on effect.

Social Gaming Builds Collaboration Skills

The popular image of a gamer in the 1980s and 90s was of a loner sitting in a darkened room, cut off from the world outside. The gaming world has drastically changed in recent years with consoles and PCs now offering the ability to play online among thousands of other gamers. Those who play multiplayer games must learn to collaborate and positively interact with other players. The set-up of online games varies and can see players individually competing against each other, competing against a group of players as part of a team or collaborating with other gamers to solve problems or achieve certain objectives.

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. This social side of gaming is continuing to grow and has all but ended the idea of the gamer as an anti-social loner.

Games Can Provide an Escape and Improve Mental Health

Recent research in the US suggests gaming can have a positive impact on patients suffering from conditions causing chronic pain. Nerve damage, accidents and illnesses can lead to long-lasting pain but doctors are increasingly finding that getting lost in an absorbing game can provide relief from symptoms for many patients. Active video games are currently being used by doctors at Washington’s National Children’s Medical Center to assist with rehabilitation. Children who are in pain and reluctant or unable to move parts of their body are given active games to play. As they get lost in the game, they start to move more to better their scores. This allows medical staff to assess and treat the child while also providing an escape for the patient. The use of games as part of medical treatment can also improve mental health and help with anxiety and stress.

Gaming Can Equip the Gamer with Valuable Career Skills

Video games are a great way to increase computer literacy. Many games are supplied with software that allows the gamer to make modifications to the game or redesign parts of the gameplay. This encourages the gamer to think like a developer and allows him or her to have practical experience of game designing. Games also develop the cognitive skills necessary for careers in technology and engineering. Critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to collaborate effectively are all highly desired traits in many industries. Gaming can hone these skills, increasing employability and workplace performance.

Games Get Kids Moving and Increase Reaction Speeds

One of the biggest developments in the gaming world over the past few years has been the advent of active video games. These interactive games get players moving and help increase reaction times. Players must react quickly, both mentally and physically, in order to succeed. Dance games are particularly popular with children, although also aimed at adults, and titles such as Dance Dance Revolution are played on a special dance mat and encourage the user to follow increasingly difficult sets of dance moves. Wii Boxing and the rest of the Wii Sports titles also encourage children to exercise. Research has shown that playing some games expends more energy, and therefore burns more calories, than the equivalent amount of time spent on a treadmill walking at a pace of three miles an hour. Among the criticisms traditionally laid at the door of the games industry, the suggestion that gaming led to increased rates of childhood obesity was a major one. With the continued popularity of active video games, children can be encouraged to exercise, increasing confidence and levels of fitness. A further advantage is that many active video games, such as Just Dance 4, can be played in a group, meaning they have social benefits too.

Video Games Encourage Perseverance

Games are not designed to be completed on the first attempt, meaning players must fail several times before they achieve their goals. Learning to fail, and fail well, is an important life lesson and players must persevere if they wish to succeed. Dr Jane McGonigal, PhD, a designer of alternate reality games, states that players fail around 80% of the time during the course of the average game. Rather than frustrating the gamer, regular failing increases determination and builds strength of character. Valuable life skills can be gained from repeatedly overcoming set-backs to achieve a desired goal.

Further Reading & Resources

http://rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3679 – faster, smarter decisions

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/video-games-helping-kids-who-suffer-from-chronic-pain-1.1251581#ixzz2RYJaZkJH – given active games to play

http://besthealth.bmj.com/x/news/559725/news-item.html – some games expends more energy

http://janemcgonigal.com/meet-me/ – Dr Jane McGonigal, PhD

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