Most of us have heard about the purported negative effects of playing video games; the the ‘gamer’ stereotype which is characterised by obesity, aggressiveness, addiction and social ineptitude is a popular social archetype. It is however important to recognise that a lot of these negative effects that the media loves to focus on tend to affect those who genuinely spend a disproportionate amount of their time in front of the screen. We all know that most things should be enjoyed in moderation, and gaming is no exception… but unfortunately the sunnier side of the gaming practice is often over-shadowed by the bitter bits, and that’s a shame.
Let’s talk about how gaming may affect your brain. Casual gameplay involves repeated actions and interactions that bolster brain cell connections underlying memory and learning capabilities. The actions and activities undertaken by players are typically rewarded in some way; character progression, level advancement and unlocking gear triggers the production of dopamine, which is often released in the brain’s striatum during gameplay. While games that require ‘real-time’ action like first-person-shooters or fast-paced action platformers exercise one’s control of sensory movement in their premotor and parietal cortex, slower-paced puzzlers develop one’s abilities to think logically and make decisions by using the prefrontal cortex. Games are criticised widely on how they may foster aggressive or violent tendencies in their players, but studies have shown that engaging in simulated violent in-game activities stimulate the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala, which calms one’s urges towards emotional conflict and action.
On top of improving one’s hand-eye coordination, a wealth of research has shown us that games can be put to educational and therapeutic uses. Nevermind for instance, is an immersive horror-adventure game in which players are hooked up to heart monitors, and face greater challenges depending on whether they can keep their heart rate in check. It’s a blend of surreal macabre imagery and fourth-wall breaking interactivity. One’s aptitude in spatial-visualisation has also been known to improve dramatically by simply manipulating two and three dimensional objects in unique environments. Games such as Portal encourage the player to think outside of the box, and use one’s basic understanding of physics and spatial awareness to overcome reality bending puzzles.
“It’s a blend of surreal macabre imagery and fourth-wall breaking interactivity.”
For children, exposure to video games stimulate learning through digital and tactile interactivity. Fast-paced 3D shooters and platforms are proven avenues to boost one’s perception, attention and cognition; transferrable skills which are borne out of these cognitive attributes can be developed to service the growth of young minds. Given the degree to which video games engage their users, they can be used innovatively as a form of physiotherapy. It has been observed that children who play video games following their chemotherapy have needed fewer pain killers than others.
While playing too many video games will likely result in negative side effects, it’s important to remember that a threshold of healthy gaming does exist. Although it pays to be aware of the possible risks of whatever we do for work or pleasure, taking heed of positive effects, perks and benefits is equally as enriching.