Yes, Video Games are Good...for Your Mind and Body

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Believe it not, scientific research confirms video games are good for you (video games are sports, after all).

In fact, while several studies support the findings, one from the University of Oxford has countered fears that gaming could be harmful to mental health; concluding that "Time spent playing video games doesn't affect people’s well-being.

I know, it’s hard to wrap your head around such a statement after years of listening to “don’t sit too close to the TV, you’ll ruin your eyes,” or “stop wasting your time playing video games—go outside!”

But yes, real research from credible sources has shown that a lot of what makes video games fun, is also good for your health—both for the brain and the body.

Why video games are good for you

1. They exercise the brain

Let's face it; playing video games is often thought of as an activity that promotes a sedentary lifestyle, not one that exercises the brain.

But there have been studies that suggest that video games can be beneficial for improving cognitive functions, such as memory, problem-solving, and multitasking.

Thus, video games can help you stay mentally sharp, increase your creativity, and even reduce stress.

Think of them as brain-gym workouts that are fun, engaging, and offer various cognitive benefits.

Research titled "Association of Video Gaming With Cognitive Performance Among Children" involving over 2,200 children discovered that "...Compared with NVGs, VGs were found to exhibit better cognitive performance involving response inhibition and working memory as well as altered BOLD signal in key regions of the cortex responsible for visual, attention, and memory processing." (NVGs here stands for "non-video gamers" and "VG" for "video gamers.")

And according to Dr. Michael Manos, “Like stimulants, video gaming can increase gray matter in the brain...Gray matter provides interconnectivity and allows parts of your brain to communicate with other parts of your brain and advance your self-perception.”

Another main study, conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus in Berlin, Germany, found that playing video increases gray matter and helps refine learned and hardwired skills.

In layman’s terms, playing video games directly affects and impacts regions of the brain responsible for memory, spatial orientation, information organizations, and fine motor skills.

The study also reinforces the claim that, like exercise, playing games for as little as 30 minutes a day, can improve your life. (Read here for other video game trivia and gaming facts.)
 
Victorious Gaming Student

Diving into this particular study, to determine how video games affect the brain, scientists selected two groups of adults. The first group would play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, for two months. The second group did not play any video games at all. Scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the size of the brain of the groups before the start of the study, then again after the two-month period.

The results confirmed previous findings—that there were differences in the brain structure of video gamers, and that by playing video games, there was a “direct link between video gaming and a volumetric brain increase.”

Simone Kühn, the senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, led the study. She claims, “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.”

By the same token, scientists believe those with mental disabilities (or whose brains had been reduced in size by an accident or medical condition) or others affected by brain disease like Alzheimer’s, could benefit from playing video games as well.

With their subjects, scientists saw increases in three major areas of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, the right hippocampus, and the cerebellum.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for decision making, social behavior, personality, and cognitive planning. It makes sense, then, that this area of the brain is affected by playing Super Mario 64, a game which requires gamers to plan ahead and contemplate how to use and interact with objects in a virtual world.

The right hippocampus plays an important role in how we process and consolidate information, including short-term and long-term memory. Scientists saw growth here too, caused by players using this part of the brain to navigate Mario’s world.

Finally, the cerebellum was also affected—it’s the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills or muscular activity. Again, no surprise that it grew as well, since this part of the brain helps you quickly assess and respond to things happening around you—in this case, using a gamepad to move Mario at a moment’s notice, or to press the “jump” button at just the right time.

As you might imagine, the results were more pronounced in those gamers who truly invested themselves in the gaming, and had a strong desire to beat the game or figure out the difficulties of a certain level.

And, it’s not just Super Mario 64—Scientists suggest fast-paced action games and simulations (like sports games and first-person shooters) help improve hand-eye coordination, and could also be used to help disabled patients as a type of digital therapy. (Read more for a list of video game genres.)
 
Minecraft Girl Computer

Before moving on, think about this—if an action game like Super Mario 64 signals positive benefits for players, games built specifically to train, test, and challenge the brain must be beneficial too, right?

Well, since their introduction in the early 2000’s, logic games or brain games have had a love/hate relationship with the scientific community, mainly because of the claims video game publishers have made about these titles.

For instance, such claims tout that, for just a few minutes a day, you can train your brain using video games—and in some cases, that these games will make you smarter.

While that second point of the statement has been debated, what’s not being questioned is that brain games aren’t a complete waste of time. Because really, anything that engages your brain and makes you think is good practice. There are a ton of brain games online and more available for your gaming platform of choice.

Other brain game benefits include helping players get better with repeated tasks, and they also provide mental stimulation—something that doctors highly recommend, especially for older adults and the elderly.

2. They help with real world problem-solving

Video games can also be helpful when it comes to problem-solving in the real world. With their engaging and interactive stories, challenging puzzles, and immersive virtual worlds, games can provide players with the skills and confidence needed to tackle the toughest of problems.

By teaching players how to think strategically and creatively, games help develop the necessary skills to solve real-world problems. Whether it’s a difficult math challenge or a complex business decision, games can provide the perfect training ground.

In lighter terms, a game that challenges you to navigate strange jungles or winding mazes may help enhance your ability to navigate everyday surroundings!

“When you’re watching a video game, you’ve got to pay attention to every little thing that comes into your visual field and react to it...Being able to visually contrast and tell the difference between one thing and another is also a skill that can be developed by playing video games,” said Dr. Manos in the same article referenced above.

What's more, an older study by Iowa State University supports the problem-solving benefit of video games. In a survey involving a group of surgeons, university researchers discovered that those who played video games were quicker with advanced procedures and made 37% fewer mistakes than people who didn’t. 

This overview of commercial video games in 2020 also suggests that different video games enhance different cognitive functions. Similarly, a study published in 2013 showed that children who played strategy-based games displayed an improvement in problem-solving and tended to get better grades in school.

And yes, there is more!

Games can also teach problem-solving and strategy, making them valuable tools for kids and teens.

For instance, Minecraft offers a number of educational benefits, like teaching kids how to use objects to explore environments and solve problems, while games like Civilization and SimCity teach problem-solving on a more “global” level.

In SimCity, players lay out and plan a city, and must think ahead to consider how something like the tax rate may help or hurt the growth of their city, or how street planning and certain zones may impact growth.

The game also teaches resource management and planning on a basic level, and it does a nice job of explaining these concepts to younger gamers. Learning and developing these types of strategies can be directly applicable to life as well.

Last, an indirect benefit is the fact that several video games are based on real historical events, and can encourage kids to find out more about the world that came before them through research and reading.

3. They exercise the body

How else are video games good for you? While they can “make your brain bigger,” they can also help you shrink the waistline, for starters.

Exergames like Ring Fit Adventure (which Gamespot says "...is undoubtedly the best fitness game on the market today") have experienced a huge resurgence in the last ten years thanks to companies like Nintendo and Konami. Not to mention those not specifically focused on fitness (load up a session of Dance Dance Revolution and stomp out a dance routine to see what I mean). 

Exergames and fitness video games have revolutionized exercising in surprisingly positive ways.

Really, it’s the convenience that makes such games so appealing, as they offer an easy way to “get to the gym” without physically going to the gym. And for kids and parents with busy schedules, such games provide a quick way to get in 30 minutes of activity and exercise.

These types of games get players up and moving, helping with circulation, joint flexibility, coordination, and balance (as we will dive into next). And thanks to technology, many of these same games track your progress - through your number of repetitions - and even help you set goals to keep you motivated—all without the commitment of a gym membership.
 
Kids Active Video Games

4. They offer other physical benefits

Beyond exercise, video games can also help in the areas of hand-eye coordination, balance, and coordination, or even improved visual acuity, 

For example, video games can improve your eyesight. A study by the University of Rochester proved video games improve vision by making gamers more responsive to different shades of color. The same study, funded by the National Eye Institute and the Office of Naval Research, found that players of action games - like first-person shooters - had better perception of color contrast.

Additionally, video games have been proven to improve fine-motor skills in preschoolers, and a study published in the medical journal PLOS One found that surgeons who played video games - more specifically, the Nintendo Wii - became better surgeons! By playing games, they improved their hand-eye coordination and precise muscle movement—both essential skills for their practice.

5. They help you destress

To round things out, video games can also be great for destressing.

That is, when we’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, playing a video game can be a great way to take our minds off our worries and focus on something more enjoyable. They provide a great distraction from the stressors of everyday life and help us relax and feel better. From fighting evil forces in an epic battle to exploring new virtual worlds, video games can be a rewarding experience!

Great, so play as much as possible?

So yes, video games are actually good for you on many levels. Of course, we must add, like anything, to maintain such benefits, games should be consumed in moderation. Staying up all night, every single night, to fight off zombies? Maybe not the best thing for your health.

Want one more beneficial aspect of video games?

Learning the skills needed to create your own game can give kids and teens a leg up when it comes to securing dream internships and lucrative jobs down the road.

With a program like iD Tech, students enter their sessions as pure video game players, and end their week with the knowledge and skills required to become video game creators.

Learn more about iD Tech summer video game summer camps and online learning for kids and teens.

A photo of Ryan

Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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