Another Big Question asked, another Big Answer given. Number twelve in this ongoing series, this month’s Big Gaming Question #012 from The Well-Red Mage seeks to cut past the oft-quoted misconceptions about gamers and their unhealthy video game ways to the more benevolent side of games:
How Can Video Games be Healthy?
In particular, our mage friend wants to specifically know how games are healthy for each of us individually.
Now, it’s not difficult to find article vilifying video games. It seems like everywhere you look, you see articles talking about the dangers of gaming, from promoting a sedentary lifestyle, to stunting social growth, to straight-up video game addiction. Some sites might try to offer a more balanced view (ahem) when discussing addiction or the effect of violence in video games, but the focus is always on the problems, even if it only to try and disprove the negative claims.
What I like about how this question is phrased is that it leaves little room for discussion. It doesn’t ask if video games are healthy, but rather makes the assumption that there is something healthy housed within the video game experience, and it is just a matter of looking for it. After all, to paraphrase a wise wizard, good can be found in anything, if one remembers to look for it.
This question seems to be in two parts: one is the obvious, and one is the implied, so let’s unpack both and see where they lead us.
Why Are Video Games Objectively Healthy to Use?
For examples of this, we would technically not have to look much farther than some of the topics covered here. After all, loyal readers will know that games can encourage us to think about social issues, including delicate topics that can otherwise cause discomfort, and they may also get us thinking about the nature of reality, or even the nature of God.
But Athena, you type.While I am a well-educated and thoughtful gamer thanks in part to the posts here at AmbiGaming (why, thank you!), are there any ways in which games can be more passively healthy?
That’s an interesting word, “passively.” I’m always fascinated when people want to derive benefits from something without putting in too much effort. The short answer to this question is, of course, “no.” It’s a rare instance in which not being aware of what you are doing has an real benefit.
So what benefits are we actively trying to see?
Research suggests that video games can be used healthfully for many different reasons, with one systematic review indicating health benefits for physical or psychological therapy, although benefits for pain management* and other areas were also cited as being positively impacted by games, but perhaps to a less profound degree.
Other studies seem to concur, suggesting that video games also benefit attention skills, which are necessary for a variety of “real world” situations, including pain management, or “focusing on something other than the pain,” in the case of a behavioral solution to pain (compared to a pharmacological one). Additionally, due to the fine motor needs of manipulating a controller or mouse, video games can also provide benefits for occupational therapy goals (this means that because controllers require you to use your hands and fingers in a very precise way, they are good for practicing this type of hand movement accuracy).
Because video games are very motivating, the person is more likely to continue playing a game and, therefore, practicing these movements. Like all good things, the research study cited some potential issues that may arise from playing video games, but I think most therapies, whether they are pharmacological or not, have potential side effects, so being mindful of this is always the solution.*
Of course, the big one (for me) is education. The educational needs of children are changing; long past are the days of just having to know facts or a trade, and today’s children need to learn more about interconnecting with other people, as well as problem solving skills for a fast-changing and media-saturated world. While there is not yet much research, some theoretical papers suggest that this is a potential benefit of playing games or using games in an educational setting, as games require (often) creative problem solving and encourage players to seek out and sort through massive amounts of information to use to solve a problem.
Yes, the future is indeed bright for gaming, according to the research.
How Have You Used Games for Your Own Personal Health?
The second part of the mage’s question comes at an interesting time. I’ve mentioned before that I have depression, and as such I tend to veer away from activities that are fun (or not fun, or are generally “activities”). But like so many of you have also shared, I have often used video games as a means of coping with difficult situations in my life. Whether it was playing Metal Gear Solid 2 for eight hours over one New Years, alone, in order to forget that the person I always spent New Year’s had passed away just one week prior, or playing an RPG when I was feeling small, helpless, and alone and finding strength in the character I had created.
When writing this, I thought back to the responses to this question that I had already read, and everyone seemed to wax poetic on the games they loved and the many ways games had helped them with one thing or another, and for a moment I felt jealous. It seemed that my answer by comparison was too short, or didn’t capture the profundity of my relationship with games.
But I don’t think that matters. I use video games for my own personal health the way I use any art: to have it make me think something or in a way I haven’t before, or to feel something or in a way I haven’t/wasn’t expecting. The health benefit? Exercising my cognitive and emotional intelligence. The fact that I can become immersed in a story, like any good book or movie, and forget about my problems for awhile is an added benefit.
Games, like any art or story medium, are versatile creatures that can be used in so many different ways to address so many different needs, and I hope in the near future we begin to see more systematic and thorough research done on the cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits of video games.
What about you? How have you used games healthfully? Did you answer the Big Blogging Question #12? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
**Do you like what you’ve read? Become a revered **Aegis of AmbiGaming** and show your support for small creators and for video games as a serious, viable, and relevant medium! And find out what’s behind the **, as well!
American Journal of Preventative Medicine, on a systematic review of healthful uses of video games: https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797%2812%2900172-9/fulltext
National Institute of Health, on pain management and other benefits of video games: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC558687/
D.W. Shaffer, K.R. Squire, et al., on the theoretical use of video games in education: https://website.education.wisc.edu/kdsquire/tenure-files/23-pdk-VideoGamesAndFutureOfLearning.pdf