What’s your image of a gamer? If you are picturing someone with a sallow complexion who never ventures out of doors and lives on junk food and fizzy drinks, it is time to get into the 21st century.
These days, gaming is not just the preserve of spotty teenagers. Almost all of us have a smartphone, and most of us play the occasional game Some choose a round of virtual golf, others like to play casino games, while for still more, it’s brain teasers and puzzles that appeal.
Of course, doing anything to excess can be damaging to your health, but to label gaming as unhealthy would be as ridiculous as saying the same about reading books or going to the cinema. And far from being bad for us, there’s evidence that a little gaming can be just what the doctor ordered.
These days, we have more stressors clamouring for our attention than ever before. That ubiquitous smartphone means work can follow us home, and indeed home can follow us to the office. Stress and related mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are brought about and exacerbated by the daily cycle and the lack of let-up. Switching your brain off completely and immersing yourself in your game of choice for half an hour can be immensely therapeutic. Just try it.
A research project led by Shawn Green from the University of Rochester back in 2010 gave a group of volunteers with no gaming experience the task of playing games for 50 hours. Half were allocated a slow-paced strategy game, while the other half played an action game. Those playing the second game displayed an ability to make faster and more accurate decisions, as the game helped the participants to “become better at taking sensory data in, and translating it into correct decisions.”
Since the dawn of gaming, parents have worried that kids who play games are in some way “rotting their brains” and damaging their attention spans. Princeton University researcher Vikranth Bejjanki decided to test that hypothesis out, and he reached some surprising conclusions. He ran some tests using both experienced and inexperienced gamers, and found that playing games actually improves focus and attention.
Improving physical fitness
As games have evolved, so have the platforms on which they are played and the levels of interaction. Active systems like the Wii are so effective at keeping us fit that you even see them in hospitals and nursing homes. In fact, researchers have found that playing a motion-control game has the same health benefits as walking on a treadmill at 3.5mph. And let’s face it, it’s far more fun.
Keeping you younger
We all know how important it is to maintain an exercise routine as we get older. But exercising the brain is just as crucial, and gaming can be the perfect way to do so. A study carried out at the University of Iowa involved more than 600 over 50s and found that 10 hours of gaming per week over a two month period resulted in slowing or even reversing cognitive decline.