15 Surprising Benefits of Playing Video Games

istock
istock

Complex, challenging, and ambitious, video games have come a long way since the simple arcade titles of the 1970s—and evidence is mounting that the benefits of play go well beyond entertainment and improved hand-eye coordination. In honor of Video Games Day (today), here are 15 ways games are programming better people. 

1. THEY'RE PRODUCING BETTER SURGEONS.

While you may think you want your surgeon reading up on the latest medical research instead of playing games, you might want to reconsider: a study of laparoscopic (small incision) specialists found that those who played for more than three hours per week made 32 percent fewer errors during practice procedures compared to their non-gaming counterparts.  

2. THEY MAY HELP PEOPLE OVERCOME DYSLEXIA.

Some research points to attention difficulties as being a key component of dyslexia. One study has shown dyslexics improved their reading comprehension following sessions of games heavy on action. The reason, researchers believe, is that the games have constantly changing environments that require intense focus.

3. THEY COULD IMPROVE YOUR VISION.

“Don’t sit too close to the television” used to be a common parental refrain without a lot of science to back it up. Instead, scientists are discovering games in moderation may actually improve—not strain—your vision. In one study, 10 weeks of play was associated with a greater ability to discern between different shades of grey. Another had participants try to play games using only their “lazy” eye, with the “good” one obscured. Those players showed significant, sometimes normalized improvement in the affected eye. 

4. YOU MIGHT GET A CAREER BOOST.

Because certain genres of games reward and encourage leadership traits—providing for “communities,” securing their safety, etc.—researchers have noted that players can display a correlating motivation in their real-world career goals. Improvising in a game can also translate into being faster on your feet when an office crisis crops up. 

5. PLAYERS CAN BECOME FASCINATED WITH HISTORY.

Many games use actual historical events to drive their stories. Those characters and places can then spark a child’s interest in discovering more about the culture they’re immersed in, according to researchers. Parents who have obtained books, maps, and other resources connected to games have reported their children are more engaged with learning, which can lead to a lifetime appreciation for history. 

6. THEY MAKE KIDS PHYSICAL.

While some games promote a whole-body level of interaction, even those requiring a simple handheld controller can lead to physical activity. Sports games that involve basketball, tennis, or even skateboarding can lead to children practicing those same skills outdoors. 

7. THEY MAY SLOW THE AGING PROCESS.

So-called “brain games” involving problem-solving, memory, and puzzle components have been shown to have a positive benefit on older players. In one study, just 10 hours of play led to increased cognitive functioning in participants 50 and older—improvement that lasted for several years. 

8. THEY HELP EASE PAIN.

It’s common to try to distract ourselves from pain by paying attention to something else or focusing on other body mechanisms, but that’s not the only reason why games are a good post-injury prescription. Playing can actually produce an analgesic (pain-killing) response in our higher cortical systems. The more immersive, the better—which is why pending virtual reality systems may one day be as prevalent in hospitals as hand sanitizer.  

9. YOU'LL MAKE NEW SOCIAL CONNECTIONS.

Gamers are sometimes stigmatized as being too insulated, but the opposite is actually true. The rise of multi-player experiences online has given way to a new form of socializing in which players work together to solve problems. But studies have shown games can also be the catalyst for friends to gather in person: roughly 70 percent of all players play with friends at least some of the time. 

10. THEY MAY IMPROVE BALANCE IN MS SUFFERERS.

Since it is a disorder affecting multiple nerves, multiple sclerosis patients often have problems with their balance—and no medications have been conclusively proven to help. However, one study showed that MS patients who played games requiring physical interaction while standing on a balance board displayed improvement afterward. 

11. YOU'LL MAKE FASTER DECISIONS.

We all know someone who seems to have a faster CPU than the rest of us, able to retrieve information or react in a split second. For some, that ability might be strengthened through gaming. Because new information is constantly being displayed during play, players are forced to adapt quickly. In one study, players who were immersed in fast-paced games were 25 percent faster in reacting to questions about an image they had just seen compared to non-players. 

12. THEY MAY CURB CRAVINGS.

Players preoccupied with indulging in overeating, smoking, or drinking might be best served by reaching for a controller instead. A university study revealed a 24 percent reduction in desire for their vice of choice after playing a puzzle game. 

13. THEY'LL REDUCE STRESS.

While some games are thought to induce stress—especially when you see your character struck down for the umpteenth time—the opposite can be true. A major study that tracked players over six months and measured heart rate found that certain titles reduced the adrenaline response by over 50 percent. 

14. GAMERS MIGHT BE LESS LIKELY TO BULLY.

Though the stance is controversial, some researchers have asserted that action games may reduce a bully’s motivation to—well, bully. One study that had players assume the role of both the hero and villain showed that those controlling the bad guy’s behaviors displayed a greater sense of remorse over their actions. 

15. THEY CAN HELP ADDRESS AUTISM.

Gamers using systems that incorporate the entire body to control onscreen movement have been shown to be more engaged in celebrating victories with their peers, which runs counter to the lack of communication people with autism sometimes present. A study also showed that sharing space with multiple players can also lead to increased social interaction for those with the disorder.

Peter Dinklage Can't Say Benevolent in This Game of Thrones Blooper Reel

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

There are many adjectives one might use to describe HBO's Game of Thrones. While hilarious isn't usually one of them (though the series certainly has its moments of levity), that's the best way to describe the Game of Thrones blooper reel below, in which some of your favorite throne-seekers momentarily break character—and Peter Dinklage has a problem pronouncing the word benevolent. (Warning: profanity ahead!)

Ralph Fiennes Almost Turned Down Voldemort Role in Harry Potter Movies

WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HARRY POTTER PUBLISHING RIGHTS (C) J.K.R.
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HARRY POTTER PUBLISHING RIGHTS (C) J.K.R.

Ralph Fiennes has earned Oscar nominations for Schindler's List and The English Patient, but his best-known role might be his performance as He Who Must Not Be Named, otherwise known as Voldemort, in the Harry Potter film series. While the movies introduced Fiennes and his work to a new generation of moviegoers, he recently revealed that he almost said no to the project altogether.

We first saw Fiennes as Voldemort in the fourth film in the series, 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and he continued to play the Dark Lord of the Harry Potter universe until the series' conclusion in 2011.

Though fans would argue that it was the role Fiennes was born to play, saying "yes" was not an immediate decision for the celebrated actor.

"The truth is I was actually ignorant about the films and the books," the actor recently admitted while appearing on The Jonathan Ross Show when asked about his relationship to the Potterverse prior to taking on the role. "I was approached by the production. Mike Newell was directing the film that they wanted me to be in ... the first time Voldemort was going to appear physically."

"Out of ignorance I just sort of thought, this isn’t for me," Fiennes continued. "Quite stupidly I resisted, I was hesitant. I think the clincher was that my sister Martha—who has three children who were then probably about 12, 10, and 8—said, 'What do you mean? You’ve got to do it!' So then I rewound my thinking."

Potterheads everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Fiennes's sister—and her kids.

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