I, like most other people my age, like to play video games. I can easily lose myself for hours on end in virtual worlds. I’m not alone either; games such as Minecraft are played by millions of people of all ages all around the world. In fact, from 2016 to 2020, it is estimated that gamers collectively spent a total of more than 68 million years playing Minecraft — and that’s just a single video game out of tens of thousands played each year. While that might sound like an unimaginable amount of time to spend playing a video game, it’s not at all surprising to me. Minecraft is especially fun to me because of all the creativity that I can use to build amazing structures and environments. I even get to interact with friends online, so I can spend time in these incredible places building palaces and surreal structures with my close friends. Sometimes I even get to make new friends this way. Despite the benefits I’ve found playing video games, many people still think that video games are bad for you for numerous reasons. So, the question is: what does the research reveal? Are video games good or bad for us?
Depression, Anxiety and other Psychological Issues
One of the major worries that people have concerning video games is that they can cause depression and anxiety. Numerous studies actually show this to be true. For example, an opinion piece from the Georgia State Signal points out that,
A comprehensive study from the Journal of Health Psychology shows that gaming disorders are linked to greater levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, social problems and many other psychological-social problems.
On the other hand, Webmd cites other sources which show that video games actually distract and help people deal with depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
Video games can act as distractions from pain and psychological trauma. Video games can also help
people who are dealing with mental disorders like anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There is research supporting both arguments, so it really comes down to the individual gamer and their particular circumstances.
Video Games and Violence
The argument for individual circumstances and personality is also the central factor behind the connection between video games and violence. I’m sure there are even many readers of this article who think that video games cause violence. Video games such as Grand Theft Auto are often accused of being too violent, affecting the player’s brain in ways that lead to violent behavior in real life. Studies have shown that this is not the case. Apa.org, points out that
Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests. Violent video games have not created the generation of problem youth so often feared.
With this in mind, many will wonder: what about all of the people who got in trouble and blamed video game violence as the source of their behavior? Well, it’s more about the personality of the player rather than the game. Harvard Health says that,
Two psychologists, Dr. Patrick Markey of Villanova University and Dr. Charlotte Markey of Rutgers University, have presented evidence that some children may become more aggressive as a result of watching and playing violent video games, but that most are not affected. After reviewing the research, they concluded that the combination of three personality traits might be most likely to make an individual act and think aggressively after playing a violent video game. The three traits they identified were high neuroticism (prone to anger and depression, highly emotional, and easily upset), disagreeableness (cold, indifferent to other people), and low levels of conscientiousness (prone to acting without thinking, failing to deliver on promises, breaking rules).
Just like with loneliness and depression, games themselves are never the sole cause of problems. For example, I have personally played many violent video games, and I’m certainly not a violent person. While it might be true that violent video games can make an already violent person more violent, it does not appear to be the case that video games specifically cause violence.
Bottom Line: Video Games are Good for You
If video games aren’t bad for you, then are they good for you? Well, in fact, yes! Video games can benefit players in a multitude of ways, including and not limited to improvement in:
- spatial visualization
- social skills
- physical fitness
- decision making
- problem solving skills
As a specific example, studies have shown that fast paced games can help you make quick decisions:
Fast-paced video games like Need For Speed or Call of Duty require you to stay on your toes and make decisions quickly. These energizing action games can also improve your ability to make game-time decisions in real life.
In terms of benefit to motor function, Psychologicalscience.org says that:
Playing action-based video games may boost players’ ability to coordinate incoming visual information with their motor control, a skill critical to many real-world behaviors including driving, new research shows. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
For improvements to general psychology, Webmd explains that:
When you fail in a game or in other situations, it can be frustrating. Video games help people learn how to cope with failure and keep trying. This is an important tool for children to learn and use as they get older.
For stress relief, Verywellmind.com says that:
Really, any game that you truly enjoy can be a stress reliever. Virtually any game that you find to be truly fun can be beneficial by providing an escape from daily stress, a break from patterns of rumination, or a way to build positive feelings.
For improvements to intelligence, Webmd says that:
Video games often make you think. When you play video games, almost every part of your brain is working to help you achieve higher-level thinking. Depending on the complexity of the game, you may have to think, strategize, and analyze quickly. Playing video games works with deeper parts of your brain that improve development and critical thinking skills.
And finally for sociability, Levelskip.com says that:
Most gamers (over 70%) play video games with one or more of their friends. Gamers who play video games with friends may play either cooperatively (where two or more players work together to achieve the goal of the game)
The Best Video Games for You to Play
If all games are good, what are the best games? Well, I might be biased, of course, but the famous Minecraft is an amazing game to play. It can teach you how to be creative with your buildings. There are all sorts of blocks and different colors to build with. From idtech.com, they explain:
Minecraft is educational because it enhances creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, and other life skills.
Other first person shooter games, such as Call of Duty, are also good games to play. Even though they can show blood, it makes children quickly move around so that they can get fast reflexes, as there are always enemy combatants working against you. Polygon.com says that
A growing body of research indicates that playing first-person action games, particularly shooters, improves brain function such as cognitive abilities and learning skills — changes that have real-life applications, reports Scientific American Mind.
If those games don’t interest you, there are thousands of others to choose from. CheckPoint offers numerous video gaming titles for you to try, and even splits them up by what aspect of health they are best for. Some of my personal favorites include:
- Destiny 2
- Hollow Knight
- Persona 5
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Video Games and Disabled Players
Something else to consider is how video games provide an amazing outlet for disabled players to be themselves and live a life liberated from the difficulties they face in the real world. People with disabilities are usually treated very badly and are sometimes even seen as outcasts. In video games, they don’t have to be outcasts anymore! Since no one can see them, they can be themselves without worrying about being judged, allowing them to have as much fun as other players while they are playing! Disabled players actually make up a large part of the gaming community. According to Polygon.com,
…20 percent of gamers have some form of disability — not including the eight percent of men who are colorblind or the 14 percent of adults who have a low reading age, and also not including the many temporary impairments, such as broken arms, sleeping babies or bumpy public transport, that most people face at one point or another…
It is vital that disabled players are afforded numerous outlets of accessibility in games so that they continue playing the games they love and improving their health while they’re at it!
Video games are able to help with real life functions of the human body and mind. Best of all, they invite all types of players, even those who are normally unable to participate in activities that are normally considered beneficial, like sports. Whether or not video games are good for you, we can all agree that they are fun, at the very least. So, pick up your favorite game, and go have some fun! In the meantime, I’ll be playing Minecraft.
See you online!