ByKen McDonnell, writer at Creators.co
Now Loading's sentimental Irishman. I can't stop playing Overwatch, please send help.
Ken McDonnell

How many people have told us we're "damaging our eyes," "hurting our brains" or even "wasting our time" by playing video games? It kind of comes with the territory. We've all had to defend the art form we love in one way or another and justify the countless hours dedicated to our beloved hobby.

But we've always know the truth, it's just nice when science validates it for us.

Several studies have examined how video games improve mental cognition and contribute to our well-being in a variety of ways. But I'd like to focus on the work of cognitive neuroscience professor, Daphne Bavelier. Though her research is now a few years old, it's important that gamers keep them it in mind (*wink*).

The Positive Effects Video Games Have On Our Brains

How could this be bad?! LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE!
How could this be bad?! LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE!

The stereotypical image of a gamer stands in stark contrast to the eclectic mix of individuals that play games all over the world. For instance, though almost 90% of children play video games, the average age of a gamer is actually 33 years old. Stigma and stereotypical outlooks can still cloud the average person's view of the industry.

However, Bavelier's findings demonstrated that, in reasonable doses, video games have profoundly powerful and positive effects on many different aspects of our behavior. Remember the three hypothetical questions I posed at the beginning of the article? Let's shatter them.

Damaging Our Eyes

Source: http://sf.co.ua/id67996
Source: http://sf.co.ua/id67996

There's a common misconception — which I'm sure your parents used on you as a child — that playing too many video games damages your eyesight. However, extensive testing revealed that the average gamer has better eyesight than those who never play games. Take a look at this chart:

Sixth from the top down, the one with the line next to it, is where the average person can read to during an eyesight test. The average of a gamer is actually two lines below it. Though the stereotypical image sees a gamer as someone with glasses so thick they could shield bullets, it seems that, as a collective whole, we actually have pretty decent eyesight. Here are some other benefits that Bavelier's research uncovered:

  • If presented with a highly cluttered image, gamers are better at focusing in on smaller details.
  • They're better at resolving different levels of gray, which means they actually have improved vision in fog, for example.

With this knowledge, video games have been developed in order to combat common sight problems. Brains can actually be trained to see better by engaging with games like Call of Duty, so scientists and game developers have collaborated in the past in order to create enjoyable pieces of entertainment that are equally beneficial for the player.

Hurting Our Brains

76?! That's a bit harsh, Kawashima!
76?! That's a bit harsh, Kawashima!

One of the more serious side effects video games are said to have is how they damage our brains, or rather how they can lead to attention and behavioral difficulties. Gamers are easily distracted, they're violent, are prone to mood swings; these are all things we've heard. However, science has once again come along to thwart any attempt to damage our image.

In order to demonstrate her findings, Bavelier carried out a test.

The idea of this test is simple: focus on the white dot in the middle of the circle and don't move your eyes from that point. You'll then have to try and identify which of the smiley faces was originally blue when they turn yellow.

The test is attempting to identify your ability to track several objects in space at the same time. It requires speed, brain power and keen eyesight.

But what the test demonstrated is that, while three blue faces didn't present much of a problem for the average person, gamers were far better at the test, not only in terms of speed, but when the test included 5 or 6 blue faces gamers could correctly determine them all. Impressive.

Improved Cognition

Source: http://www.ibosocial.com/LUMOSE/pressrelease.aspx?prid=407256
Source: http://www.ibosocial.com/LUMOSE/pressrelease.aspx?prid=407256

Additional studies uncovered that gamers were more efficient than the average person in the following areas: attention control, sustaining attention, and regulating and resolving tension. Essentially, all of that fast paced action that we're used to has granted us the ability to focus really well on particular tasks. Apparently we also have the potential to resolve arguments or confrontations with others quite well. All that sneaking in Metal Gear Solid, huh?

Tests also revealed that gamers were able to swap between two things very quickly. The example of switching between driving and your phone was used. Researchers measured the time it took for people to go from driving to checking their phone and then back to driving (we assume in a safe environment) down to the millisecond. Everyone loses a degree of concentration and focus during this swap, however, gamers were found to be impressively swift and paid a very small cost during the exchange of focus. That doesn't mean you should test this on the freeway, by the way.

But what this does mean is that gamers have the right to brag about their multitasking abilities (regardless of their sex).

They also found that multimedia taskers -- those who, for example, can listen to music while working on their computer while talking to friends at the same time -- are actually abysmal at multitasking.

Pictured: Average gamer kicking ass
Pictured: Average gamer kicking ass

But in order to fully test whether these results were accurate, a team of people who weren't gamers were tasked with playing ten hours of action video games in short bursts. They played sessions of roughly 40 minutes at a time over a few weeks in order to see whether gaming impacted on their performance.

A series of brain puzzles, which required quick reactions and fast problem solving, were completed by these subjects both before the gaming sessions and after. The results are awesome!

They found that individuals were actually significantly better at the puzzles after the two weeks of gaming. But better yet, they discovered that the improvements were still there 5 months after the training was over!

Waste of time? More Like A Fine Wine!

Drink up, Geralt!
Drink up, Geralt!

You've probably heard of the beneficial effects red wine can have on your well being. In small doses wine has been associated with lifespan longevity, health benefits and great nights with friends (the last one was me). The positive impacts of video games on our brains has been given similar credence. Games have been proven to improve attention spans, eyesight and brain plasticity.

While these benefits can be sought from normal forms of video games, developers and researchers have come together on numerous occasions to try and harness these benefits for people in need; be it for improved vision or better reflexes.

So the next time someone tells you that you're wasting your time with this art form and it all amounts to nothing, just think of slaying your foes in The Witcher 3 or sneaking up on your enemies in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and how that feeling of joy is benefiting your brain in small, meaningful ways.

How do you feel about your love of gaming now?

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[Sources: Header image source; TED Talks; Nature; PsycNET]