Video Games Will Rot Your Brain: Getting Even With Mom (12 Years Later)

by Shara E. on September 27, 2012

Image by BHSPitMonkey at Openclipart.org

When I was younger, video games were often a point of contention in my house. In the battle between homework and video games, my older brothers and I were in favor of the games, our mother significantly less so.  In her opinion, my algebra homework was more likely to be relevant later in life than Sonic the Hedgehog was, but at the time I didn’t much care for her arguments. One of the most frequent arguments that I heard was that video games were bad for my vision, my health, and my brain.  Years later, I still find myself in the battle of schoolwork versus video games. This time I’m arguing with myself, (instead of my Mom) but I’m still sore about losing all those times when I was younger.  But now I’m Older! Wiser! And, most importantly, I have access to the Internet!

So, Mom, here’s my updated list of reasons on why video games are a totally valid way to waste spend my time.  There might be one or two studies to suggest that video games aren’t always good for you, but we’ll just pretend you haven’t seen them…..

1. Gaming can improve visuospatial awareness and response times

A study at The University of British Columbia in 2010 found that Action Video Game Players had quicker reaction times, and were less affected by distractions than Non-Video Game Players.  Additionally a study out of The University of Rochester suggests that video game players can have faster reaction times, without a decrease in accuracy levels.  Action Video Gamers also tend to be better at finding rare targets, possibly due to being more patient when seeking. So it looks like all that time the Master Chief and I spent defending against the Flood in Halo back in high school wasn’t completely ill-spent.

2. Video games can improve your health and mobility (No, really)

Sure, I did mention that there may be one or two studies about how video games can contribute to poor health and obesity, but they can also improve overall health.  The past decade has seen an explosion in the genre of “Exergames”, games that are designed to track the player’s movement as the primary source of commands. Examples of this include many of the games made the Nintendo Wii, particularly the Wii Fit games, The Xbox Kinect system, and the ever-popular (and impossible for the uncoordinated) Dance Dance Revolution.  While these games are not as effective as regular exercise, studies have shown that these games do increase children’s overall levels of physical activity, and a randomized trial found a clear and positive (albeit small) impact on body composition in overweight and obese children.

Additionally, Exergames can be used to supplement rehabilitation, such as with stroke patients, The Wii Balance Board has been shown to help improve balance in both healthy subjects as well as patients with multiple sclerosis.  There are also numerous pilot studies that show potential for improved balance in elderly patients, thereby decreasing risk of a fall, but the data still seems to be fairly preliminary. As a point of interest, this particular form of rehabilitation has been dubbed “Wiihab”, a moniker which I find oddly hilarious.

Overall, I don’t think that I can argue that playing more video games could significantly improve my health. However, there are always those who are willing to think out of the box and do something crazy. Say like, hooking up your treadmill to World of Warcraft  and running across Azeroth (Protip: Don’t try it at home unless you’re this guy).

3. Video games present significant opportunities for effective health education and outreach.

Finally, and I promise Mom, I’ll let it go after this (for now). Video games present a huge opportunity for health education and outreach.  There are so many ways games, particularly mobile apps (my personal favorite being Zombies! Run!),  are being used for this purpose that I’m only going to pick one example: Re-Mission.  A randomized trial by HopeLab (the game creators) and Stanford earlier this year showed the game led to significantly improved behavior outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer. This included adherence to chemotherapy and other medications, stress, quality of life, and self -efficacy or the patients confidence in their ability to meet the demands of treatment and recovery.

Now Mom, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go play Skyrim and set myself up for one of those ill-advised all-nighters that Sheela was talking about…..