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

by Shara E. on September 27, 2012

Image by BHSPitMonkey at

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…..

Sheela Doraiswamy September 27, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Nice article, aside from your blatant disregard for my recommendations 😛 I used to have a lot of similar arguments with my parents when me and my brothers were younger, so I can relate. I like the way you kept things very short and straightforward, and broke it up into different sections. It made for easy reading. Good job! You also get bonus points for citing a study done at the University of Rochester

Shara E. September 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thanks! The biggest problem was trying to narrow down the things i wanted to say. I have a giant folder of studies on the various aspects of gaming and visuospatial awareness, a lot of it is really impressive! Thanks for the encouragement 😀 (and i promise, i didn’t stay up *too* late playing games….)

Margaret Freaney September 27, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I will have to admit that you hit a soft spot for me. I am not as avid a player as many of my friends, but I never felt they were a total waste of time. The topic was lighthearted but full of information. I liked reading where all these studies came from and their methods. Thank You! A while ago I found something that also included puzzle games in a study for brain health Great topic, and something a lot of your readers will enjoy.


France Rowland September 27, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Playing video games also improves amblyopia.

Shara E. September 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

It does! This study found a nearly 5-fold improvement in the speed of recovery, with huge differences in various areas of visual acuity. I think they are hoping to do a larger scale study to confirm the findings.

Andre Blackman September 28, 2012 at 7:55 am

Ha! Fantastic list Shara! Should also check out the Games for Health conference that has been going on for a few years. Recently happened in Boston and a great, growing crowd of enthusiasts/developers. And now I’m super happy about what you all are doing (especially MPH students – my background is in public health) on the blog. I’ve been writing at Pulse + Signal about innovation in public health and looking forward to seeing the next generation of innovators for healthier communities! Keep up the great work team.

Shara E. September 28, 2012 at 10:05 am

Thank you so much for the encouragement! I had no idea this conference existed. Hopefully it will be held in the U.S. next year, i’d love to attend 😀

John Spevacek September 28, 2012 at 10:37 am

Great article, but you missed out on one last argument, the one my wife and I have gotten thrown in our faces, the end-all-be-all winner: Our son is now finishing his computer science degree and will be making video games as a career. Video games will be providing his income and therefore his health, food, shelter, transportation, retirement…As kids say nowadays, he pwned us.

But a warning to anyone contemplating this career path – it is a very competitive field. Anyone who has ever played a video game wants to make them, which is pretty much anyone born since ~ 1950. The competition for med school is nothing.

Quintus September 28, 2012 at 10:41 am

Very nice post. I’ve tried a few games in my time but just don’t have the sped or coordination for it, I always loose or die.

Quintus September 28, 2012 at 10:41 am

And I can’t type either!

Ginny Kendall September 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

A very timely post! This parent-child battle over video games has been raging since Pac-Man. To demonstrate the effects of brain training, researchers at Harvard, Stanford & Berkeley are working on the Human Cognition Project to demonstrate how certain types of video games improve cognitive and brain performance. Their program, Lumosity, is available, for a fee, to everyone online. ( The games are quite challenging, concentrating on memory, speed, accuracy, spatial recognition, etc. As you play the online games, your progress is tracked in a graph and you can also see how you compare with others in your age group. At the same time, the researchers are collecting more data for their project.

Jen September 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Good points, all- by the time my sister finally convinced our parents to be OK with any kind of video gaming I was a little too old to make a concerted effort, which means that as an adult my efforts to play even really simple video games are really embarassing. :)

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