Video games. Time-waster? Most parents might think so, but arguments are mounting to show playing video games improve hand-eye coordination, foster teamwork and develop creativity.
The video game industry is massive and getting bigger every day. A report from Gartner that pegged revenues for the global video game market — mobile, social, PC and console — at $93 Billion in 2013, up from $79 billion.
Candy Crush is one of many examples showing the cultural and financial impact of just one game.
Yet even as the debates around the value of video games persist, anecdotes, as well as hard data from research scientists and universities, are providing more evidence that gaming brings benefits. Pop-culture theorist Steven B. Johnson explored this in his 2005 book, Everything Bad is Good for You.
“Modern video games are challenging,” said Johnson in an interview with NPR. “Try to play them with your kids, [you’ll find] thinking, problem solving, pattern recognition. There’s a lot of mental labor going on. Every minute of every video game that’s ever been made you have to make decisions.”
Game designer Jane McGonigal thinks gameplay could actually help save the world.
“According to my research at the Institute for the Future, I believe that if we want to survive the next century on this planet, we [as a global population] need 21 billion hours of gameplay every week,” said McGonigal in a recent TED Talk.
“If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade.”
The collaborative skills that come from gameplay in Worlds of Warcraft can have potential real-world benefits by simply believing that you can participate in any activity with hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously is positive for the human race, according to McGonigal.
“Playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation,” she said. “And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.”
Putting more focus on the argument are studies shown that gameplay improves vision.
Brain scientist Daphne Bavalier discovered that gamers are actually able to resolve small detail in the context of clutter and that gamers are better at being able to resolve different levels of gray. That makes a difference between seeing the car in front of you and avoiding the accident, or getting into an accident.
Bavalier is leveraging her research findings to develop games for patients with low vision, and to have an impact on retraining their brain to see better.
A recent study by Michigan State University showed that playing video games increased creativity in a select group of 12-year-olds. The study looked statewide at 491 boys and girls who were 12 years old, using the Torrance test for Creativity, which is a basis for constructing a multidimensional measure of creativity.
Results from the study showed that children who played video games scored higher on every measure of creativity in the Torrance test. This is in contrast to seeing no creativity increase from general computer use, Internet use or cell phone use.
Taken in isolation, any one of these pundits, scholars or studies could be dismissed as pro-game advocates, but evidence they present increasingly supports the argument that playing video games has redeeming value.
Video games may not be a wholesome, nutritious meal for the mind, but it’s tougher for parents to call them junk food and a complete waste of time.