The (Scientifically Proven) Magic of Gaming

The often overlooked positive side of gaming

“Wow, I am so addicted to this game.”

“Huh?” I looked up.

My moms been playing this game on her phone recently, and she can’t get enough of it. It’s a word puzzle game, and she says it helps her exercise her brain.

That’s a strange thing for me to hear coming from my mom, who has scolded me in the past many times for playing videogames rather than… well, any other activity seemed to be a better use of time in my parent’s minds.

And whatever she said back then, it never compared to the disappointment on my father’s face when he asked how long I had been “on the game” for that day.

I’ll never forget the countless times he told me off for preferring videogaming to playing outside like a normal kid.

But even then I refused to dismiss how much I enjoyed gaming.

A classic GameCube console, similar to the one I had as a kid

I still remember when my mom bought us a game cube for $150 from Costco (Nowadays you can get one used for upwards of $10). It came with Mario-kart double-dash. Needless to say, it was a blast.

The day we plugged that sucker in was a damn good one. Even my dad tried his luck at playing. Fun for the whole family, we all thought.

But it didn’t take long for my parents to get noticeably uncomfortable about it. This apparently never-ending fun couldn’t possibly be good for their children. They quickly instated a short time limit.

“It will melt your brain! It’s bad for your eyes!” They practically danced around me and my brother, trying to scare us. “Studies show it’s as addictive as cocaine!” I remember my mom saying.

In spite of these warnings, and in spite of catching flack for occasionally going over my time limit, I looked forward to my time playing every day.

It took months of painfully slow-moving negotiations to extend me and my brother’s game-time limits from 15 minutes to 30. Wow, 30 minutes. How generous right?

Ding ding! The sound effect that heralded a successful round of my mom’s word game pulled me from my memories back to reality.

“Of course, zap is a three letter word that starts with z!” She exclaimed gleefully, holding her phone closely in front of her face.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a good use of her time to be playing that word game so often.

Oh, how the turn tables, I mumbled under my breath, quoting the character Michael Scott from “The Office.”

And that’s when I started to wonder. Did my parents hostility towards videogaming interfere with my development as a child?

Furthermore, did my parents chase away part of the playful little boy inside of me by punishing me for my for loving gaming? I decided to do some research.

It was time for me to find an answer to the age-old question: Videogames — are they good or bad for kids?

Here’s what I found.

Peter Gray Ph.D.

I would like to introduce you to a man named Peter Gray. He’s a research professor at Boston College, an accomplished author, and a contributor to Psychology Today.

As I began my own research, my attention was immediately drawn to an article Dr. Gray had authored back in March. It was titled “Benefits of Play Revealed in Research on Video Gaming.” It can be found here:

In the article Dr. Gray cites studies as recent as 2018, one of which was still in press at the time of the article’s publication. This excited me.

I wanted to hear something optimistic about the psychological connotations that surrounded gaming. I wanted to hear something new. Something refreshing.

I was excited at the possibility of research that might agree with the confused feelings of that little boy who had enjoyed playing Mario Kart ever so much.

Gray writes towards the beginning of his piece,

“If you believe the scare articles in the media, you might believe that the rise of video gaming is a cause of declines in psychological health, but, as I have suggested elsewhere (e.g. here), the opposite may be true. Video gaming may in fact be an ameliorating factor, helping to counteract the harmful effects of the loss of other forms of play” (Gray 2018)

Here he makes a suggestion which takes into account the necessity of children’s play time in general. Maybe gaming, just like other forms of play, has benefits that transcend the obvious.

Take for example, a more old fashioned form of play, like knocking a hoop along a street with a stick. Or playing marbles. There is no immediately evident benefits that occur as a result of these activities, other than the obvious health benefits of physical exercise.

Besides that, the kid’s just hitting a hoop with a stick, or knocking marbles together — not really getting anything important done. The kid’s just wasting his time, as if he were playing videogames. Right?

Wrong.

Research has shown that healthy children’s play serves a critical role in social and cognitive development. Nobody whose done their research would care to question that.

Children’s play is most certainly not a waste of time.

So the question isn’t whether playing videogames is good for kids. It’s whether playing videogames is as good for kids as traditional play is already known to be.

The research cited by Dr. Gray clearly indicates that videogaming is a healthy and beneficial form of play, with as much potential for health as actual play.

Parents shouldn’t fear so much as videogames have come to be our children’s preferred form of play, in the wake of what Gray describes as “…the decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore freely that has occurred over the past several decades” (2018). In other words, in a dangerous and ever-changing world it’s no surprise videogames have been popularized.

What the hell else is there for kids to do that’s fun and meets the strict safety guidelines of modern parents?

If you’re like my dad, maybe you think yard work is a fun alternative. Ha.

Back to the article. In “Benefits of Play Revealed in Research on Video Gaming,” Gray defines the cognitive, creative, motivational, emotional and social benefits of videogaming that can be safely claimed by science.

To show the cognitive benefit of videogaming, Gray cites a study done this year by Benoit Bediou and colleagues which was published in the Psychological Bulletin. The goal of the study was to nail down any correlation between cognitive well-being and videogame usage, especially with action games.

Bediou and his team managed to uncover several cognitive benefits which were clearly outlined in just under 90 significantly recent studies.

Gray sums up their conclusions,

“Their analysis of the correlational studies revealed, overall, strong positive relationships between amount of time gaming and high scores on tests of perception, top-down attention, spatial cognition, multitasking, and cognitive flexibility (ability to switch strategies quickly when old ones strategies don’t work)” (2018)

So you’re telling me… videogames don't melt your brain? And there’s 90 studies out there that prove it? Absolutely. And not only do they not melt your brain, they actually can make it healthier!

And that’s just the cognitive benefits, not to mention the benefits revealed in the other four categories covered in Gray’s article.

So why have many parents come to hate videogames so intensely?

Gray concludes by suggesting that the stigma surrounding videogames may have developed as a result of parents’ fear.

He says,

“ If you are wondering why so many people continue to disparage computer gaming, despite the weight of contrary research evidence, you might read the new book, Moral Combat, by Patrick Markey and Christopher Ferguson. The book describes how moral panics tend to emerge whenever young people develop passionate interests that older people don’t understand” (2018)

The parents’ fears may be an essential part of the puzzle here, but I don’t believe that they are solely to blame.

In fact, I don’t blame the parents at all. I blame the people who falsely confirmed my parent’s fears.

Various journals and blogs of all kinds seem to have utilized those fears as a platform for gaining viewership in the past.

I believe the frequent demonization of videogames in the media combined with the confirming protective instincts of parents everywhere has created a positive feedback loop which caused videogames to look worse and worse over the years.

It’s a creative cheap shot to post articles that confirm parents’ worst fears without any legitimate evidence. It’s a shameful, manipulative thing to do, in my opinion, and its happened way too often.

But I’m happy to say that science has finally proven to be on the side of the gamers.

In conclusion, I’m not here to rag on my parents.

They did their best to protect me and my brother in a dangerous and quickly changing world, and the limitations they set in my gaming life inevitably opened up time for other activities like basketball and school.

It’s important to remember, videogames aren’t good or bad. They’re just things. Its what you do with them that makes them good or bad, and studies show that some well-balanced videogame use can be a good thing for kids.

I would encourage you to read Dr. Gray’s article for yourself so you can draw your own conclusions. It’s short and very well written — you can find the link above.

References

Gray, P., (2018) “Benefits of Play Revealed in Research on Video Gaming.” Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com.

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I like to write. Sometimes I want to, sometimes I need to, but I always like to. My goal is to reach 100 followers.

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Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson

I like to write. Sometimes I want to, sometimes I need to, but I always like to. My goal is to reach 100 followers.

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