Video games have many benefits, but in the past, our culture has not viewed gaming as exactly “good for you.” Thankfully, in the last decade, science has proven culture’s view wrong.
Outside of the implicit fun to be had when doing something called “playing” and “gaming”—two words defined by fun—gaming and the gaming community offer immense benefits for our social and emotional well-being, as well as our mental acuity.
Since it’s less known in this context, let’s dive into mental acuity first.
Improving our minds
In 2017, a study reviewing 116 scientific articles on the neural effects of video games came out showing linkages between playing video games and improved neural and cognitive function, specifically for attention capacity, cognitive control (goal-oriented behavior), visuospatial skills (identifying the differences and spatial relationships between objects), handling ample cognitive workload, and the ability to process, respond to, learn from, and anticipate rewards.
The findings from another study in February 2018—both studies were published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience—corroborated some of those findings, specifically noting “rapid improvement in visual selective attention related to action video gaming.” In other words, gaming provided a significant boost to players’ ability to focus. Action video games specifically have received more attention and in several studies have also proven their benefits to players’ visual short-term memory and low-level vision and processing speed.
The 2017 review did, however, note the lack of standardization in video gaming and gaming research, considering the breadth of study participants’ characteristics, the wide variety of genres within the gaming industry, and the many different goals of the studies conducted to date. While the findings all point to positive correlations between gaming and improved cognitive skills, the wide variation of all of those elements could certainly result in incongruities and discrepancies.
Enhancing our social lives
The benefits gaming provides our brains are matched and even exceeded by the benefits it provides for our hearts and souls. That may sound cheesy—but it’s true. The #1 reason people get into gaming and stick with it is because of the community it provides. The social aspects, which we wrote extensively about in this earlier post, of gaming is its biggest draw and one of the most successful aspects of gaming on the whole. Our 2020 “Win Well” Gamers Health Survey found that over 65% of gamers reported having positive social experiences while gaming and 67% reported feeling that gaming improved their ability to both communicate well and make friends.
Gaming allows people to connect with other gamers who have similar interests—in gaming and game choice at the least—all over the world and at all hours of the day. You don’t need to live in the same place, be in the same time zone, work in the same industry, or have similar friends. You simply hop online and join a worldwide community (and plenty specific to your favorite games and franchises) simply by choosing to do so. In fact, 70% of gamers play with a friend—sometimes one they had before, sometimes one they found through gaming.
We don’t even need to look to scientific studies for evidence of gaming’s social appeal. This year, since the Covid-19 pandemic changed the social landscape for everyone around the globe and people sought out new ways to connect with others, the gaming industry grew by 35%. In the U.S. alone, year-over-year sales growth between April and August was consistently above 25%, seeing nearly 75% growth in April in comparison to April 2019. Clearly, the need for community was there—and gaming delivered.
Boosting our mental health
Hand-in-hand with its benefits in our social lives, gaming has proven to be highly impactful on people’s mental health. In 2014, American Psychologist published a systematic review reporting on numerous positive outcomes in this arena, such as gamers being better able to move on from failure, reduce their stress levels and find calm, feel proud of themselves, have an increased sense of achievement, and feel like they belong. These results promote increased confidence, self-esteem, and overall well-being and happiness.
Long gone are the days when gaming was the cultural villain for youths—and thanks to some science and lots of proof from the gaming community itself, we can say why.
How has gaming been good for you?