There are hundreds of distractions and diversions in the modern world, from watching television to Sudoku. A lot of time is devoted to seeking entertainment and ways to unwind from the stress of a job, family, and everyday life. Video games have become increasingly popular as well and researchers are trying to tackle the perceived negative stereotypes that have been commonly pinned on the industry. Too many people ask, “Are video games bad for you?” As with all things, mostly no, in moderation. More importantly, did you know this form of entertainment could actually bring big benefits to your mental fitness?

What is a video game?

Merriam-Webster defines a video game as “an electronic game in which players control images on a television or computer screen.” From this, we can see it is a very broad topic. Video games also have their own culture and segmented populations that focus on one genre over another, have their own likes and dislikes, as well as elements that make a game enjoyable. Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz noted in their study about videos games and their cognitive effects:

“The term video games refers to thousands of quite disparate types of experiences, anything from simple computerized card games to richly detailed and realistic fantasy worlds, from a purely solitary activity to an activity including hundreds of others, etc.”

So are video games bad for you? In short, video games have a lot of variation and intricacies, but there are some specific types that provide better influences on the mind than others, with a trend toward video games in general providing positive benefits.

What are the best video games to play?

Video games are so diverse that it really depends what you want to get out of the experience. Here is just a few of the positive things and research that video games have been known to provide and what that could mean to you.

1. Improves younger children’s abilities

Video games can help young children develop social cohesiveness and intelligence at school and with the community at large. Researchers found that high game usage was an excellent indicator of a child’s intellectual capabilities and overall scholastic performance.

Another study found that video games also foster better motor skills and hand eye coordination (such as those that can be found on the Nintendo Wii), although further research is required. Researchers do warn, however, that while more video game time can have positive results, it must be balanced with activities away from a screen as part of a child’s growth and development.

2. Provides therapy for those with chronic illnesses

A study done by the University of Utah found that certain video games can help with the management of chronic conditions as well as help empower and motivate users. While most of these were games specifically designed to do this, others were found to have similar effects. The Utah researchers state that video games can be used as:

[N]onpharmacological interventions [that] may enhance patients’ resilience toward various chronic disorders via neuronal mechanisms that activate positive emotions and the reward system.”

3. Reduces anxiety and pain from medical procedures

Virtual reality (VR) video games are starting to be used more to shield patients, both children and adults, from the pain of a medical procedure. Multiple studies presented at the American Pain Association’s annual scientific meeting showed that VR can effectively combat anxiety and acute pain. One study shows that the game gives more benefits than simply being a distraction, as it is believed to impact the way in which the brain responds to painful stimuli.

4. Helps relieve stress and depression

A common myth about violent video games is that they increase the user’s aggressive behavior. A study by Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson finds quite the opposite, where young adults, both male and female, who play violent video games became less depressed and hostile after another stressful activity. Video games are also a stress reliever, but Dr. Ferguson warns that more research needs to be done. However, he is optimistic that video games could be used as a type of therapy for young adults and teens.

Another study, conducted by the University College in London, showed a correlation that video games across genres could help reduce work-related stress, although the exact reason for this is unclear. The study also showed that first person shooters and action games have the greatest effect at reducing stress. Overall, the study showed that those who play games after work recover from the stress more quickly as well as are better at handling it the next day.

Are video games bad for you?

There are many positive effects that can come from playing video games, but there are a few risks as well. Most of these risks revolve around a user being addicted to video games and following similar patterns that are related to other addictions. This addictive behavior leads to most of the common stereotypes and fears developed about video games including the following behavior in players:

  • Being extremely antisocial
  • Obesity
  • Irritability and aggressive tendencies
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Confusion between reality and fantasy

While these have been known to happen, according to the research, these conditions are not only rare, but also disappear once the patient no longer plays video games. Moderate use has not been connected to these conditions and further research is still required to exactly define what constitutes excessive game playing.

As with most activities, video games are best in moderation and can have loads of benefits for children and adults alike. So, if you are looking for a new hobby, gaming could be the right choice for you.

What do you think: Are video games bad for you? How have video games helped you with work, school, or life?