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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Benefits of Gaming: Science Doesn’t Lie

For decades people have used the media as a scapegoat when it comes to finding reasons for misbehavior in teenagers and children. While it is true that some games (such as Grand Theft Auto V) exist solely for entertainment purposes and are extremely violent in content and nature, these types of games are not meant for people under seventeen anyways and most of the blame lies with the parents for blatantly ignoring the video game rating system (games rated M for mature should never be purchased for anyone under seventeen years of age). Yet, due to ignorance, misinformation and misconceptions, the video games themselves are unnecessarily demonized. The truth however is that, while not all video games necessarily fall under this category, many video games—including some of the more violent ones—can be and are beneficial in many differing ways.

One of the most popular genres of video games is the First Person Shooter (FPS). FPS games, as the name implies, present the player with a camera angle from the perception of the character they are controlling, thus creating a more realistic scenario. The player has more limited visibility compared to that of third-person games where the camera floats behind the character the player is controlling and they can see more around them. This requires the player’s cognitive reflexes to be utilized more often. FPS games require a more heightened level of alertness due to the limited field of vision. Players must be able to focus on their surroundings so as not to become an easy target for enemies that may be lurking nearby. The player can only really see what is in front of them and therefore has to use their peripheral to pay attention to events happening in other areas of the game. This leads to a higher spatial resolution in visual processing, a more accurate attention allocation and enhanced mental rotation abilities. Due to games like this, gamers are able to utilize their neural resources more efficiently, which basically means that their brains don’t have to work as hard at problem solving as those of non-gamers.

When it comes to video games, there’s no shortage of puzzles. It’s actually very commonplace in today’s video games for developers to place some kind of brain teasing dilemma in the player’s path. Even action oriented games such as God of War contain sections that require the player to overcome some form of mind bending obstacle using a complex mixture of levels, movable blocks, falling platforms, rotating blades, balance beams and more. While sometimes the puzzles can be as simple as a sliding puzzle or memory matching, often times they are more complex and require high levels of logic and/or math. Some games were designed specifically for cognitive reasons; as Daphne Bavelier and Richard J. Davidson note in their article Games to do you good:
Because gaming is clearly here to stay, some scientists are asking how to channel people’s love of screen time towards positive effects on the brain and behaviour [sic] by designing video games specifically intended to train particular aspects of behavior and brain function. One game, for example, aims to treat depression by introducing cognitive behavioural [sic] therapy while users fight off negative thoughts in a fantasy world. (Daphne Bavelier and Richard J. Davidson 425).
Many games will present the player with difficult puzzles during intense situations (such as with a time limit or while being shot at). This forces the player to use quick puzzle solving skills under pressure and can be very beneficial for when faced with equally tasking obstacles in real life situations. There are also many games where the core gameplay is mainly focused around puzzle solving. A lot of the “point and click” Nancy Drew type adventure games usual have a plot revolving around a crime or murder mystery that challenges plays with both puzzles and problem solving skills.

Believe it or not, video games can bring out our emotional side. Many games these days are well written and could very well be mistaken for an interactive movie at times. A lot of naysayers will attempt to sully this concept by insisting that showing emotion towards, or caring for a bunch of zeroes and ones is folly. However, this is far from the case. Video game developers hire writers with movie-script level writing expertise to ensure their games have stories that are deep, intriguing, complex and engaging, with characters that are memorable, interesting, easily to get emotionally attached to and feel almost real, not like they’re just some robot in a fantasy world. On this same note, a lot of developers have included in their games, a feature that leaves much of the story in the player’s hands. In certain games players are faced with situations where they must make a choice, and most of the time this is not an easy choice to make. They are often choices that are morally difficult and have extreme consequences one way or the other. While it’s highly unlikely that the player will ever be faced with a situation where they have to choose whether or not to let their close friend sacrifice themselves to save a whole species, these simulated experiences can help prepare players for difficult decision making situations when faced with them in real life by giving them experience with difficult decision making.

While it’s true that video games are almost always based entirely in fantasy, a lot of them use historically accurate people, places, and events within the fantasy. There’s a dash of non-fiction mixed in with the fiction. Take Assassin’s Creed for example. The main plot of the franchise is that you’re a man named Desmond Miles who has been kidnapped by this company named Abstergo. They force you into this machine known as the Animus which is basically an extremely advanced virtual reality machine that lets you relive the memories of your ancestors as if you were actually there. All of Desmond’s ancestors are assassins, a group of skilled and stealthy hit men whose sole purpose is to defeat the Templars and protect the freedoms of the innocent civilians. During the franchise you travel to varying time periods such as renascence Italy or colonial America and you meet famous historic figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Blackbeard, King Richard III and Cesare Borgia. In one of the games you take part in the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Other games have also had their fair share of historically accurate events. Medal of Honor, much like the movie Saving Private Ryan opens with the boats approaching the beach during the invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Many of the Call of Duty games take place during World War II. This is not to say that gamers should gain all of their knowledge from video games, they are after all fiction. However, players can take away certain aspects of the history and education presented in these games and may even find that they learned something.

On November 19th, 2006 Nintendo released the Wii. It was an interesting concept for its time. Mainly because it was the first system to really push motion controls. A lot of people wanted nothing to do with it. The main purpose of video games is to help people unwind and no one was looking forward to coming home from a long day of work or school and flailing their arms about like an air traffic control man covered in spiders. Well, regardless of all the initial hate and skepticism, the Wii actually was very successful, and thus began a new era of exercise games and motion control peripherals. Nintendo started pushing out games like WiiFit and Sports Resort to help encourage kids to stand up and move around while playing video games in order to get exercise. Even games as simple as Zelda were better played while standing as the player had to swing their arm around to swing Link’s sword. Years down the road PlayStation introduced the PlayStation Move controller. It was essentially a much improved Wiimote with more accurate 1:1 tracking technology and 3D realistic movement. As another stab at Nintendo, PlayStation also released their own sports game and started making the Move compatible with other games such as High Velocity Bowling. Games like Just Dance soon followed and now PlayStation and Nintendo fans alike were getting off their rears and being active (at least, some of us were). Xbox soon followed suit and tried to one-up both competitors by releasing a motion control device without a controller. Thus, the Kinect was born. Nothing more than a simple multi-lens camera, the Kinect allowed players to control games with nothing more than movements and voice commands. Players would also be able to control their entire Xbox 360 and pretend they’re in Minority Report. Much like the other two, Kinect also received sports games, party games, and games and applications meant for exercise. “There is some evidence that people who regularly play active video games can improve different components of their fitness, particularly cardiovascular fitness.” (Mark, Rachel, and Ryan E. Rhodes 2). The stereotype that video games make kids fat and lazy can be safely squashed. There are plenty of ways to play video games and stay active, it’s all a matter of taking initiative.

There will never be a shortage of people quick to place the blame on inanimate objects every time something bad happens. The likes of FOX News and certain religious organizations will always find ways to take something good and attempt to make it look bad instead of focusing on the real issues. When a child acts out, or a student commits a school setting, TV, movies and video games are not the first things people should look at, rather they should be looking at factors such as mental health, upbringing, and environment. While it’s true that children are impressionable, at certain ages they should not have access to these things anyways. Twelve year old children should not be playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. There are ratings and guidelines for a reason. A parent would not take their pre-teen to an R rated movie and therefore should not buy them an M rated game. The problem is not the video games themselves, as we’ve seen here they are more beneficial than anything, the problem is ignorance and lack of caring. Parents either don’t know what the ratings mean or do but don’t care because video games make a good babysitter for them. Video games are technology, and it’s amazing to see how far we have come since the days of Pong and Pac-Man. Rather than fearing the unknown, we should be embracing the progression of society and the things we are capable of creating. Many people, some young, some old, make a living off creating, playing, drawing, selling, marketing, and even talking about the wide array of entertainment known as video games. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but the people with a lack of interest in it should at the very least be supportive of those whom enjoy it and not pass harsh judgment for reasons that are clearly based on falsified information.     

Works Cited
Bavelier, Daphne, and Richard J. Davidson. "Brain Training: Games To Do You Good." Nature 494.7438 (2013): 425-426. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 May 2014.  
Mark, Rachel, and Ryan E. Rhodes. "Active Video Games: A Good Way To Exercise?." Wellspring 20.4 (2009): 1-4. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 May 2014.    

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