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Reimagining the Gamer: Unveiling the Positive Effects of Video Games

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A new review, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), challenges common perceptions and sheds light on the surprising benefits of video games, including those often deemed violent. This research review comes amidst ongoing debate among professionals regarding the impacts of video games on youth.

While concerns over the negative effects of gaming, such as addiction and aggression, are acknowledged, lead author Dr. Isabela Granic emphasizes the need for a “more balanced perspective” to understand the full picture. The review, appearing in APA’s prestigious journal American Psychologist, highlights several positive aspects of video game play:

Boosting Cognitive Skills: Contrary to the “intellectually lazy” stereotype, research suggests video games, particularly action games, can strengthen crucial cognitive skills. A 2013 study revealed that playing these games enhanced players’ ability to think in three dimensions, comparable to academic courses designed for the same purpose. This ability, crucial for success in fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), was not observed with other game genres like puzzles or role-playing games.

Enhancing Problem-Solving and Creativity: The review highlights the potential of video games, especially strategic games like RPGs, to foster problem-solving skills. A long-term study found a correlation between increased strategic video game play in adolescents and improved problem-solving skills and academic performance the following year. Interestingly, research also showed that playing any type of video game, including violent ones, boosted children’s creativity, an effect not observed with other forms of technology like computers or cell phones.

Improving Mood and Resilience: Simple, accessible games like “Angry Birds” can positively impact players’ emotional well-being, promoting relaxation and alleviating anxiety, according to the review. Researchers also suggest that video games may offer valuable lessons in resilience by providing opportunities to cope with repeated failures within the game, potentially translating to real-life situations.

Challenging the Socially Isolated Gamer Myth: The review debunks the misconception of gamers as isolated individuals. It emphasizes that over 70% of gamers play with friends, and millions participate in massive online communities like those found in “Farmville” and “World of Warcraft.” These online spaces function as virtual social platforms where players make quick decisions about trust, cooperation, and group leadership. Interestingly, a 2011 study found that players of cooperative video games, even violent ones, exhibited greater helpfulness towards others within the game compared to those playing competitively.

Transforming Education and Healthcare: The review highlights the growing trend of educators integrating video games into classrooms, with the potential to revolutionize how future generations learn. Additionally, healthcare professionals are exploring the use of video games to motivate patients in their health journeys. For instance, the video game “Re-Mission” allows child cancer patients to control a robot that battles cancer cells and manages treatment challenges. A 2008 international study revealed that children who played “Re-Mission” exhibited significantly higher treatment adherence and knowledge of their cancer compared to those who played a different game.

Dr. Granic concludes by advocating for further exploration of video games’ potential to transform mental healthcare, suggesting collaboration between psychologists, clinicians, and game designers to develop therapeutic approaches that integrate video game play with traditional therapy models.

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