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Critically Playful: Some benefits of gaming

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gaming Rather appropriate as Agent York is playing a game
In a recent episode, Katie Couric examined the issue of gaming addiction. While the issue of gaming addiction can be worrisome and important to actually address, Couric’s entry into this topic was flawed to say the least. All flaws of the presentation of the debate, including the lack of an opposing viewpoint, aside, Couric did do something right. She did invite people to bring up the benefits of games. So even though she didn’t actually further the debate on the show, she actually invited the debate to continue. So here’s a list of some of the benefits that deal with the topic of games along with an explanation. I could list them all, but for the sake of time and space, this is just a starting point.

And before I get too far, I will admit one thing. Some of this is based mostly on observation. I have more experience with games as a customer. It’s almost an entire life lived as a gamer as opposed to about five years working for sites like this, two years as a graduate level academic, and about half year since the game I helped develop came out. You might think I’m way off base with some of these benefits, and that’s fine. Let’s talk out and think through the issues.

1. Scientific discovery

While this isn’t necessarily a constant, it is true that games can lead to legitimate scientific discovery. An example of this is the game Fold.it, a protein folding puzzle game that works in some ways that are similar to software used by scientists. The only real difference is that Fold.it is a game. So why exactly is Fold.it notable? Well, it was used to find out the structure of the enzyme that is critical for reproduction of the AIDS virus, meaning if accurate, the game could actually lead to a cure for AIDS. That is remarkable.

2. Slowing mental deterioration or improving cognitive function

Yes. There are ways to use games that are beneficial. In a recent study, racing games, as well as other studies utilizing educational games like Brain Age, were used to study the mental decay of healthy middle aged adults. And one of the things that had been revealed is that games actually do slow mental deterioration. But there are other studies that look at video games from the perspective of the cognitive development within younger people. One example is illustrated by the work of Daphne Bavelier. She does bring up that an overindulgence of video games isn’t a good thing, which is true. Nothing is good when it’s done too much within the complex net of human needs and desires. But the right game in the right hands for the right amount of time at the right age can improve a lot of things from sight and hand-eye-coordination to learning, problem solving and multitasking.

3. Potential treatment of different neurological or medical disorders

Now there are a lot of different stories that help support this. Some games have been used to help some autistic children to relate and integrate into society, there are actually app games that are being developed for that express purpose. Other games have been used to help people improve chances of successful treatment, recovery or management of symptoms from injuries to illnesses like cancer to mental health issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. An example is Jane McGonigal’s game SuperBetter. It’s because a part of what allows for successful recovery or management is attitude. If someone thinks that things are hopeless, they’re not going to follow through with the steps for recovery or management as fully, if at all. Games engage us while also giving us an element of control in an uncontrollable situation.

4. Stronger familial and interpersonal relationships

This is pretty much self-explanatory. It shows up in a lot of Jane McGonigal’s work involving games as well as Stuart Brown’s studies on the benefits and dynamics of play among others. But there are also other adages that have been thrown around like, for example, “couples that play together, stay together.” Part of the reason is the fact that when you’re playing a game with others, there is a certain amount of trust that comes into the picture. You’re trusting others to play by the same rules, whether you’re playing competitively or cooperatively. You’re also directly allowing others to affect your own personal experience with a game, while they’re also affording you the same right and ability. There are people who don’t fully grasp this, but you can’t accurately judge a group by the minority. While there are a lot of sexist, ageist and racist attitudes and utterances that arise within the confines of competition, misunderstandings, or protection of the medium they love, there are more people who are respectful, show sportsmanship, and just want more intelligent conversations to happen, especially about the medium they love.

There’s more…

It’s true. There actually is more to address, but I’ve already given enough that if I went into detail with each bullet, that’s at least four stories that can come out of this list. And either way, there is more to come soon.

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