“Get off those damned video games and go play outside!”
Ah, the cry of many a pre-technology age parent.
Nowadays, of course, everyone and their sister are gamers – from the Call of Duty warriors to the Stardew Valley farmers to those lucky enough to have gotten their hands on a PS5. And who needs outside when you have the gorgeous landscapes of Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, and Cyberpunk 2047 available?
But even though our eyes are very much the shape they should be, there is still speculation on whether playing video games can harm our bodies and minds. Luckily for us, gaming is now so popular that there is now a ton of reputable science on the subject.
So, is playing video games good for you?
We’ve studied the research and believe we have a clear picture.
So, put down the controllers for a sec and read on to discover how video games affect your brain function.
The positive effects of video gaming
Firstly, the good news: gaming has shown to have a mostly positive impact on your health! All those people who tut-tutted as you racked up kills in your first-person shooter owe you a damn apology!
Bodybuilding for the brain
It turns out that your gaming console of choice is basically a gym when training your brain. Game enough, and your brain regions could be the equivalent of a dual-wielding tank character! Here’s how:
First of all, think of the many, many choices games offer us to dwell on – from choosing the right loadout to customizing the perfect skin. This deliberation can help to strengthen your brain’s prefrontal cortex – the area in charge of making decisions. Furthermore, a Berlin-based study in which subjects played“Super Mario 64” over two months for 30 minutes a day, found that interacting with virtual objects and virtual planning also helped strengthen the brain’s prefrontal cortex’s strategizing and real-world planning skills.
And speaking of Super Mario, don’t even get us started on all the things you have to keep track of as an avid player! The princess is in what castle now? How do I get down this tunnel again?? And I have to jump on what to defeat Bowser again?
But, unlike higher grade calculus, playing video games that make you keep track of details is actually useful in real life. The study mentioned above also found that our right-side hippocampus, aka your brain’s hard drive, is getting a serious workout when navigating Mario’s world: possibly resulting in long- and short-term memory improvement.
Now, if only I can find that extra controller…
Brain training games
Hold up, so if jamming Donkey Kong all day can inadvertently make you smarter, surely playing video games designed to train your brain will make you a genius, right?
Well, not exactly. At least not to the extent that the manufacturers of these games will have you believe. Basically, any game with task repetition and mental stimulation will have some beneficial effect – especially for older adults hoping to keep their minds strong. But video game training won’t suddenly make you ace your final – that will have to be done through good old fashioned studying!
Calling player 2
Video games are not just beneficial when it comes to brain functionality. Gone are the days where people thought of gamers as lonely nerds confined to their basements. In fact, with social distancing now a requirement as opposed to merely the desperate wish of those taking public transport, gaming communities are as social as ever.
Thanks to platforms like Discord, and streaming sites like Twitch, you can connect to a fellow gamer no matter where you are based in the world. For a child, adults, college students – any age really – this kind of social interaction is invaluable. Not only is it a way to make friends without leaving the house, you’ll also be widening and diversifying your social circle – exposing your mind to new cultures, views, and possibilities.
Up, up, down, down…
The age-old question of “Does pushing ‘jump’ a thousand times actually make Mario move faster?” sadly remains a mystery. But one thing is for sure – that Berlin study suggests that pushing those buttons is doing wonders for your cerebellum, AKA your brain’s controller. People who game regularly might enjoy a boost in their muscle memory, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and even improved spatial navigation.
Dopamine release is dope
There’s nothing quite like the rush of scoring a FIFA goal, building the perfect Minecraft structure, or simply obliterating your enemy in your first-person shooter of choice.
Yep, there’s no denying that regularly playing video games can do your happiness levels a world of good. Science says that’s because of the mood-boosting effect the perseverance and reward cycle has on your brain.
An imaging study conducted roughly a decade ago had several people play an action video game in which they moved a tank through battlefields, destroying enemy battlefields as they went. All participants showed a significant increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain in charge of increasing happiness and decreasing stress.
However, speaking of destroying things…
Do violent video games create violent people?
Ooof, if you were a gamer in the early 2000s, you’re very familiar with this question. Even today, parents around the globe are worrying that Grand Theft Auto might be turning their precious angels into brutal killing, looting, and speeding machines.
Luckily, it’s not quite that simple. Although video games are often among the first to receive blame in the wake of any violent incidents involving young people, the science just doesn’t seem to support it. In the words of James Gee, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin:
“You get a group of teenage boys who shoot up a school of course they’ve played video games. Everyone does. It’s like blaming food because we have obese people.”
Psychology professors Patrick Markey and Christopher Ferguson go even further. They found that only 20% of school shooters played violent video games, compared to close to 70% of their nonviolent peers.
That being said, there has been some evidence to suggest that gruesome and explicit content can lead to a lack of empathy and an increase in aggressive behavior. Opponents of violent video games argue that exposure to graphic violence and immoral gameplay can result in desensitization, making players more likely to commit these acts in real life. Dr. Jordan Grafman of the National Institute of Health’s research indicates that:
“Continued exposure to violent videos will make an adolescent less sensitive to violence, more accepting of violence, and more likely to commit aggressive acts.”
Other researchers, including Christopher J. Ferguson of Stetson University, have found this reasoning too simplistic, as it skims past other contributing factors such as mental health issues, family environment, and socioeconomic status. These scenarios are probably more likely to trigger violence than video games.
In short: The effects of video games on brains are mostly overblown. Video games don’t “make” you violent, but a diet of ONLY violent media can contribute to someone suffering from mental health problems.
The negative effects of video gaming
Unfortunately, life as a gamer isn’t all barrel rolls and beautifully rendered landscapes. Like with everything in life, gaming can have a few negative effects on your brain and body as well. The good news is that, with just a few tips and tricks, these can be greatly minimized, leaving you free to game to your heart’s content.
Bodybuilding… for your actual body
“I went outside once… The graphics were amazing, but the gameplay was terrible.”
We’ve all heard the joke. And sure, we laughed, but maybe… just maybe, there was just a touch of nervousness in our chuckles.
The unsurprising truth is that the more time you spend gaming, the less time you are likely spending outdoors or on exercising your body. Remember your body? Yep, it’s the thing you use to hold controllers with!
It’s not only our minds that need a workout – regular cardiovascular training will help keep your heart healthy and strong, while weight-based exercises will keep you not only looking good but also feeling great. And you’ll be in good company – Kratos from God of War and Zarya from Overwatch are clearly fans of the gym.
At Outbreak Nutrition, not only do we formulate gaming supplements that offer a range of health benefits – not just an energy hit like other alternatives – we also specialize in training supplements designed to boost your workout, health and gains.
You can work out at home (see our guide here), but bonus points if you can do your workouts outside as spending too much time indoors can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety and depression.
- So, how to get more exercise without cutting down on too many raiding hours? It’s simple – find a way to gamify exercise! Set up a reward system for every physical activity you do (think of it as earning one-ups), or, better yet, imagine you are Link on his way to rescue Zelda!
- As for going outside, why not take a walk while waiting for your files to download? You might be amazed at how real-life graphics have improved!
- If you really can’t stomach the thought of an actual gym or road, consider investing in an exercise-based console or video game, like the Nintendo Switch Ring. You’ll be having so much fun; you won’t even notice the sweat.
- If you use gaming supplements, use advanced products like F.P.S that give you the focus and energy you need, but not at the expense of your health.
No strain, no pain
E-sports have increasingly gained recognition as “real” sports, with video games broadcast worldwide, and professional players earning millions in sponsorship deals. However, along with this elevated status comes some of the drawbacks that pro athletes face – namely sports injuries!
The most common gaming “injury” is likely lower back pain. Think about your posture on your favorite gaming couch or chair: is your back straight and your shoulders relaxed? Thought not. Diving into hours-long sessions might be great for your XP levels, but not so much for your pain levels.
And then, of course, there’s the less glamorous injury of finger strain or carpal tunnel syndrome – injuries more associated with office workers than sportspeople! Sadly, our feverish button smashing can wreak havoc on our wrists and finger joints – especially if you’re doing it daily without pause.
- Take a break! Yep, it’s really that simple. Taking some time away from the screen every hour or so to stretch, breathe, and maybe take a walk around the block can go a long way towards reducing your pain and strain.
- Get a comfortable and supportive gaming chair.
- Incorporate hand and finger exercises into your pre-gaming routine. Just like athletes stretch and warm-up before the big game, you can and should do the same.
- If you’re suffering from joint pain, use a remedy like A.D.S (Arthro Daily Support) for short-term relief and long-term protection.
Disconnect to reconnect
Although the previously mentioned social benefits of gaming remain valid, it can also go the other way. As all of us have likely experienced at one point or another, the instant gratification of playing video games can be rather addictive – sometimes at the expense of real-life relationships. Sure, Lara Croft is a babe, but her virtual charms are no match for an IRL hug.
While many people are turning to their PCs and consoles to provide a much-needed dose of escapism from our often stressful and scary reality, they shouldn’t be your only method of coping. Video game addiction can become a real problem. Gaming is meant to be fun and relaxing – not all-consuming and detrimental to your social life.
- Remember those old school LAN parties? They might be due for a comeback! Get your gaming gang together and jam like it’s the 90s again. Of course, this is only if you’re in an area that allows gatherings – this is not an endorsement for an illegal party!
- If you’re isolating, think about swapping the long, story-driven single-player games for multiplayer – and don’t forget to turn on the Discord!
- As for the addictive nature of games – sometimes disconnecting, even only for an afternoon or two, can get you back in touch with the real world. We promise your video games will be right there waiting for you, even if you’re AFK. And when you return, refreshed and recharged, you’ll likely crush your opponents like never before.
Final thoughts on how video games affect the brain and body
Human beings did not have a history of playing video games, so the early concerns over generations spending hours in virtual combat are understandable. But science progresses, and the body of evidence is continuing to reveal that video gaming can be healthy for the brain, and even things like reflexes and working memory.
Like all the greatest things life has to offer, playing video games is best enjoyed in moderation. Video game addiction, like any addiction, should be taken seriously. If played smartly and not at the expense of other areas of life, such as spending time with family and exercising, studies suggest that video gaming can be genuinely beneficial.