Over the past few decades, video games have grown from a niche activity to one of the most popular and lucrative forms of entertainment today. Whether utilizing traditional consoles or passing time on the commute on a smartphone, we love to play games. This close integration into our lives begs the question: how can they be used to do more than simply entertain us? 

Video games have the power to tell incredible stories, to give us a glimpse of ourselves through the lens of a narrative. They help us to hone analytical skills which are useful in various areas of our lives. Yet, they have the potential to take us deeper than that, to affect our emotional health and even our impact on society itself 

We’ll take a look at a few key areas in which games are making a difference in non-traditional arenas. How are they being utilized as valuable tools, and in what ways does the technology involved reflect positive aspects of our lives? Can video games play a key part in the cultural development of the 21st century? 

Therapeutic Benefits

For too long, video games were treated as frivolous distractions; to an extent they still are. However, it is important to understand that video games are a valid art form, capable of engaging us in deeper ways, provoking emotions and behavior as well as any book, movie, or song. As a result, video games are increasingly being utilized for therapeutic purposes. Why? Well, for a start, many people find traditional therapy to be uncomfortable and disruptive, while utilizing gaming in a way that already reflects a relaxing and enjoyable aspect of their lives, may help make therapy more accessible. 

Video games are useful tools, particularly in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) when treating anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. The key aim of CBT is learning to recognize unhelpful or distorted thought patterns, understanding how this affects behavior, and developing strategies to counter the negative effects of both. As an immersive, engaging medium, video games are a good tool to emulate scenarios that patients may find challenging, and illicit emotional and thought responses — supported with other therapeutic tools, this allows the patient to practice their CBT techniques. In effect, this makes video games a form of training for the patient in a safe environment. 

Video game use isn’t only limited to mental health therapy scenarios, either. Speech therapists often use a variety of complementary techniques in order to create strategies that are suitable for each patient’s individual needs, which include vieo games which help them develop speech sills they find challenging. Storyplace has developed games that encourage children to read out loud, while a 2009 study by the University of Pittsburg found that co-operative games, such as Wii Bowling, was effective in therapies for seniors experiencing aphasia. Combined with other activities — such as songs, physical games, as well as traditional exercises — patients have the opportunity to use this tool to remain more engaged with their therapy and have a better chance to strengthen their communication skills. 

Finance and Business

While the video game industry is a successful generator of revenue in and of itself, it can be used to make an impact in different areas of business other than straight retail. In many ways, this is something of a trojan horse situation: using a form of entertainment for reasons other than its primary intended use. But increasingly, businesses are finding ways to incorporate video games into their strategies. 

In recent years, blockchain has become a feature of our financial and technological industries. It’s a ledger system that is difficult to breach or modify without leaving traceable evidence and has been crucial for the security of cryptocurrency transactions. But we could also see it becoming a key aspect of online gaming. Developers can use blockchain to facilitate in-game purchases of bonus items and power-ups, ensuring that these assets — which occasionally have real-world value — can securely reach and remain with their new owners. 

Aside from the adoption of technology such as blockchain, gamification has become something of a buzzword in business circles. Marketing departments and app developers are looking to video games in order to replicate user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) aspects which can drive engagement with customers. Entrepreneurs recognize how intuitive video games are, how they encourage user retention, and how the use of rewards can inspire repeat use.    

Personal and Social Development

Like many forms of art, video games have an important role to play in society. We often look to literature and music as useful tools for enriching our minds, resources that can help us connect across cultural divides. It’s time to put more energy into understanding how gaming, too, is becoming an important instrument in shaping our interactions with the world — and people — that surround us.

On an individual level, gaming can help in our development from an early age. Properly supervised by adults, it can become clear where children are experiencing vision limitations — either directly when viewing small objects, or in their peripheries. These early cues can be vital to taking steps toward ensuring that children’s sight issues don’t prevent them from engaging in school work. Video games are also helpful in cognitive development, teaching problem-solving skills and providing opportunities to exercise creative thought. 

Plus, the narrative elements of video games — when handled correctly — can provide an insight into cultures that are different from our own. This can be a valuable tool in improving the development of our multicultural society. A recent study of middleschoolers measured the effectiveness of utilizing video games in empathy training, and it produced interesting results. In less than 6 hours of gameplay, researchers found that those who engaged more with the training aspect of gameplay displayed increased empathic accuracy-related brain function. Those who displayed changes in their neural connections following gameplay were found to have a greater empathic accuracy score. Engagement with the training module of the game demonstrated that video games can be used to support empathy training in adolescents. By encouraging a wider range of stories, confronting gamers with more diverse viewpoints through the medium of gaming, this may help develop useful emotional connections. Helping to encourage a more tolerant approach to our interactions; particularly in our connected world. 

Conclusion  

Video games are still often viewed purely as entertainment and even the source of negative behavior. However, it is becoming clear that they are in fact another rich, creative tool that can be used across a variety of areas in positive, affirming ways. By taking the time to explore their therapeutic, business, and social potential, we can better encourage the continued development of this important medium


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