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In a recent podcast, Joe Rogan stirred controversy when he stated that video games have no value. “I have a real problem with them… You do them, and they’re real exciting, but you don’t get anywhere. Three years later you could just be that same kid, just playing video games … and you’re gonna waste your time,” said Rogan.
However, this vision goes against a wealth of evidence that shows such pursuits are far from a time-killer.
In fact, video games have been shown to provide a wide swath of benefits and skills that can actually help people in their careers — improving not only one’s mind but, in some special cases, their wallets as well.
Studies Prove Video Games Are an Outlet for Stress, Pain
With the advent of smartphones and remote work, it has become increasingly important for workers to find outlets that divert their focus from an ever-present workplace. Finding ways to de-stress is key in avoiding burnout and actually leads to greater productivity when the workday begins. Two studies have shown that video games are extremely effective in doing this, even in the direst of circumstances.
While some may find Tetris to be an old-school game ideal for diversion on a subway commute, researchers found that the game is a welcome distraction from actual trauma. Conducted in Oxford with 71 patients in an emergency department for a traffic accident, their study tested patients’ memories of the incident.
Of those patients, 37 were given Tetris for 20 minutes while the other 34 were instead asked to catalog their regular activity, such as being on the phone or reading. The study found that the Tetris patients had 62% fewer flashbacks to the traffic accident than the non-players. Distractions tend to have a negative association, but in this instance, it seems that the game’s falling blocks provided mental benefits.
This idea of beneficial distraction has been reinforced by other studies in different areas of medical research. One study presented at the American Pain Society’s Conference in 2010 found that video games reduce anxiety and pain in patients who have recently had medical procedures or suffer from chronic illnesses. Like the Tetris study, it seems that the games provide a much-needed diversion for the patients.
“The focus is drawn to the game not the pain or the medical procedure,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, Ph.D. It seems that the more immersive the experience, the more likely patients will readily get lost in another world, one where their procedures and pain are far away.
Video Games Aid Memory
While those studies concentrated on the benefits of diversion, other studies have found that video games can actually bolster people’s memory.
Cambridge University conducted a study with patients exhibiting early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of a month, 21 patients had to play a brain-training app called Game Show for two hours a week. During that same time, 21 other patients with the same memory issues were not given the game. They found that patients who played the app improved their episodic memory by about 40% compared to the non-players.
Video Games Increase Grey Matter
Remarkably, it has been observed that video games can make physical improvements to the brain itself.
In 2014, researchers in Germany observed the brains of 24 gamers who played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over the course of two months. In comparison to non-players, the MRI results found that the gamers “had increased grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum.”
These regions are “responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills.” It seems that the accomplishments of Mario aren’t limited to just collecting gold coins and saving a princess. In fact, he’s helping the player too.
Video Games Improve Team-Building, Strategy
Team-building and strategy skills can also be developed through video games, thanks to the emergence of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) such as World of Warcraft. In these games, players are forced to coordinate with others to develop strategies to conquer the unique challenges in each game.
Significantly, these communication skills must be honed remotely, since teams are made up of players across countries and even continents. The stakes in these games are such that even the most independent of gamers have to hone their communication and team-building skills in order to succeed.
Gaming Opens the Door to New Career Paths
Finally, video games have also created an alternative career path for talented gamers in the realm of e-sports. In 2019, e-sports earned more than $1 billion in global revenue, an increase of 27% from 2018. For players who join leagues, the average salary is $3,000–$5,000 per month. These figures are poised to grow with e-sports increasing in popularity and sponsorships.
Also, as opposed to traditional sporting activities, e-sports can be played remotely — an enticing benefit in a world currently in the midst of a pandemic.
Though it may not look like it from the outside observer, video games are improving gamers’ mental health, memory, team-building skills, brains, and their wallets. The notion that video games have a negative effect on gamers’ lives and careers is more outdated than an Atari. Game on.
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