7 Surprising Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Playing Video Games

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Remember the times whenever you get sick or in pain and then your parents will blame video games? Well, it’s time to disclose that. Believe it or not, playing video games has some benefits. Sure, excessive playtime will lead you to nowhere but if you play within an adequate amount of time, you’ll reap the benefits of gaming.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a competitive gamer or a casual player – video games do make your health better. The only things that are toxic about gaming are excessive microtransactions and biased gaming journalists but other than those, playing video games is practically more than just a hobby these days.

Right, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Awareness and Hand-Eye Coordination

Profile view of a gamer playing.

You will find this health benefit in any article correlating video games and health, and that’s just because it’s true. People who tend to play games have better hand-eye coordination versus those that don’t play. In other words, gamers have a tendency to faster reflexes when it comes to physical activities such as playing sports or cooking. That means both their hands and eyes work in sync to catch a ball properly or to multitask.

Doctors even play video games first before doing surgeries to warm up themselves and to surely do the operation properly. They even have specially designed medical video games in order to simulate their operations, using motion sticks like the Wiimote.

Aspiring drivers and pros even find video games helpful. We’re talking about realistic driving simulator games like Gran Turismo and Project Cars 2. These games offer insights on everything about cars and their mechanisms as well as overall driving experience. There’s a reason why GT has its league of drivers who have learned the basics of racing in their games. Players who have no idea how to drive a car can gain some essentials in the game, especially on a manual transmission. Basics like when to brake and shift down while turning or shifting up as soon as the rev is right are all applied in these simulator games.

As for the competitive gamers especially shooters, online games can improve awareness in both sights and sounds. Hearing enemies from the distance, knowing where the enemy is going based on their footsteps and see what’s in front of you with a keen eye accounts into awareness. You can see why pro gamers have adapted fast reflexes – mostly due to being aware of the in-game surroundings.

It Improves Reading Comprehension Too

People suffering from dyslexia or anyone having a hard time understanding instructions can learn a thing or two in video games. You already know how many instructions there are in video games. “Capture the objective,” “Destroy the nuke,” “Protect the hostage,” “Find the whereabouts of the villagers.” “Press X to Jump,” “Hold RT to charge up your shot,” “Press F to Pay Respects.”

These directions may be simple but they can help out people in terms of reading comprehension and understanding instructions. Now you won’t ever have to make a mistake of underlining the answer in a multiple-choice when the orders say “Encircle the letter of the correct answer.”

2. Gaming Reduces Depression

Do you know what one of the biggest issues is now for this generation? Depression. When this mental illness isn’t treated properly, it can lead to very critical and even fatal results. But as for games? They help suppress depression – even put it to a full stop.

For gamers, they understand why. But if you’re looking to seek the answer to why this can even cure depression, it’s because players, one way or another, can relate to the game. It may be about finding yourself, exploring the world, uncover meanings and answers based on real-life problems, and even compare stories that are even happening to reality.

A video game can serve as a temporary gateway from the harsh reality a depressed person lives in. Through the stories and victories made within the game, the player gets to feel good and rewarded for his accomplishments in there. Sure, it may not compare to real-life achievements but the sense of victory and discovery can forget the depression a player suffers from.

However, we know that you don’t get to win all the time. In online games, you’ll frequently lose. In hard games, you always die. In heavy story-driven games, your favorite character might die at some point. But this sense of loss can turn into a good thing; if you accept the nature of the defeat, you’ll continue to improve in the next run, having the determination to become a better version of yourself compared to when you first played the game.

But besides victories and defeats, there’s also that feeling of exploration and discover the beauty of gaming. Two great examples are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and an indie game called Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice. The former puts you in an awe-inspiring world full of activities to do, people to meet and enemies to fight. That may sound like another open-world RPG but Breath of the Wild is truly a special case. There’s a reason why it won Game of the Year back in 2017 at The Game Awards. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice, on the other hand, is a unique psychological 3rd person game where you must battle your own demons and break away from your own psychosis. It’s a great experience that you must play yourself; not only is it breathtaking, but the way the game deals with losing a loved one while struggling through your own phases of depression as the game progresses is something surreal yet relatable at the same time.

Just like any movie or TV series you can relate to, video games are no different. If anything, it’s even more engaging than the former two and even comes as close to a personal level as you play.

On a personal note, I have a friend who suffered from depression after his sister died a few years ago. As an outlet, he played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim since his sister loved the previous installment, Oblivion. Soon later, he kept telling me stories of how amazing his journeys were in the game. I can tell it from his eyes since I haven’t seen him smile so purely since his sibling passed away. A few years later, he still plays the game, but at the same time, he got his life back together: got a stable job that he enjoys, got married to a loving wife and currently raising a kid that he shows off his Skyrim progress to. It’s amazing how video games can change your life even at your darkest moments. Maybe we could thank Todd Howard at this point?

3. Video Games Suppress Stress and Anxiety

You can always take off your shoes, unbutton your uniform and slouch on the couch while watching Netflix… or just boot up your gaming platform and engage in hours of wonderful game time. Video games are stress relievers that serve as a great form of amusement. As previously mentioned, the feeling of wins and finding discoveries in games come as rewarding and fun. That’s why some people tend to sneak away from homework or home tasks even for a short while just to have a kick of stress relief.

And if a game makes you smile, then it does reduce stress. After all, according to Psychology Today,

“For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, or excited. The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well. This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

The endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever — 100-percent organic and without the potential negative side effects of synthetic concoctions.

Finally, the serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant/mood lifter. Many of today’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants also influence the levels of serotonin in your brain, but with a smile, you again don’t have to worry about negative side effects — and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor.”

As long as you’re having fun with a game, you release dopamine – a neurotransmitter that negates stress, anxiety and depression altogether.

And yes, video games can relieve you from anxiety and overthinking. I, personally, have some tendencies of anxiety, most especially existential anxiety. The best way for me to combat this is to play single player games that let me focus on a story that’s intriguing and characters that I am fond of interacting with. No seriously, it helps me a lot more than any other kind of amusement.

4. Making Friends Through the Power of Gaming

A group of young men having fun while playing a video game.

Let me be clear to you that not every gamer is a stinky basement dweller in his parents’ house. While gamers can be very introverted in real life, lack social skills or just really prefer being isolated, video games tend to be a different matter. People find other people to interact within social multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, Halo, CSGO, Minecraft, League of Legends and VR Chat. It’s truly amazing how you can find new friends from other regions just by playing video games.

Today, we live in a generation where best friends are formed from a simple guild to finding true love and getting married because of a multiplayer game.

Non-gamers may see people who play video games as outcasts, but these “outcasts” have a healthy social life through games.

It Also Builds Teamwork

I just want to make this a part of number 4. Not only do you make friends but playing games that include heavy cooperation like MOBAs and class-based shooters, they teach you another lesson that is essential to real life: teamwork. And if you have teamwork, you will have a healthy relationship with your teammates. Stuff, like being selfless and helping each other out, can be found in the game. Careful planning, knowing your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and overall execution lead to great teamwork. That’s why esports exist: because competitive video games apply the same cooperation as any team-based sports game like basketball, football, and baseball.

5. Improving Balance for People With Multiple Sclerosis and Autism

Maintain posture is something a person suffering from MS finds hard. Those with autism tend to get easily distracted and move constantly. Fortunately, gaming platforms that include physical activities such as the Nintendo Wii does just that. Sure, the Wii may be in the past generation, but there’s no denying that it helps a lot of people with MS and autism.

Games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit help the player engage in a multitude of activities that reward them for doing such. Postures get to improve, dexterity gets better and emotions turn better after having fun with the games. I tip my hat off to Nintendo for still adding new physical-based games like Just Dance every year for the patients

6. Quick Decision-Making and Taking the Initiative

Another mentally healthy benefit you can get straight out of gaming is having the ability to make fast decisions and being initiative.

There are a lot of people having a hard time making decisions to the point that they think they’re too dumb to choose. But with the help of video games, that does not become a problem anymore. Thanks to competitive games, players can apply the same fast choices onto real-life scenarios like, let’s say, choosing the best PC gaming monitor based on the reviews or which roads to take as you travel to your destination by car.

Remember that one quote from Bioshock antagonist Andrew Ryan? “A man chooses. A slave obeys.” Sometimes it’s very frustrating when someone gives you a choice to do this or that and then you reply with “Your call, dude,” and when your friend does that call and you do not like it, you tend to have great feelings of regret.

Sure, you can make good and bad decisions but what matters was that it was your own choice and nobody else’s.

Some games can help your quick decision-making like the Telltale series including The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us and RPGs such as Mass Effect and Bioshock: Infinite.

When work comes to play, especially in a worst-case scenario, a person who has played enough video games can decide what to do in a given situation. That’s because some gamers think what would happen if decisions were like time-limited choices from a Telltale game. It may sound ridiculous but just like what Todd Howard said, “It just works.”

As for taking the initiative, it’s pretty much like how you play a game. You will need to commit to your actions in order to make something happen. It’s a trait anyone likes, especially when it comes to a boss at work (not the boss in a game). Taking the initiative is something superiors love from employees. It means you do something without being told what to do. You may be obedient and follow orders but you make sure you don’t stand there idling just because you had no instructions.

In other words, due to your quick decisions and initiative, you are qualified to become a leader. Whether it’s a group or class, the reason why there are good leaders is that they take the initiative to make something happen. The choices depend on them and let them carry on to their subordinates. But of course, if you’re a leader, you will need to take action too and not just command people like a tyrant on a high throne. In short, if video games have taught you a valuable lesson in life, it’s that you call your own shots.

And just like previously mentioned in #4, taking the initiative for your team yields into good cooperation. If it still doesn’t grow on you, it will later on as long as you keep at it. The next thing you know, you’re applying the same thing in real life whether you are at school or work.

7. Video Games Provide Exercise for Both Mind and Body

Man playing a VR game.

In general, video games are all about interaction and engagement. Whether you’re sitting with a controller or following the motions on the screen, there is no doubt that video games provide both mental and physical benefits.

Games like Just Dance, Wii Fit and even Rock Band provide exercise for both upper and lower body. The more you follow the instructions, the better your score. In other words, you get rewarded for being active. The Nintendo Wii is a best-seller to elders (even if the console is mainly targeted on a young audience) due to its plethora of easy yet highly-fulfilling bodily games. Wii Fit, for example, includes different exercises for both beginners and highly-experienced. Plus, it even tracks how much calories you lost and how many circuits you did correctly.

While the motion capture feature of the PlayStation Move and the Xbox Kinect weren’t as accurate and responsive as Nintendo’s, they still had great games that require physical gameplay. Of course, the best-seller here is Just Dance and other dancing games.

Fast forward to modern times, we have the power of the VR. Even on PC, the VR does its part with a wide selection of highly-immersive virtual experiences mixed with physical gameplay, most notably Beat Saber and Pavlov VR. Even a simple game like VRChat makes everything better if you add some actual gestures while socializing with other people.

And then, of course, you have the rest of the games where you need to sit down and interact with what’s on-screen. As long as you are not playing brain-dead games like clickers and idles, your brain is in a workout that not only improves your memory and comprehension but also to have fun.

Video games make you think and comprehend in their worlds and you have the freedom to shape them however you want.

 

So, before anyone ever says playing video games is nothing but a waste of time, just remember these 7 health benefits. They’ll think twice before saying you’re telling nonsense. To be honest, I prefer video games over watching Netflix simply because the engagement constantly helps my mind to relax and enjoy interacting with various worlds whether it’s a multiplayer shooter, a narrative-driven single-player story or a real-time strategy game. If you haven’t experienced gaming yet, you should give it a whirl. It’s as amusing as watching movies and spending time listening to great music.






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