Want to be smarter, healthier and more relaxed? Then it’s time to get your game on…

Gaming may seem to be an intensely singular pursuit. To the observer, committed gamers appear to dedicate themselves to reaching milestones, completing missions and ultimately beating opponents with no apparent benefits other than the sweet taste of victory. Concerned parents and gaming enthusiasts alike may therefore be interested to learn that there are in fact many advantages associated with gaming. All too often overlooked in the media in favor of harsh headlines about the potential downsides of gaming, these scientifically endorsed benefits are varied and compelling. From aiding learning development to addressing specific medical conditions, it seems that there is much more to gaming than is apparent on initial inspection. Here we explore the fringe benefits of this global pastime.

Gamers get top marks

Perhaps one of the most unexpected benefits of gaming is that it actually improves academic performance. Frequently lambasted in the media as a distraction from education, it would seem that gaming can in fact be a force for good in this area[i]. It certainly was the conclusion reached by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international forum of high performing countries[ii]. Its new report on international student performance, based on evidence gathered across 64 countries, showed that occasional playing of video games could have a positive effect on results in key subjects such as math, science and reading. Honing in on the type of gaming which proved most beneficial, the report authors said that while one-player games were associated with better performance, collaborative gaming activities had been linked with lower levels of achievement. Frequency was also an issue. Those who played games periodically between once each month and almost every day did much better than those who were gaming on a daily basis. It would therefore seem that gaming can get results in the classroom too, albeit within certain parameters.

Gaming for better health

The development of gaming as a tool to address certain medical conditions is continually advancing. The era of the app has proved particularly fruitful in terms of addressing a wide range of diagnosed disorders. This can involve improving specific symptoms and also helping patients manage their conditions. A ‘World of Warcraft’ style app called SPARX (Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) has already made significant inroads in helping young people deal with depression. A clinical trial conducted in New Zealand found that the game, which rewards completion of levels such as ‘dealing with emotions,’ and ‘recognizing unhelpful thoughts,’ led to higher reporting of symptoms of depression and increased remission rates. The game creators are now developing new versions of SPARX which help young people with two linked conditions such as asthma and anxiety[iii].

Two other interesting apps which are currently in development are being led by big hitters Ubisoft and Boston based start up Akili. Ubisoft’s Dig Rush is designed to help treat ‘lazy eye,’ or amblyopia to give it its official name. A collaborative partnership involving Ubisoft, McGill University Montreal, Canada and a private medical company called Amblyotech has helped create Dig Rush and make it a meaningful tool in addressing this challenging condition in children and adults. The game is currently being reviewed by healthcare bodies to see if it can be endorsed as a worldwide medical tool, but early results are promising. It is hoped that in time this app could help retrain patients’ brains to use both eyes to work in tandem.

Akili’s app, when developed, will be designed to assist people who are on the autistic spectrum[iv]. Having already developed other games to diagnose and treat cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s, the company already has significant experience in the medical gaming arena. Now working with DELSIA (Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism), Akili plans to target the ‘interference factor’ frequently experienced by those living with autism[v].

Gaming as a stress buster

While many passionate gamers would attest to the enjoyment they derive from their sport, it would seem that for those suffering from stress, gaming can offer more than just a good time[vi]. According to a study carried out by two researchers from University College London’s Interaction Centre found that greater digital game usage was linked with an enhanced ability to deal with and recover from stressful situations. They also concluded that gamers in general were more equipped to separate work stress from their home life, thus protecting their mental and emotional health[vii].

A Swiss company called MindMaze plans to take the calming properties of gaming to a whole new level with their new product –Neurogoggles[viii]. This virtual reality headset uses technology originally developed for the medical field to read the wearer’s brain waves. The device then uses the information it gathers to help the wearer relax and play. This functionality of power up and relax was previously used to help stroke and brain injury patients. Now it seems the therapeutic effects are going to be available to a much wider audience.

[i] Playing video games can boost exam performance, OECD claims, The Irish Times, irishtimes.com,March 2015, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/playing-video-games-can-boost-exam-performance-oecd-claims-1.2127270


[ii]Early gender gaps drive career choices and employment opportunities, says OECD, OECD.org, March 2015 http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/early-gender-gaps-drive-career-choices-and-employment-opportunities.htm


[iii] SPARX aims to use gamification to help kids manage diabetes, asthma, and other chronic conditions, Steven Chan, iMedicalApps, January 2014, http://www.imedicalapps.com/2014/01/video-game-depression-anxiety-kids-diabetes-asthma-linkedwellness/


[iv] Therapeutic Video Game Startup Akili Takes Aim at Autism, Michael Davidson, Xconomy, March 2015, http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2015/03/02/therapeutic-video-game-startup-akili-takes-aim-at-autism/


[v]Akili, Autism Speaks partner to study mobile game’s efficacy, Aditi Pai, Mobihealthnews, March 2015 ,http://mobihealthnews.com/40984/akili-autism-speaks-partner-to-study-mobile-games-efficacy/


[vi]Keep Calm and Game On: Can Video Games Relieve Stress, Truestressmanagement.com, June 2014, http://truestressmanagement.com/can-video-games-relieve-stress/


[vii] Reduce Work Anxiety with Video Games, Dana Duong, Anxiety.org, July 2014, https://www.anxiety.org/reduce-work-anxiety-with-video-games


[viii]MindMaze’s headset brings your brainwaves into virtual reality, Signe Brewster, Gigaom, March 2015, https://gigaom.com/2015/03/04/mindmazes-headset-brings-your-brainwaves-into-virtual-reality/