Didn’t I tell you awhile ago that playing video games was good for you? Ok, maybe not all games are created equal, and can have a negative impact on your physical, mental and social health, but in moderation, games can actually be healing.

Researcher and digital game designer, Jane McGonigal, developed a video game called “SuperBetter” to help her through her recovery from a head injury, and from there, began to look at the positive effects of gaming on patients. Tetris, for example, has been found to help prevent PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). SnowWorld has helped burn patients during painful treatments, and Re-Mission motivates young cancer patients weary of long treatments.

Gaming encourages a mindset that is transferrable to real life, that being a focus on recruiting allies (support systems), focusing on strengths (what I can do), and adding power-ups (getting stronger and confronting their challenge). Increased dopamine helps reduce frustration, and dopamine is “one of the strongest drivers of the work ethic” because attention is fixed on success or a positive outcome, rather than the attention required to get the job done. In a virtual world, more blood diverted from the pain centre of our brains, making painful treatments more bearable. Video games commandeer our brains powerfully by creating optimistic and hopeful feelings. And finally, the focus shifts to getting better at something, rather than from something, heightening the sense of having control in a situation where little may exist.

We also know that it helps with fine motor control and reaction time, as well as developing strengths like perseverance and problem-solving. So the next time someone accuses you of wasting precious time, turn their attention to the benefits of gaming, and encourage them to “bond” with you (another social benefit) by grabbing a controller and heading into the fray!


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Reference: Maclean’s Magazine, September 15, 2015, pages 12-13