Video games have come a long way since Pong first debuted back in 1970. This digital evolution has been both rapid and relentless. Recent years have witnessed groups of children and adults of all ages clustered on street corners and in parks attempting to hunt Pokémon in an augmented mobile phone world of Pokémon Go. More recently, virtual reality provides gamers with an even more immersive experience offering gaming in an entirely artificial digital environment. Virtual reality has become so widespread that it is now playable in pubs and cafes around the UK.
Since the days of Pong, video games have been subject to criticism and concern. Both their addictive nature and the violence they often exhibit are common worries for parents and partners around the world. The truth is, video gaming will always be under fire. Whether it’s studies into the effects of playing violent games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty or stories of parents turning to rehab and hypnosis to cure their children’s Fortnite addictions, video games will always be in the spotlight. But for all the negatives frequently associated with video games, there are a plethora of undeniable positives that need to be illuminated. Like all things, in moderation gaming can be hugely beneficial, and one place it can be extremely useful is in the workplace.
Cognitive and Cerebral Health
Let’s start with the cognitive and cerebral effects of gaming. There is no doubt that though a child might be staring at a screen for what seems like an eternity, some games can be brilliantly beneficial to cerebral development. Problem-solving skills, decision making and anticipation are all areas developed by the experiences offered in gaming.
However, these advantages are not only evident in growing children. Research carried out on both medical students and experienced laparoscopic surgeons suggested that those who regularly played video games completed simulated tasks quicker, more efficiently and with fewer errors compared to their counterparts who took no part in gaming. They made 32% fewer errors and showed far greater hand-eye coordination.
This research is by no means the first or last of its kind. Many tests have proven a connection between video games and decision making. Those who play video games act more efficiently and make decisions without being affected by pressure — skills that can be of great use in the workplace.
Decision Making, Reflexes and Physical Improvements
Believe it or not, video games have a massive influence on physical ability as well as cerebral growth. The research above clearly proved impressive levels of hand-eye coordination in gaming surgeons, making precision movements in a certain amount of space. But this link between video games and motor skills has been known for some time.
A study by The University of Rochester reported, “Our brains learn to predict what will come next, whether listening to a conversation, driving or even performing surgery.” This was further investigated by the Psychological Science Journal who proved, through numerous tests, that those who played PC simulation games and first-person shooters had far greater reaction times in simulated tasks than those who did not. The research then concentrated on the non-gamers who were outperformed by their counterparts. Those in the study who previously had minimal video gaming experience were then tested again after five and ten hours of gaming. They exhibited improved reflexes, reacting quicker and more accurately to challenges put before them.
An interesting study by National Geographic in 2009 further argued that it was not only motor skills and decision making that saw an improvement but also the contrast sensitivity function — the visual ability crucial for tasks like reading and driving in limited light. So despite what people tell their kids, it’s superior eyes rather than square eyes.
If a few hours of gaming are enough to improve decision making, reflexes and eyesight imagine what a reasonable amount per week could do to a person’s cognitive and physical efficiency. Those who surf the internet or watch television outside of working hours or during work breaks could benefit from taking part in a coordinated activity that keeps the mind clicking.
Workplace Mental Health and Social Advantages
Perhaps one of the most vital areas in which gaming can be advantageous is in mental health and helping to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of work life. Like movies, video games provide an immersion into another world and a mental break from any stress or pressure in our day-to-day lives. They allow us to be distracted from tasks and worries that are briefly put on the back burner and help alleviate stress.
It’s actually a concept that has recently been brilliantly exhibited in television. Take Frank Underwood, once the lead character in House of Cards — although admittedly far from a moral example, he was a determined, efficient and highly organised character. As both Whip and President, Frank Underwood was seen playing Call of Duty and then Monument Valley. In these small moments between his hectic work schedule, Frank’s mind shuts off and he briefly forgets his responsibilities and the weight on his shoulders — it exhibits a character unwinding, a kind of mindfulness.
In 2010 at an American Pain Society conference, scientists presented evidence of video games reducing not only anxiety but also physical pain. Video games, especially virtual reality games that provide a greater immersive experience, effectively reduce pain caused by chronic illness or medical procedures. Video games engage other senses and provide a distraction, the focus is drawn to the game and not the pain. So who knows, maybe virtual reality gaming will make its way into hospitals as well as pubs!
Games keep your productivity levels high while alleviating stress and anxiety of real-world problems but they can also be a social outlet. Those who feel isolated by their workload spending all day typing, editing spreadsheets or whatever else they may be doing can find an uplifting and motivating experience in gaming. It’s part of the reason coworking spaces now value interactive amenities like video games and ping pong tables as highly as coffee!
About The Author:
Dr Hemal Parekh is a research scientist with a PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry. He is also the Founder and Managing Director of Empire Gaming Ltd. Alongside his scientific research, Hemal is a passionate gamer. Video games have always been a part of his life since childhood and he believes gaming has helped him build focus, problem-solving and strategic skills. He is well connected and an active blogger in the gaming industry.