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The Physical Benefits of Gaming
As I sit here recovering from a nasty illness that left me almost completely inert this entire week, I feel obligated to take a moment to share my indelible gratefulness toward video games. It’s not something uttered too often these days. Between companies like EA and Ubisoft continually upsetting their fanbases and the perennial myth that video games are to blame for violence (much like how rock ‘n’ roll was destroying society in the 60s), there’s a lot of pessimism in gaming right now.
Another thing seldom discussed is how beneficial gaming can be. Yes, there’s the plethora of studies that prove gaming has mental benefits, but how often have you read articles about the physical benefits of gaming? As someone who has been battered by allergies his entire life, I can attest to gaming as a fantastic remedy against physical ailments. The best part: unlike many medications, which can have nasty side effects if used excessively (aspirin, anyone?), gaming doesn’t have any serious proven side effects…unless you substitute gaming for physical exercise. Just don’t do that kids, mmkay?
The most obvious example of gaming as a physical remedy is via distraction. When the brain is preoccupied by one task, it often doesn’t recognize external and internal stimuli, such as pain. This is best illustrated through a 2012 study, in which a soldier who had suffered third-degree burns was instructed to play a video game called SnowWorld, which alleviated pain during wound care and physical therapy sessions. According to the study, playing the game utilized the age-old trick of distraction.
Contrary to that hypothesis (but still supporting video games as a pain reliever), earlier research suggested that virtual reality environments affect how the brain responds to internal stimuli, thus not directly relying on distraction. According to Jeffrey I. Gold, Ph.D., gaming “produces a modulating effect that is endogenous, so the analgesic influence is not simply a result of distraction but may also impact how the brain responds to painful stimuli.” The results from Dr. Gold’s study, which showed that children’s pain tolerance increased while playing a racing video game, were so promising that he believes such measures could be used medically in the future for youths with chronic and acute pain.
Video gaming hasn’t been proven to only distract from our increased tolerance toward pain, either. Studies conducted by Dr. Daphne Mauer have concluded that playing video games can improve vision in both children and adults. Her studies were conducted with first-person shooter games, namely Medal of Honor. Dr. Mauer, who does not play video games but is a self-described reader, also found that development of eyesight continued into adulthood, a theory that had previously been discredited.
As if that wasn’t enough, other tests have concluded that playing video games can slow brain aging. This study tested individuals 50 years or older with specialized puzzle games and demonstrated that the level of thought involved slows the aging of basic cognitive functions and aids in preventing mental deterioration. If true and studied further, this of course could have a serious impact on the medical community, particularly in the areas of diseases that cause mental decay, such as Alzheimer’s.
Truly, it is amazing what impact gaming can have, whether we realize it or not. I, for one, was extremely thankful to have a copy of Bayonetta 2 (and the original Bayonetta, as the games come packaged together on Wii U) available as I battled congestion, a fever, and a severely sore throat this week. They also come in handy during the equinoxes and solstices, when the seasonal shifts cause my sinuses to become the bane of my existence.
Hopefully next time you feel ill, you won’t immediately turn to those over-the-counter remedies that can potentially have many repercussions—organ damage, addiction, and weakening your immune system, to name a few—but remember that one of your favorite hobbies isn’t just for entertainment. Video games can provide real, tangible benefits with fewer risks. Just remember to get up and exercise when you’re feeling better.