Video gaming popularity is on the the rise, breaking from its former niche entertainment position, but one of the concerns surrounding the pastime is its contribution to the health of gamers. While there have been isolated incidents of the extreme, like the LoL gamer death in a Taiwanese cafe reported last month by Sky News, how will gaming trend affect us as a whole in the long run? A few recent studies examine the positive and negative effects of gaming in regards to physical fitness and mental health.
While games such as Dance Dance Revolution and the Wii Fit titles have been touted as leading the way for a healthier generation of gamers, but researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, decided to conduct a small test of these active video games.
The researchers passed out Wii consoles to 78 children who didn’t yet own the console. Half of the group were given their choice of fitness games, and the other half were given their choice of any other inactive Wii game. The 78 children, ages nine to 12 years of age, were tracked for 13 weeks with a motion-measuring accelerometer (the children got to keep the Wii at the end of the study).
The study found that there was no substantial difference in activity between the two groups; the accelerometers found that the active gaming group averaged 25-28 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity, versus the 26-29 minute average of the inactive gamers. Light activity and sedentary behavior seemed to stay the same for both groups as well.
“Though the results represent a single experiment and aren’t definite,” lead researcher Tom Baranowski told Reuters Health. “our study indicates that there’s no public health benefit from having those active video games.”
While the physical fitness gamification game and app market is still evolving, inactive games have their own benefits. Research increasingly shows that electronic gaming changes the brain. A report compiled by the Wall Street Journal points to gaming not only improving hand-eye coordination, but decision making and creativity.
According to University of Rochester researchers, gamers have the ability to split their attention between six targets at the same time without confusion, versus the typical four things at once for a normal non-gamer. Other research shows that gamers are four times faster than most people when it comes to decision making; action-based gamers are able to make decisions 25 percent faster than others, while maintaining a high level of accuracy.
In a three-year federally funded study by psychologist Linda Jackson, 491 students in 20 Michigan middle schools were ranked using the Torrance Test of Creativity. The study found that the children who played computer games were more creative, regardless of the games played. The study also found that Internet, mobile or computer use had no effect on creativity.
Finally, a study on the infamously addictive World of Warcraft game from Blizzard by researchers at the North Carolina State University found that the MMO had positive effects on the cognitive ability of the elderly. Participants in the study were aged 60 to 77 and played WoW on their home computers for 14 hours over the course of two weeks; those in the experimental group had a great increase in cognitive function over the control group. Spatial ability and focus showed the most improvement while the ability to memorize saw no change in the participants.
Video games may be changing our brains, but there is still much study needed in the area. “There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines,” said UC San Diego computational analyst Joshua Lewis. “Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence.”