As a 26-year-old man, people often look at me funny when I tell them I’m a gamer. I can almost see the thought bubble arising above their heads saying “a gamer?! What a loser!” For some reason, certain people immediately think I’m wasting my life on a medium that ‘rots the brain’.
Yep, despite the fact that most of these supposedly well-adjusted “adults” who wouldn’t touch gaming with a ten foot pole get home from work and allow reality TV to numb their brains to about four percent above clinically dead, they still feel justified in shitting on how I spend my time.
As you can probably glean, I’m proud to be a gamer. Why? Because gaming is awesome on pretty much every level. Apart from usually being riotously fun, games can take you away from the stresses of modern life, they can provide a sense of achievement, and they can present stories to their audiences that can be just as moving and emotionally resonant as a movie.
But apart from that, were you aware that, according to several recent studies, gaming can actually make you smarter, more sociable and generally better equipped to deal with day to day life? Well they can. That’s why when people tell me gaming is for losers, I tell them that they’re probably about as wrong as they could ever possibly be about anything.
Gaming is for winners. And here are ten reasons why.
10. They Encourage Lateral Thinking
One of the most important life skills I think it’s possible to learn is the ability to think laterally. Thinking laterally is to basically think sideways; to think your way around an obstacle. Thinking laterally is a must if you’re playing video games – “here is a locked door that I can’t get through, but my objective is inside. How do I get in?”
Any video game regularly challenges a player’s ability to think laterally in order to progress the narrative, and through regular exposure to this kind of challenge, the player’s ability to do so is strengthened. The next puzzle might take only a fraction of the time.
There are puzzles like this in real life. And you can use the skills you’ve gained thinking laterally while playing video games – “here is a difficult profession that I can’t get into, but my goal is to earn a living from said profession. How do I get in?”
9. They Develop Your Decision-Making Skills
Our choices define us, they make us who we are and what we’ll become. In fiction, they say the true measure of a character is in the decisions they make during crisis. And the same can be said about you and I.
Games nowadays often force you into making decisions, and often rapidly, based on sensory information such as sight and sound. Do I give this response, or the other one? Do I take this course of action, or that one? Do I go right, or left? Games will often change too depending on your decisions, so even while they’re strengthening your ability to act, they’re illustrating the consequences of those acts.
So any platform that forces you to make choices regularly – from your character’s alignment down to the way you yourself play, the weapons you’ll use or the techniques you’ll deploy – is surely to be readying you for the time when you’ve got to make that tough call in reality.
8. They Increase Your Vocabulary
Thanks to Skyrim, my six-year-old nephew now knows the meaning and the contextual subtleties of words like Illusion, Conjuration and Elemental and is able to fully understand the implications of a Civil War. Whether he should be playing Skyrim at his age is arguable, but the fact remains that his vocabulary, and understanding of said vocabulary, is vastly improved as a result.
Of course, he reads age-appropriate literature, which is the greatest fuel for the vocabulary, but gaming can also do the same trick, despite many parents believing that they’re actually dumbed down. If, at 6, my Nephew can understand, contextualize and correctly use words and phrases like the ones I mentioned above, what then will he have moved on to by age 16? Antidisestablishmentarianism? Very possibly.
Of course not every title is as smartly scripted as the next, just like every book isn’t as smartly written as the next, but as you game throughout the years, you’ll be introduced to words and phrases you’d have just never heard otherwise. And there are many professions that all but require a wide vocabulary; writing, politics, acting and presenting, marketing, engineering, science, the list goes on and on.
7. They Force You To Use Logic
Gaming directly stimulates the pre-frontal cortex; the portion of the brain that is crucial for logical thinking and contextual analysis. You see, just like the muscles, this part of the brain requires exercise in order to grow stronger and you can think of gaming as a virtual mind gym.
Logic underpins everything you ever do. If you do ‘A’ then ‘B’ is the result and ‘C’ is the implication. For example, if you make yourself a coffee, then you’ll be more awake, but later you might suffer a caffeine crash. You might initially get more work done as a result of the coffee, but later you may fall further behind as a result of the crash. So logically is that coffee a good idea? It’s your call.
Studies have shown that children who have had access to sophisticated video games during their developmental years have shown superior development of their pre-frontal cortex to those that haven’t, and thus will undoubtedly be more equipped to face the problems life will throw at them as a result. Still think gaming rots your brain?
6. They Increase Your Pattern Recognition Skills
Have you ever waited to observe a guard’s patrol route in order to sneak past unnoticed? You must have observed a boss’s attack pattern in order to deduce its weakness, or the ideal time to launch your counter-attack. This is pattern recognition, and it will get you everywhere in life.
By gaming, you’ll increase your ability to recognise repetitive patterns. For example, when you start a game, you might find a certain enemy tough to beat, unpredictable in the way they move and attack. But play long enough and you’ll soon be making short work of them; you’ve recognised their pattern and know exactly what you need to do to bring them down.
Recognising and memorising patterns is a hugely important, albeit subtle, life skill. Patterns are everywhere; from the behaviours of a three-year-old child right up to the operations of a multi-billion earning corporation. Recognising these patterns is one of the keys to understanding how the world works.
5. They Increase Your Spatial Awareness and Sense of Direction
You might be of the school that believes that games like Grand Theft Auto are literally the devil (although probably not, if you’re reading an article promoting video games). However, an open world sandbox game like this is constantly scrutinizing your spatial awareness and forcing you to rely on your sense of direction in order to get from A to B in a quick and satisfying manner.
While no one is saying that you should drive in reality like you do in GTA, the very fact that you’re picking lines through traffic, attempting to avoid hazards and simultaneously heading towards a destination means that the brain functions you’re using are the same ones you’ll use while you’re out on the real road.
Each game tests your spatial awareness and sense of direction in its own way; even a game like Animal Crossing for example, forces you to remember where your house is in relation to the village’s other characters. As a species, we’ve needed these skills since the dawn of man, and we’ll need them far into the future. From that perspective, gaming is as worthwhile a pursuit as any other.
4. They Promote Creativity
According to researchers at Michigan State University, a three year study of 491 middle school pupils concluded that the more the children played video games, the higher their scores on a standardized Torrance Test of Creativity, regardless of their gender, race or even the type of game they played.
When you decide to use a certain item in a game, you visualise the result first. If you’ve just found a key, for example, and you know which door it opens, you’ll see said door in your mind’s eye long before you arrive there to use it.
Creativity is an umbrella term that relates to, in its basest form, visualisation; to using the right half of your brain to ‘see’ something that isn’t there, that hasn’t happened, or might never happen. And of course, the things you’ll see while you game, the things you’ll do, are often so far into the realms of the impossible that it’s almost certain that you’ll enhance ability to imagine what isn’t possible in the process. This skill will help you in an untold manner of ways; creativity is the key to excelling at any profession or life goal.
3. They Strengthen Your Observational Skills
If you’re a life-long gamer, you’ll probably remember a time, particularly when 3D gaming rose to prominence, when you’d get lost in game for hours on end, scouring the areas you’d been through for the way forward. Then you’d finally find what you were missing right there on the ground behind a rock or something – some vital clue, or a key item – and you’d kick yourself for not spotting it sooner.
But I’m betting that happens with much less regularity these days right? That’s because over the years, gaming has been strengthening your observational skills so that now, you’d never walk past that rock in the first place because you’ll have observed that there’s probably something behind it.
When you’re playing a video game, you’re constantly scanning the area for enemies, or looking for your next clue, or the next item you need to unlock the path. You’re constantly observing and analysing the world of the game in order to progress. Observation works in much the same way in reality. You’ll progress more rapidly, in your professions and your relationships, if you can easily observe and analyse the fundamental things that make them tick.
2. Multi-player Modes Strengthen Social Skills
There was a time (and it was relatively recently) that hardcore gamers were almost social pariahs; loners with no social skills who were more likely to shoot up a school than be a part of an active social circle. But, just like most social pariah’s, the above just isn’t true by any stretch of the imagination.
A study by a graduate at Victoria University has shown that amongst the group deemed problem gamers by society (those that play for 50 hours or more per week), only 1% exhibited signs of poor social development, such as shyness or low self-esteem.
Essentially, far from promoting unsocial behaviour, online gaming actually strengthens social skills, all the while promoting healthy competitiveness and emphasising teamwork within a safe and fun environment. It makes sense when you think about it. Essentially, when you’re in a group of people on a game like World of Warcraft for example, you’re essentially sharing a virtual space with your virtual teammates; and if you’re talking over teamspeak or an equivalent, you may as well be at a party.
1. They Promote Perseverance
Earlier, I talked about my six-year-old nephew. I have a great relationship with him, mainly because we’re both gamers. I remember a key point in our relationship. I was visiting my sister (his mother) and he asked me to do something for him on the Toy Story 3 video game. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked me to do something on a game for him, but this time, rather than simply doing what he asked I said: “what about the next time you get stuck, and I’m not here?”
I went on to explain to him that, just like in life, in gaming you sometimes need to persevere through something you feel like you can’t do. You can’t just drop it and ask someone else to do it for you, because when no one else is around, you won’t have developed the patience required to complete the task. He seemed to get it, and he went back to the task at hand. Months later, he reminded me of what I’d said to him, and proudly declared that he never gives up on games any more.
I’m pretty pleased that I’ve managed to deliver that life lesson to him so early on. Because it’s true; becoming a hardcore gamer means you become a bulldog. If something is difficult, then that makes you want to accomplish it all the more. You’d do well to adopt this mentality, not just into you’re gaming but into your day to day life. After all, certain professions can seem impossible to break into, but if you just refuse to give up then, 9 times out of 10, you’ll find yourself doing it eventually.