I've come along way on this 31/31 blog and come today, it felt only right to learn a little for a change, or rather, for you to learn something. Yes, you! Video-games aren't just about play, they're about our brains, so what can they possibly teach us? School is session and you're late for GIO's summer crash course in gaming for your life.  

(*Ahem*) Today, class, we'll be looking at the real life skillz a game can provide you with. Tired of hearing Mom and Dad tell you to get up off the couch? Fear not, I provide everything you need to counter their argument with fierce intellectualism and humble factoids for your gaming defense. 

We, of course say a lot about video-games negative effects in the news headlines all too often. Many of them are truthful in every way, but it's just as simple to say that that's only one mere side to the coin. What about the aspects that inform us, teach us, help us learn? In the right and consenting hands, video-games of all ratings and genres can aid us in some degree in real life. Let's find out how.

The pic above may be the core framework of what games have done with particularly good examples. If we want some specifics, however, let's look at the broader case studies of these six factors generally fall into.

1. Problem Solving 101: 

It's no surprise that video-games have had us solving puzzles for most of our childhoods. It is interesting, though, to consider how valuable they've been to some of our brains.

One recent study from the Education Development Center and the U.S. Congress-supported Ready To Learn (RTL) Initiative found that a curriculum involving digital media like video games could improve early literacy skills coupled with strong parental and teacher involvement. The study further focused on young children, and 4- and 5-year-olds who participated showed increases in letter recognition, sounds association with letters, and understanding basic concepts concerning stories and print.

The key for this study was having high-quality educational titles, along with parents and teachers who were equally invested in the subject matter. Kids could discuss and examine the concepts that they were exposed to in the games. Also interesting is the value that video games are proven to have even for very young players. A study by the Education Department Center further found that low-income children are “better prepared for success in kindergarten when their preschool teachers incorporate educational video and games from the Ready to Learn Initiative.”

Older children like teens and tweens benefit from gameplay as well. Even traditional games teach kids basic everyday skills, according to Ian Bogost, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of software maker Persuasive Games. “Look at ‘World of Warcraft’: You’ve got 11-year-olds who are learning to delegate responsibility, promote teamwork and steer groups of people toward a common goal.”

There are the additional physical benefits. Gamers score faster reaction times, even in situations not involving video games, from sports to studying, and have improved hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Even in preschoolers who play interactive video games, studies out of Deakin University showed better results than those who did not.

People may be just as surprised that adults can learn a little from video games too.

Research underway by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) indicates that video games can help adults process information much faster and improve their fundamental abilities to reason and solve problems in novel contexts. In fact, the ONR study results show that video game players perform 10%- 20% higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than non-game players.

As Dr. Ezriel Kornel explains on WebMD.com, playing certain video games like Brain Age or Guitar Hero can also improve hand-eye coordination, enhance split-second decision making and even, potentially, boost auditory perception. Just playing isn’t enough as Dr. Kornel claims. The key is that you have to be improving each time you play, because to improve you have to be learning.

“Anytime the brain is in learning mode,” Kornel states, “there are new synapses forming between the neurons. So you’re creating thousands of connections that can then be applied to other tasks as well.”

Someday, a video game might even save your life, as games are already training students and practitioners in the medical field. A study published in the Archives of Surgery says that surgeons who regularly play video games are generally more skilled at performing laparoscopic surgery. In addition, according to Dr. Jeffrey Taekman, the director of Duke University’s Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center, “serious games and virtual environments are the future of education.”

Besides offering medical students the ability to practice more safely on patients in the digital world, simulations offer health care providers better, more informative training for more scenarios and chief among them, Taekman says, are the abilities to make choices, see results and apply information quickly.

Beyond allowing for greater scalability and group collaboration than traditional classrooms, every decision made in a virtual world, he continues, can be tracked and benchmarked against best practices and archived for others’ review. “The traditional textbook will soon become passé,” he suggests. “Gaming platforms will offer an interactive way for students to learn and apply information in context.”

2. Multi-Tasking: 


Further carefully-designed studies have also shown that action video games can improve aspects of brain activity, including multitasking. According to Daphne Bavelier's studies at the University of Rochester, video gamers show real-world improvements on tests of attention, accuracy, vision and multitasking after playing even the simplest of titles.

“If you think about it, the attentional and working memory demands of video games can be much greater than other tasks,” says Michael Stroud, a professor of psychology at Merrimack College. “Consider Pac-Man as an example. In Pac-Man, you must navigate your character through a spatial layout while monitoring the separate paths of four additional objects (the ghosts), while keeping the overall goal of clearing the small pellets in memory, as well as keeping track of the remaining large pellets.”

“Think about how this may apply to skills such as driving,” he continues. “When you drive your car, you are faced with a constantly changing environment in the road, not to mention several other distractions that compete for attention that reside in the car. At the same time, you are attempting to navigate through the environment to reach a goal.”

3. Becoming The Socialite:

Games with broad appeal that are easily grasped can also help many families play together, and better bridge the gap between generations. Often ignored and underrated titles like Just Dance, Wii Sports, and Mario multiplayer games can have young kids dancing alongside their grandparents.

There are also many games that have positive social messages that encourage families to be a force for good. In a series of experiments published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who had just played a “pro-social” game like Portal 2 involving teamwork as compared to those who had just played a “neutral” game like Tetris were more likely to engage in helpful behaviors. Examples included assisting in a situation involving an abusive boyfriend, picking up a box of pencils or even volunteering to participate in more research.

Upsides can even extend into the physical world. Consider the rarely heard about Facebook game Ecotopia. In summer 2011, its players met a challenge from its creators and planted 25,000 trees in the game world in 25 days, leading the game’s developer to plant 25,000 trees in real life.

Video games can also have some very important effects on family relationships, and deserve to be thought of as something that can--and should--be played together.

It’s always seemed obvious to families that activities like playing board games, make-believe, or even making music together could strengthen the family bond. Yet many parents view video games as a sedentary, time-wasting activity, when video games have very well emerged as a viable option for family game time that can potentially offer great benefits to families who are willing to enjoy them together. Many players aren't alone in taking the plunge. According to the ESA, 45 percent of parents play computer and video games with their children at least weekly, increased from 36% in 2007.

More and more games are designed to be social in the first place. Nearly 62%of gamers play games with others, either in-person or online, according to the Entertainment SoftwareAssociation. These social games teach kids leadership skills, delegating responsibility, and working effectively as a team. Research from Ohio State finds that players who engage in cooperative play in games show increased cooperative behavior. Even for violent games, players learn how to control their aggression and work cooperatively, according to the University of Gothenburg in Sweden's research. As we often learn as gamers, cooperative players with a cool head are rewarded the most, nearly akin to real life.

Families that embrace playing video games as part of their everyday life are likely to enjoy a greater sense of cohesion and communication than families who still view video games as a meaningless, solitary pursuit. It’s little wonder that so many in this day are putting away the cards and dice and turning to high-tech alternatives for modern family game nights.

Moving, thinking, cooperating, helping, learning, empathizing, growing, seeing the world from other perspectives… video games can help kids and families do all these things even in spite of the ever-present negatives presented by so many. So talk to your friends, do the research and seek out games that your family likes to play and that you as parents are comfortable with, then consider making play a part of your regular routine. Chances are, you won’t just have a great time--you’ll also make lasting memories and connections with family memberes while doing so.

4. Thinking Outside the Box:

Many games today also emphasize the cooperative aspects of game play, in which two or more players need to work together in order to reach a common goal. For instance, games like Lego Star Wars or Kirby’s Epic Yarn are enhanced by having players cooperate to solve in-game puzzles.

Massively multiplayer games such as LEGO Universe and Starcraft further offer added depth, atmosphere and enjoyment by allowing players to band together and work as a team in order to complete certain quests or defeat especially tricky opponents. Game industry analysts like DFC Intelligence predict that video game revenue could reach $70 billion by 2015, thanks to online, cooperative, subscription-based games that can be played together. It's no wonder that top titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Blizzard's upcoming MMO, Titan, continue to and may very well resonate strongly with millions worldwide.

Even the way that games are made can encourage teamwork. Washburn University Kansas students study game development processes as ways to build teamwork and collaborative skills.

“It taught me to work in a group,” said Washburn student Adam Bideau of the program in a recent interview with the Washburn Review. “Video games are not created by just one person and they require you to work well with others. You have to pool everyone’s talents together in order to produce the required product.”

There's even more bizarre evidence from a researcher working with Athabasca University in Canada that suggests video games can be used to help kids actively combat their nightmares. According to its studies, gamers were more likely to have lucid dreams, in which they see themselves outside their own bodies, and the ability to take control of their dreams to change the outcome.

6. Making Life More Fun

Lastly, there's only one true message that can come with any form of entertainment medium: fun. Like movies, tv, music, or even a good book, games may technically not feed or clothe us or keep four walls and a roof over our heads. What they do do is keep our lives more interesting and exciting. I can't imagine a life where I couldn't exercise my mind as much as my body demanded too, can you? 

I suppose that class is dismissed, though I expect a full paper on this from you, reader, before tomorrow. Remember any blogging suggestions, comments, or ratings you might have for this blog before you leave. See ya tomorrow!

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