Experts point out that they can have a positive impact on health, learning and other social aspects. Video games, under scrutiny for their possible detrimental effects, can also have a positive impact on health, learning and other social aspects, say researchers and creators of this type of entertainment.
The immersive power of video games can be used to encourage children to follow a healthy diet, help older people to maintain their brain functions, and even to tackle problems such as poverty and climate change, they say.
Not everyone thinks that way. In a recent online survey by the firm Harris, most Americans considered that there is a link between video games and violent behavior.
And Vice President Joe Biden, who convened a meeting at the White House after the Sandy Hook school massacre in which a man shot and killed 20 children and six adults before committing suicide, said more research is needed on how Video games affect users.
Many researchers consider, however, that there is little evidence that this type of entertainment can cause users to become violent, and point to numerous positive impacts.
“Video games can have a positive impact, especially on psychological functions,” said Jason Allaire of North Carolina State University (East), who led a recent study that concluded that older adults who played video games showed higher levels of well-being. emotional than non-players.
Although the research does not offer a clear cause-and-effect relationship, Allaire believes that future scientific studies will be able to determine it.
This type of entertainment “has a bad reputation because it is often played to excess,” but blaming video games for social ills is “simplistic,” said Allaire.
“There is no proof that a violent video game can generate violent behavior,” he said. Large companies and independent video game creators have developed many titles aimed at strengthening skills and positive habits.
Jive Health, a start-up company founded by university student Dennis Ai, produced a game for mobile devices that encourages children to eat more fruits and vegetables, with the goal of curbing childhood obesity.
“Kids really enjoy this game, it’s very promising,” said Ai, whose team won the Innovation Challenge prize sponsored by the Association for the Healthier United States, a non-profit entity.
“You can not teach children healthy eating habits by just giving them a sermon.”
Even the much-criticized “action games” can have a positive side: a study by the University of Toronto showed that shooting or driving in video games, even for a short period of time, improves the ability to search for a hidden goal.
“They are necessary to retrieve baggage at an airport, read X-rays or MRIs, interpret satellite images, see beyond camouflage or simply locate a friend in a crowd,” he said.
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston mentioned a video game to attack enemy ships that can help children with outbursts of anger to regulate their emotions.
When the player’s heart rate rises above a certain level, players lose their ability to shoot, teaching them strategies to remain calm, according to a study published in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.
Another game, “Darfur is Dying,” was created by the University of Southern California to make students aware of the humanitarian crisis in that African region.
Also, a study conducted in 2004 showed that surgeons who played video games made fewer mistakes, possibly because they had better focus and coordination skills.
The experts do not rule out these facets of video games. The topic is likely to be present at this month’s video game creators conference in San Francisco, California.
Academics specializing in video games met last year to analyze the possibilities of this entertainment, convened by the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the White House.
Carrie Heeter, of the University of Michigan and participant in the meeting, said that videogames contribute to teach the importance of health care, and serve to learn about medical disorders or contamination. They also generate other unexpected effects.
“We have a student from China who found motivation to learn English by playing ‘Tomb Raider,'” he said. The professor of Northeastern University, Magy Seif el-Nasr, who studies the impact of video games, said that some people play for the reward, others to connect with friends.
“Some games can stimulate thinking a lot,” which may be especially important for older adults, said Seif el-Nasr. “This type of problem-solving activity promotes better knowledge and better memory over time.”