On the other side of the spectrum, the side that few researchers care to explore, there is a treasure trove of benefits accredited to regular gaming. Of course, games are so diverse that they have their own broad range of genres, just like movies and books. Obviously, watching a horror as opposed to a comedy will yield a vastly different experience. The same can be said of gaming and the lasting results it will have.
In 2013, an amalgamation of studies was condensed into one report and published in American Psychologist. The report concluded that different genres are prone to yield different effects on the player. The first and foremost genre of gaming is action: fast-paced, gut-instinct gameplay focused on precise control and lightning reflexes. Studies on this genre have observed improvements in attention allocation, spatial measurement and mental rotation abilities. A later analysis showed that the results gleaned from playing shooter and action games were “comparable to the effects of formal courses aimed at enhancing these same skills”.
The strategy genre focuses much less on the lightning reactions and quick, instinctive thinking characteristic of most action gaming. Instead, it simulates the role of management of an army or the like, forcing the player to optimise resource gathering and allocation and the use of multiple chess-like coups that will eventually topple one’s opponent. A single game of Civilisation 5 (a star of strategy gaming) could last hours or even days. It involves a small nation which must secure high-value resource caches, invest in research and grow its economy and build an army and a navy while also maintaining relationships, as well as espionage operations, with other nations and attempting to win the game through multiple means. Indeed, one of the studies mentioned in the American Psychologist report focused on strategy games, reporting an increase in problem solving abilities. However, the report also went on to say that many genres across the gaming industry were linked to an improvement in problem solving, including, much to the average parent’s dismay, those with violent contexts.
World of Warcraft was the most acclaimed mention in the report. A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft is as much a game of cooperation with real people as it is of mouse-clicking skill. Working together to solve problems and obtain victories is a prime facet of its gameplay. A vast environment with a plethora of varying quests facilitates the development of adaptability in its players. This fluidity is the prime outcome of all role-playing games, forcing players to customise their in-game characters according to their strengths and weaknesses and to adapt them accordingly when the scenario changes. In-game lingo refers to this customised pattern as a “build”. Furthermore, many quests in an MMORPG require different types of players working together, increasing the possible complexity of the game by another degree.
According to the report, 99% of male teenagers and 94% of female teenagers in the US play games regularly. Thus, it comes as no surprise when a disturbed gunman who commits mass murder in a shopping mall is also a gamer. Mass media tends to correlate the two facts, forgetting that, in all likelihood, most victims of the attack played the same games with the same regularity. It is easy to say, for example, that a large percentage of young murderers play violent video games. Indeed, it is a scary thought, eliciting a hostile reaction against gaming. For the sake of the scenario, let us say that the same percentage of people in the whole population play violent video games, then the correlation between murderers or other negative associations and video games is zero. Whether or not this is true in reality is still a hotly debated issue, with millions being invested in research every year to find a conclusive answer, according to American Psychologist.
Gaming has massive untapped potential, and its possible positive effects are already being put to use in some instances. Re-Mission is a game developed specifically for cancer patients, “teaching children how best to adhere to their treatments”. The game has so far been used by over 200 000 patients, according to the report. Whether you are an advocate for or against gaming, the report claims that video games “hold immense potential to teach new forms of thought and behaviour”. It seems now that games have entered every household. So many people can call themselves gamers that it is, by and large, an integrated part of society.