Why Computer Games are good for you!

Computer games have suffered a bad press ever since they first appeared. They are blamed for a lot of the world's woes from overweight children to causing people to commit murder! Perhaps we should not be surprised though as whenever a new medium appears it goes through this. Books, the printing press, the radio, TV etc. have all suffered in their early years and now it is the turn of games. People seem to believe that games are just a frivolous waste of time. I like what Professor Talmadge Wright says: "the idea of mindless activity is given short shrift in culture where productivity is given the highest praise.".

This view is also carried over to working in games and taking a University course in games. People think playing games is a frivolous waste of time and so making them must be. Of course nothing is further from the truth as computer game creation is a highly skilled and highly creative profession.

In order to try to balance things up a bit I thought I would create a list or articles describing the benefits of games. I am not saying there is nothing wrong with computer game playing. Some people do overdo it and my view is everything in moderation, but the vast majority of popular media is lined up against games so I am going to try to balance things. If you hear of any benefits not listed below please let me know (along with references) by e-mailing It is great that many researchers are now publishing positive things about games; some even believes that not playing computer games may be bad for you!

Video Games enhance your ability to see in the dark (2009)

Research published in Nature Neuroscience (12th edition),  found video games improve your effectiveness of perceiving contrast by 43% and hence enhance your ability to see in the dark. (Gideon P Cavlovitz and Sabine Kastner)

Memory prowess linked to gaming (2009)

Dr Alloway from the University of Stirling believes video war games could enhance working memory. He believes working memory is vital to success in life and believes it to be "more important to success and happiness than IQ" (BBC).

Tetris 'helps to reduce trauma' (2009)

UK researchers at Oxford University carried out an experiment involving volunteers firstly being exposed to distressing images and then playing Tetris for 30 minutes. They found players had fewer "flashbacks" (often experienced in people suffering post traumatic stress disorder) and believe this may, in the future, help patients suffering from the impact of trauma. The theory behind this is that the way the brain forms memories in the hours after a traumatic experience may be modified.

Emily A, Holmes, Ella L.James, Thomas Coode-Bate, Catherine Deeprose, "Can playing the computer game "Tetris" reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science", PLoS One Journal, 07 Jan 2009

Improved Visual Skills (2009)

Researchers at the University of Rochester found that regular players of first person shooters have much better visual skills than most of the population. This study was funded by the US Government's National Institute of Health.

Dye, M.W.G., Green, C.S. & Bavelier, D. (2009), "The development of attention skills in action video game players". Neuropsychologia

Slow Mental Decline in the Elderly (2009)

An article in Time magazine discusses the possible benefit of games in helping to slow the effects of ageing. It is early days for the research and there is yet little proof however some research does seem to point to benefits. For example a study presented to the Cognitive Neuroscientist Society showed improved working memory, attention and reaction times in 55 year olds after five weeks of computerised training. (Helena Westerberg, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm 2008).

The full article can be read here: Can Gaming Slow Mental Decline in the Elderly?

Help Children to Learn - Collaboration, Decision Making, Risk Taking  (2007)

Marc Prensky an American software developer has written a book called "Don't Bother Me Mom - I'm Learning" where he says that children who play computer games have an advantage over those who don't, even when the content of the game is violent (as reported by Times Online). He says playing games "takes multiple skills" and "kids learn a lot". Some of the skills learned include collaboration, decision-making under stress and prudent risk-taking as well as exposing children to ethical and moral issues.

Not playing games is bad for you! (2006)

In the introduction to the book "Playing video games: motives, responses, and consequences", Peter Vorderer, Jennings Bryant, 2006 Kevin Durkin says "The absence of video game play in the life of a contemporary early adolescent is a risk indicator. Indeed, it is possible - although it remains to be tested empirically - that the absence of video games is an impediment to what has become normal development, and a more serious one than the absence of television".

  • Google Books: "Playing video games: motives, responses, and consequences", Peter Vorderer, Jennings Bryant, 2006

Cognitive Benefits (2005)

Discover magazine reports findings from James Gee (amongst others), professor of learning sciences at the University of Wisconsin that recognise a number of cognitive benefits to computer games including:

  • Pattern recognition
  • System thinking
  • Patience

James Gee also says "We had a hard time finding kids who were bad at school but good at games".

The article in the magazine describes many findings from many research papers and can be read here: Discover Magazine: Your Brain on Video Games

Good for Children - Problem Solving & Team-Building (2004)

At the 2004 Edinburgh festival it was reported that "Computer games can promote problem-solving and team-building in children.". Dr. Judy Robertson of Edinburgh University, speaking to the BBC, also said: "Children say that playing violent games is a way for them to get rid of their frustrations, they get rid of their anger and take things out on the characters in the computer games rather than people in the playground.", BBC News, 2004

Participation, Culture, Social Skills (2003)

Researchers at Loyola University, Chicago identified a number of ways that games are good for you. These include social skills, chess like tactics, safe participation,

Healthy Adolescent Development, 2002

In their paper "Not so doomed: computer game play and positive adolescent development", Kevin Durkin and Bonnie Barber report research showing "No evidence was obtained of negative outcomes among game players." and describes a number of areas where game players score more favourably than peers who never played games with respect to:

  • Family closeness
  • Activity involvement
  • Positive school engagement
  • Positive mental health
  • Substance use
  • Self-concept
  • Friendship network
  • Disobedience to parents


There are many examples of the use of computer games in education so I will just list some of the more unique ones here.

Swine Flu

Developers at the Erasmus Medicial Centre in Rotterdam, Holland have developed a game called "The Great Flu" to educate people on flu pandemics.

Dealing with Crime and AIDS in Kenya, 2009

A game called Pamoja Mtaani helps players "learn skills to negotiate difficult issues such as crime and HIV in some of East Africa's most impoverished areas." (

Other effects of Game Playing

There is an interesting article on how games change your brain you can read here:

© 2004-2009 Keith Ditchburn  (A lecturer on the Games Programming Course at the University of Teesside)