On The Value Of Games

In recent conversations I’ve heard some tsk, tsks about the world today and how everyone is playing games.  From Facebook to the Wii to our Androids and iPhones, some feel dismayed by what society “has become” and where young people are heading today. 

Certainly from a time management and responsibility stand point, it’s hard to imagine how on earth anyone has so much time to also “play,” in spite of our insistence in quoting the old adage “all work and no play…”  And I think that addiction is often foremost in everyone’s concerns and the potential fallout of such.  Though hardly comparable to damaging addictions like alcohol and drugs, in excess, we do find that anything and everything can eventually become lethal.  Even water. 

However, is gaming really all that bad for us?  Or is it just so different from anywhere that humanity has been before that we don’t really know for sure what to think yet.  Except to consider our observations against the only frame of reference we really have in this incredibly new world of technology – before electronic games and after? 

Recently (and actually several times over the course of many years), studies have been published finding that games, even the kind you might think have no redeeming value, actually have a very beneficial effect on the neurological development of the brain.  That in fact, ever since the birth of electronic gaming, humanity has potentially exhibited more brain development since then to now, than perhaps 50 billion years of human development.  That women who play games are learning to develop skills that often were considered stronger in men.  And that playing games can help develop the brain in ways as long recognized activities like reading.  How’s that for an interesting bit of information?  Reference one recent article on the subject here.  There’s even strong evidence to show that game playing helps reduce pain!  Though we do still find that excessive gaming, sedentary behavior and weight gain are still connected.  Then again, as well also careers that require us to sit for long periods of time on a daily basis.

On a personal level, I’m not into a lot of games.  I often find the idea of taking long periods of time to “game” uninteresting and a waste of time.  However, to be fair, this attitude is likely because I find a lot of games to be boring.  In general, the only games I’m drawn to are brain puzzles, and then only until the point that I have cracked them, and then I lose complete interest.  An unhelpful fact in the art of motherhood, let me tell you.

That said, I’ve had to reconsider some of my attitudes about games and the art of play. Logically I know that many studies have pointed out what we’ve long known to be true from an innate understanding – that play in childhood is practice for learning about adulthood too.  That it’s essential to childhood development and learning.  That childhood playtime primes the brain for future decisions to be made and for social interaction and development.  If I know this to be true, then why would playing in adulthood be any less beneficial?  

Recently, in spite of how demanding my schedule has been, I have opened up myself more to the concept of taking a little time to play computer games in small time bites during a day, especially if I’m feeling stressed.  You would think that when you already feel overwhelmed, with your plate piled high with a myriad of tasks all demanding attention right now, that adding one more activity to the plate – nay more than that, giving a frivolous activity priority on that plate – that surely the whole plate will collapse.  I mean seriously – take ten minutes to play? I have more important things to do and even that would break my schedule and lead me astray from my duties. 

Instead, I have not found that to be the case.  In fact, oddly enough, I’ve found myself to be more productive in general. Isn’t that interesting?

Even better than that, I have found that games help with my memory.  An issue I’ve struggled with since a terrible car accident 6 years ago that rendered my left side completely numb and which I spent over a year of physical and other therapies to regain full use and strength of.  I was hit by a demolition truck at 60 miles an hour. Within two hours I was completely numb on my left side.  Later, I began noticing short-term memory issues that I’d never had before.  Long-term hasn’t been affected except for the first few days right after the accident, but little things I would never forget before were suddenly more difficult to recall as demanded.  This was difficult to manage at first, especially with small children, because I’d never really had any memory issues before and as such, I never had any habits to support a weaker short-term memory.  Plus, to make matters worse, sometimes the more I stressed about it, the greater the block might become.

This eventually led me down a new road of understanding mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Memory loss, reduced cognitive speed, affected vision, and interrupted language expression (ever take a few seconds too long to find a common word?) are all symptoms from injuries like these.  Though my loss was mild in comparison to extreme cases, the loss is still significant personally because I was no longer functioning at the same level I had been.  Reduced speed and short-term memory that wouldn’t stick were the most significant factors.  Mental tasks still got done, but took longer to do.  So healing, coping mechanisms and over-coming barriers became priorities for survival.

Much of the trauma I experienced from that event has been overcome today.  I did reach a plateau in terms of pain management.  My allergy to nearly all pain killers had its affect as well as avoiding surgery (also due to allergy concerns) and some nerves were permanently affected.  I was very lucky to have found some of the best and brightest neurological help in my quest to find answers.  Still, in spite of gaining back a stronger left side, use of my hand, etc., I still struggle with short-term memory “sticky-ness” and periodic numbness.  The periodic numbness is assisted by an osteopath or chiropractor who know how to do the right adjustments to relieve the impingements that still affect me. I’ve also worked with a trainer to help strengthen injured areas against re-injury. 

However the short-term memory has been gaining the most significant strength that I can qualify, from the use of logic games.

On my own, I’ll use things like Sodoku (math and numbers), Zuma (it’s actually very meditative and all about pattern and logic), solitaire (pattern using both numbers and pictures), even Bejeweled.  These logic games do help wire the brain for logic and speed.  I also enjoyed Plants Vs. Zombies until I beat the game.  However, I also learned about and signed up for Lumosity brain-training games and a program series that targets TBI. Sometimes it’s a pain to stop and make a point of playing a game, but when I find myself resisting, I remind myself that it’s training, how I’m benefiting and I push through.

What I have found is this: if I make a point of playing electronic games little each day, it does help not just my memory, but even my level of task accomplishment during the day.  I have to admit that, even when I really don’t want to take time to. Additionally, I find the speed aspects developed in games carry over to the speed of my cognitive function in every day tasks as well.  I have fewer “spacey” moments between tasks or when interrupted.  Better ability to get back into focus after interruption.  It’s like it creates a momentum that can carry on past the boundaries of my computer and on into any task demanding my attention.  Kind of fascinating.  Because I didn’t really expect that. 

Additionally, I’ve successfully made use of games to help me accomplish a long list of unpleasant tasks in record time, from packing to laundry to html programming.  And this has worked even while I’ve been sick.  How?  By peppering my day with logic games.  Taking everything in bites, finishing each stage, launch 10 minutes of games and then back to hit it hard again.  And the weird thing?  I don’t really feel stressed when I do it either.  Unlike hitting these tasks back to back without those game breaks, the extra “task” of playing a game between other tasks has actually reduced stress, not added to it.  I didn’t expect that either.  If anything, I thought if I took the time, I’d be way more intense.  Seems that’s not really so. 

Granted, this will only work until I’m completely bored with the games, but it’s definitely some food for thought on the matter of where our society is going and how we are being affected by our growing culture of gaming.  Is it gaming that perhaps helps us make the next great leap in cognitive evolution?  I’m not sure, but on a personal level, seeing the comeback I’m making from injury, I have to give pause and consider it’s possible. 



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2 responses to “On The Value Of Games

  1. That’s very interesting. I’m with you on not wanting to spend huge swathes of time on getting into some involved game (I’ve done it a couple of times in the past…) but I enjoy Minesweeper and computer jigsaws. I often pause to just do a jigsaw while on the PC, or play a quick game of Minesweeper if blocked on writing a paragraph on my laptop. It’s good to know that’s having some beneficial effect on my brain, not just time wasting 🙂

    • Glad you stopped by! Yes, I’ve found it to be a rather interesting experiment. Personally, the surprise in particular was how much I could accomplish if I planned game breaks. But reading the studies added even more surprise. One of them pointed out that even games about killing zombies improve the brain. That I did not expect.

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