An 8-bit Conversation: The advantages of video games in a modern society

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Graphic by Autumn Mariano

I still remember my third-grade Christmas with a preservationist’s clarity. My parents were famous for doing that wait-at-the-top-of-the-stairs-until-we-make-sure-Santa-is-gone thing, and my poor little body was bursting at the seams with the infinite possibilities that existed only a flight of stairs away. I remember hearing my dad’s voice giving the go-ahead, and then it was a flurry of flailing limbs and excitement all the way into the living room.

What stopped me in my tracks was a Christmas miracle. On our TV, vibrant and in pixelated glory, was a bouncing 8-bit plumber collecting coins, dropping down green pipes and righteously stomping any Koppa Troppa foolish enough to get in his way: Mario, Luigi, Mega Man, Dr. Wily and the entire crew of “Ice Hockey” had found a new home.

Although my parents had finally given in to the desperate pleas of their young child, they were still tentative in purchasing a video game console for our home. Rules were established, playtime was limited, and our Nintendo Entertainment System was used as a reward for good behavior. Even back then, video games were seen by many as childish, violent, and as instruments of brain-rotting procrastination and antisocial behavior. Though my parents saw the happiness our Nintendo brought me, they were also in constant fear of raising just another statistic.

Let’s face it. When it comes to hobbies, mindless activities or pleasurable pastimes, video games get a bad rap.

I get it. Gaming can be addicting. Gaming can be violent. As an avid gamer, I’m used to missing out on the next televised dose of zombified brutalization or the latest betrayal in a contest of questionably decorated chairs. But the truth is, I’m enjoying myself, I’m interacting with friends across the globe, and I’m stimulating my mind and relieving stress with every click and flick of the controller.

For me, gaming has always been more than a digitalized distraction, and now scientists and psychologists alike are coming to my aid as new evidence surfaces almost daily regarding the ever-growing benefits of playing video games. From learning new tasks, to overcoming the ailments of mental and physical pain, to relieving stress and finding motivation, it seems that gaming is much more than high scores and wasted hours.

In “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” a study released by the American Psychological Association in January 2014, findings revealed that playing video games, especially easily accessible titles like “Angry Birds,” resulted in elevated moods and decreased anxiety amongst those surveyed. According to the study, even violent games provided players with increased social skills, learning capacity and an ability to endure in the face of failure.

Not bad, right?

Another study, performed by the University of Utah and published in the “Science Translational Medicine” journal, evaluated the effects of gaming on children with ailments such as autism, depression and Parkinson’s disease. The findings revealed that those who played particular therapy-based games showed improvement with empowerment, resilience and experienced an increase in “fighting spirit” when facing obstacles and daily challenges.

But how do video games affect college students?

Though some may consider them a distraction from academics, and they can be if played excessively or as a replacement for studying, studies are revealing that playing video games, even occasionally, can increase hand-eye coordination, improve inductive reasoning, decrease stress, increase the ability to concentrate, and elevate decision-making skills and adaptability.

And here your mother thought you were just wasting your time.

Speaking of mothers, even the elderly, when surveyed as part of a study out of North Carolina State University, revealed higher levels of emotional wellbeing, or happiness, among those who played video games versus their counterparts who chose to forgo the excitement in favor of other means of entertainment.

Regardless, video games aren’t for everyone, but for me and the rest of the 58 percent of Americans who game, we’ll gladly take the benefits that come like bonus points when we’re already doing something we love.