The Health And Therapeutic Benefits Of Computer Games

Computer games get a lot of bad press and it seems like most journalists are on constant the lookout for reasons to slam them. Either they melt our brains and ruin our children’s natural inclination to read about history, or they encourage violence and criminal behaviour.

And through all this alarm it’s easy to forget the many potential benefits of computer games. Actually they can be incredibly good for us in a number of ways – they can be great learning tools, they can be good for our health and they can even provide treatment for a number of conditions. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits for a change then…

Games for Your Health

Of course some games are actually designed to be good for us and this can be a great marketing angle for a publisher trying to make sales. A perfect example of course is the Wii Fit which is a series of games designed to encourage you through activities aimed at burning calories, improving posture and helping flexibility. This best-selling game used the Wii’s unique motion-sensing capabilities to create an engaging and fun way to increase your fitness and got many gamers off of their couches as a result.

Another example from Nintendo meanwhile is the also wildly popular ‘Brain Age’ for Nintendo DS. This series aimed to provide a workout for the brain rather than the muscles, and would give players a range of challenges involving memory, mental arithmetic and non-verbal reasoning. The concept was that by using your brain regularly you could increase your IQ and generally encourage more sharpness and mental acuity.

Games Not for Your Health

So does Brain Age work? Can it actually improve your brain power? Confusingly the answer is something of a ‘yes and no’. You see studies have shown that Brain Age actually can improve your ability in maths and memory tasks, as well as improving spatial awareness and other abilities. But it doesn’t do this any morethan a range of other games.

In other words you don’t have to be playing Brain Age in order to improve your memory – you can do that with good old Solitaire. And you can improve your non-verbal reasoning or spatial awareness with Tetris, with COD or with Minesweeper.

In fact many studies have shown just how useful computer games are for helping improve spatial awareness in particular which might make them useful for treating a range of conditions such as ataxia, or help those recovering from broken limbs and other problems to regain their agility and dexterity.

And as for the Wii – of course any of those games are going to be fantastic for burning calories and the same goes for the Kinect and Playstation Move. Games that challenge users to play sports or fight bad guys by actually jumping around the room and swinging their arms and legs could be just what’s needed to encourage kids off of the couch and to help them burn some calories and build some muscle definition (and it’s not just kids who need this much of the time of course).

Applications

But that’s just games as they are – how about taking games that we have currently and turning them into something more useful? The fact that games are something we find fun means that they can act as the perfect ‘sugar pill’ to help us exercise or learn. Imagine a game that had you flying around the human body and learning about biology as you did – that would be genuinely fun and educational at the same time.

The Future

More exciting still are the possibilities that lie in the not-too-distant future. The Oculus Rift for instance is a virtual reality headset that places users ‘in’ the game and lets them experience what it would really be like to be in that virtual environment. Already research is looking into how this could be used to treat PSD, or phantom limb syndrome.

And the new Kinect that comes bundled with the Xbox One could have even more health implications than motion controllers before it – with its incredible ability to detect weight distribution and even a person’s heart rate. This could go well beyond Wii Fit and could potentially create virtual trainers that actually work – even physiotherapy could be handled through a Kinect and a connection.

So don’t look down your nose at computer games, they’re highly useful already and they’re only going to play a bigger part in our lives in future!

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Jack Turner is a freelance blogger who often shares his personal and professional experiences online. He writes for Freedom Lift Systems which specializes in lift systems for handicap households. Log on to http://www.freedomliftsystems.com/ to glance upon his work.