Do you play games online, on your computer, or with a video system? Probably; most people do. If nothing else, many of us find that an occasional hand of computer solitaire or a word game is a nice ‘getaway’ from the task at hand. It feels like it gives us enough of a mental break so that we come back to a complicated job feeling refreshed.
But that might not be only an impression; there’s actual research now that shows that playing such games may improve your health. Surprised? Again, probably — most of us would be. Don’t get too excited; there is such a thing as overuse of video games, as we all know. Still, it’s good to appreciate the benefits that controlled computer or video gaming can have on both our mental and physical well-being. Here are a few:
Odds are the #1 reason you and I play these games in the first place is for a ‘break’ — we want a temporary escape from whatever is bothering us. If you’re playing a rousing game, you can spend a lot of excess emotional energy in a healthy way, rather than snapping at your spouse or your boss.And, if you’re down in the dumps, a game can help the same way. Many mental health professionals believe depression is anger turned inward; fighting zombies and saving Earth, even metaphorically, can give that anger a place to escape rather than tearing yourself up inside. And it goes without saying that if you’re playing a more light-hearted game, some of the game effects themselves (music, colours, funny characters) can be rays of mental and emotional sunshine.
Yes, there’s an important balance you want to keep between staring at a screen — any screen — and more varied use of your eyes and your mind. But action-oriented first-person ‘shooter’ games have actually been shown to help cataract patients see details more clearly. The split-second action also promotes an increase in both adrenaline (understandably) and dopamine, chemicals that help the brain be more ‘plastic’ and flexible. More flexibility and focus aren’t bad things to ‘aim’ at!
Without a doubt, playing these games is a great distraction from anything that ‘ails’ you — in more ways than one. One study has related how military hospitals found that wounded soldiers who played a game in which they threw ‘snowballs’ at virtual targets actually needed less pain medication than those who didn’t have that distraction. And children coping with chronic illnesses and disorders showed more ‘fighting spirit’ when allowed to play some specific video games. Apparently, the reward systems inherent in these games (scoring points, knocking out targets, conquering competitors) give these kids a little extra emotional and physical ‘boost’ that helps them better handle their real-life challenges.
So go ahead: take a little gaming break now and then. Whether it’s solitaire, beating that Bookworm, Words with Friends, or any one of thousands of other ways to have fun online or a video game system, controlled use of leisure for these ‘off times’ can give you some needed stress relief, distract you if you need a bit of a breather, and even discharge some dangerous ‘Type A’ energy before it manifests itself in an unhealthy way. Game on!