Verify This: Can Video Games Be Healthy For You?

By Alex Bellink

In today’s world of baseless internet facts being spewed by just about everyone, there are hundreds of informative videos with statistics and facts popping up each day, but how do we know what to believe? Take for instance, a recent video by All Time 10s, a YouTube channel that creates videos of “the top 10 everything.” They cite sources for all of their information, but since there are no direct citations for individual facts they present, can you really believe everything they tell you?

The video in question claims that there not one but ten substantive health benefits to playing video games, to which we at BreakThru just couldn’t help but fact check. Here’s the video:

And here’s what we found:

Number 10 on the list claims that video games helps improve dexterity in surgeons. Granted, playing video games requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, which is a skill that surgeons need to do what they do best. World Laparoscopy Hospital states that video games can help young children gain problem-solving skills that may be necessary in real world professions. In a 2006 study conducted by Dr. R.K. Mishra, the Director of Laparoscopy at the Laparoscopy Hospital in New Delhi, he concluded that surgeons who play video games tend to make less mistakes and work faster than those who do not.

Fact number nine states that students remember 90 percent of information when it is taught using simulations compared with 10 percent when reading. The percentages cited here were a bit difficult for our fact checkers to substantiate, but their findings could at least confirm the general basis of the fact presented. For instance, teaching through simulations is not only more effective but also a safer method for students to learn, especially in medical education; this way patients will not be harmed by any mistakes made by students. With simulations they are able to repeat procedures and correct mistakes as many times as they need to.

Also at face value, the fact isn’t very difficult to believe. There are specific types of simulation games that help gamers retain information and build problem-solving skills. Roller Coast Tycoon, Civilization, and The Sims require the user to build a massive project, usually involving a complex economy they need to maintain for lives of their characters.

Number eight claims that exercise-based video games help Parkinson’s disease suffers. According to the CDC, each year one in three adults above the age of 65 falls causing hip and head injuries. In a study from Queens University of Belfast, after 12 weeks of playing, over 55 percent of elderly subjects had improved balance, gait speed and longer strides.

Number seven claims that gaming lowers levels of stress-inducing hormone cortisol by up to 17 percent. In 2008, East Carolina University conducted a six-month long controlled study on the effects of playing video games on the moods and stress levels of a group of people. While it should not be an activity to be a sole prescription for stress relief, 54 percent of the group who played Bejeweled felt significant reduction in their stress levels.

Number six claims that gamers can effectively concentrate on six things at once, while non-gamers’ can only concentrate on four things at once. They also perform up to 20 percent more effectively in perception and cognitive tests. This fact is also quite suspect, with several sources showing different results.

Two prominent studies on the subject detail the disparity of conclusive results on this subject. A study done by Duke, Colby and Penn State with 62 participants between the age of 16 and 24 with both gamers and non-gamers proved that both types of people performed poorly on the dual-task experiments. In contrast, Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester tested a group of both non-gamers and gamers to measure their attention and concluded that gamers get less distracted by what events came before and after their surroundings. Neither could substantiate any hard numbers in regards to how many tasks one group could manage over another.

Number five tells us that playing action video games for a few hours each day can lead to a 20 percent increase in accuracy during eye chart tests. According to the journal, Nature Neuroscience, a study was done that proved that gamers have an increase in their contrast sensitivity, which is the ability to notice differences in shades of gray. The games teach the brain to process the visual information on the screen more efficiently, and it can even help people with amblyopia, also known as a lazy eye and people who have trouble seeing while driving in the dark.

Number four claims that 76 percent of couples say playing video games together has had a positive impact on their marriage. The fact makes sense at face value, and could work for just about any kind of obsession-inducing hobby – the more activities you share with your partner, the healthier your relationship should be. Still, the fact can be verified by research and doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

The fact specifically refers to a study conducted by Brigham Young University, that confirms the 76 percent figure, but only in regards to MMORPGs (or massively multiplayer online role-playing games, like World of Warcraft). The video also doesn’t tell you the dark side of the study’s findings – while three quarters of couples who gamed together claimed it improved their marriage, a nearly equal portion of couples who didn’t game together claimed it hurt their marriage significantly.

Number three is almost unbelievable, claiming that pain ratings for patients suffering from burn wounds decreased by up to 50 percent while gaming and that violent games increased pain tolerance by up to 65 percent. One story just about explains the phenomenon more than rigorous scholarship can.

Sam Brown, a lieutenant in the US army suffered third degree burns over 30 percent of his body after his Humvee ran over an explosive on his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2008. The pain from the physical therapy and wound treatment was so excruciating that his doctor recommended he try a different method to relieve the pain: video games. He began playing a game called SnowWorld in which the player throws snowballs at penguins. This virtual reality has been proven to be more effective than morphine on burn victims such as Brown.

Number two states that game players have an increased IQ, which sounds like gamer narcissism but holds up to analysis – depending on the game in question. Though, gamers in general are up to 50 percent better at managing events and spotting detail. Also, infants who play video games also develop a thicker cortex. Gaming industry veteran, Gabe Zichermann believes that the brainpower used for problem solving in video games has given a 0.36 increase in the average game player’s IQ each year. Even playing simple problem solving games such as Tetris may thicken a child’s brain cortex.

The final health benefit to playing video games claims that gaming improves faster responsiveness. Believe it or not, but the ability to shoot a zombie quickly translates into the real world. The reaction times of gamers are shown to be nearly as high as fighter jet pilots. The University of Essex conducted a study on gamers and proved that gamers have the mental acuity close to that of athletes. However, what the video does not mention is that professional gamers are likely to have the body and lungs of a 60-year-old smoker.

While playing video games may not make you a genius per say, the next time you brush them off as junk food for the brain, try playing for a few hours a week because there is a good chance that it will help your skills in your chosen field. But also make sure you are checking your facts when watching factual videos before believing every word!