In the past, video games were thought of as a waste of time. The stereotypical image of a kid in a dark room with no social skills unfairly typified those who were gamers. Luckily, that stereotype is largely gone or going away. Video games are now being seen as a way to learn socialization skills and improve performance in the real world.
Gaming can increase cognitive skills like critical thinking and concentration. It can improve a person’s ability to set and achieve goals. Video games can even be used as a tool to help reduce stress and anxiety. Gamers also have many opportunities to develop creativity. Video games can also lead to a fun and rewarding career. However, it is necessary to emphasize that blindly playing video games will probably not translate to success. A gamer needs to have guidance from parents, a coach, and even a certified mental skills trainer in order to get the most out of their time gaming. Even kids can benefit.
Improved Cognitive Skills
In general, gaming has been shown to improve many different cognitive skills, including attention, memory, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Especially in competitive games, they require long periods of intense concentration. Attention is like a muscle and requires a person to work it out. Video games provide a fun and engaging way for someone to increase their capacity to concentrate for longer periods of time. This can translate to being able to focus longer and deeper on real-world tasks like schoolwork.
Similarly, many video games also improve memory. Fighting games like Street Fighter require that the player memorize complex move sets and counters. Gaming helps to improve spatial cognition, which is the ability to understand and remember spatial relationships between objects. Many games require players to memorize their maps, weapon and item drops, and enemy spawn points. This can help with memorizing information like historical dates, important people, and more. In children, this is important to help develop their minds. In adults, it can prevent cognitive decline.
Critical thinking is also developed in gaming. More often than not, one must be extremely adaptable in pressure situations while playing. It is rarely fruitful to approach a situation with only one option in play. Elite competitive gamers have developed an intricate web of possible moves that can be instantly pivoted to, no matter how high-stakes things are. This is something that takes time and effort, but the effort translates into all other facets of the person’s life.
More Effective Ability to Set and Achieve Goals
Developing the above skills does not happen overnight. While many times simply playing specific games will be enough to naturally see cognitive improvement, those who really get to be the best at their craft are those that set specific goals to improve their performance. These are goals that don’t just focus on the outcome of their game, like winning, beating a certain boss, or getting a certain amount of kills. The gamer will often take periodic inventories of how they are doing, and try to improve over time.
The way to improve is through what performance psychologists call “process goals.” Process goals get down to the nuances of performance enhancement. They lead to the overall long-term outcome. These are goals like spending two hours a day focusing on improving aiming, or pulling off a combo perfectly three times during this gaming session.
Setting these types of goals translates to other facets of life. It allows someone to stick with something that is difficult and work through it successfully. The person sees that they were able to overcome a challenge in the video game they play, and will follow a similar approach to a difficult school subject, or even life event.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
The short-term abilities of video games being able to reduce stress and anxiety are well-known. Video games are fun. While playing, people are able to set aside the challenges and issues they are facing in their lives. However, when used appropriately, video games can be used as a tool to reduce stress and anxiety long after the controller is put down. This is partly because video games develop some of the above-mentioned skills: improved ability to adapt to a changing environment, more effective goal setting, and better critical thinking skills. These give a gamer more tools to be able to deal with the root of what causes the stress.
Another reason video games can reduce stress and anxiety is that they can improve confidence. Progressing in a game gives a sense of achievement and control. As a gamer sees their skills steadily improve, their self-esteem rises. This can help them to put feel better about putting themselves out there in the world, rather than avoiding situations that cause stress. They see that difficult situations help them improve as a person.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that video games can actually cause stress and anxiety. The struggle to improve on skills and win matches can be extremely frustrating. Additionally, with so many games focusing on collaborative online play, this further complicates things. Teammates can often be toxic and mean. They may not be taking the game as seriously as the person they are matched with. For a person who is serious about going pro, this is where hiring a mental skills trainer comes into play. They can work on how to move past these situations so that gaming doesn’t become a new source of stress.
Improved Social Skills
Speaking of online play, despite the potential for toxicity, there is also the potential to build social skills. Firstly, the gamer can learn how to deal with difficult behavior in a way that doesn’t mirror it. For children, it is important for an adult to monitor their play and give them direction on how to do this. That adult can be their parent or a mental skills trainer. Children should also be aware that they are playing with adults that may not speak about things that are age appropriate. Whenever possible, children should be limited to age-restricted servers.
Nevertheless, the online environment is also a way to build lasting relationships. Playing online on a team requires collaboration and communication. This is a skill that translates to other facets of life, being applicable to school or the workplace. At times, gamers are people that can have difficulty socializing in other environments. The ability to connect with somewhere virtually, anywhere in the world, makes it easier to find someone with similar interests. This sense of belonging can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being.
Not only that, but the fact that online gaming is global exposes people to different cultures and perspectives. If a gamer is taught and practices having an open mind, they can learn about belief systems that are different from their own, and have empathy at other people’s situations. A gamer has the potential to be one of the most knowledgeable people in regard to culture out there and can even help to teach others outside of gaming to be more tolerant and accepting.
Developing creativity is another benefit of gaming. While some think that someone is either inherently creative or not, this simply is not true. Creativity is a skill that is developed over time. Some have a more natural apt for being creative, but even the most inherently artistic person needs to work to hone that skill. Gaming often does just that. With modern-day games, this often starts as soon as a person embarks on a new game journey. They are able to create a character that represents themselves and is different from their peers. Many games allow players to create levels and worlds that stimulate the imagination.
From there, progressing through a game continues to work on creativity. Critical thinking and creativity go hand in hand. When a game has a tough task that requires one to approach it in a non-linear way, this helps the person think outside the box. This type of thinking bleeds over into all areas of their life. In the past, one was thought of as creative if they created visual art, music, or prose. However, now creative skills can be developed through game development. Creating these levels and characters can inspire someone to move to the other more classic types of art.
This creativity is then displayed to other gamers. Their customer character is seen by anyone they play with. They can invite their friends to their custom server or play together on the stage they created. They can get confidence boosts by compliments from others who appreciate their work, and talk about the critical thinking that was used during the creation stage of the level or server. This brings in the socialization aspect as well.
Potential College and Career Paths
To this point, we’ve gone over the plethora of ways video games can improve health and well-being in the here and now. However, video games can also lead to long-term satisfaction and fulfillment. As the video game audience has boomed, so have career opportunities. Considering adults spend the majority of their waking hours at their job, one that they enjoy is an important part of living a healthy life.
Many people default to the two most in-demand careers in esports – content creation and professional gaming. These are viable, but difficult careers to get into. Both can be extremely lucrative and give the person a platform that can lead to many other opportunities for financial gain. However, neither of these two paths has a guaranteed path to revenue. It also takes a long investment of time before any type of compensation comes in. Still, someone interested in content creation or professional gaming can reach their goal if they are dedicated to their craft, and have the support of those around them. Children are in a great position to get a head start on this considering they don’t have to worry about income. Parents that provides resources for their child, like mental skills training, can give them a leg up.
However, there are many other careers in gaming that should be explored beyond the two mentioned above. Software developers, game designers, animators, and artists are in-demand. Other types of careers in games are interpreters, translators, and game testers. The benefits of all of these careers can be reaped prior to even working in them as well as many colleges offer scholarships for those interested in these fields. Even aspiring professional gamers can also get their college expenses covered akin to traditional athletes like those playing football, basketball, or baseball.
Final Thoughts on Using Video Games to Improve Performance and Socialization
When someone is having fun, they become much more open to engaging and learning from content. Video games have enormous potential to be used as a tool to help improve health and performance for kids and adults in all facets of their lives. The critical thinking and attentional skills developed in games affect mental and cognitive aspects of a person and can help with academic and workplace performance. When exposed to challenging and stressful situations in games, a person is able to translate the skills used to overcome it to reduce their anxiety in other real-life situations. A gamer can also start to thread these skills together to assist them in setting and conquering specific short and long-term goals.
Online gamers can work on valuable socialization skills. Prior to video games, some personality types lacked the proper channel to work on their people skills, potentially leading to mental health issues as a result. Now, a gamer can interact with people all over the world from the comfort of their bedroom. This can be a little more tricky for children and necessitates that parents or guardians be involved and talk to their children about what goes on during online play. Parental controls should be utilized whenever possible.
In the long term, gaming can be a vehicle to help a person decide what career choice would be the best fit for them. Content creation and professional gaming are difficult, but viable options. If an adolescent feels they want to get into gaming careers, there are now a plethora of college scholarships that may potentially help them further their education. From there, being part of a team that creates video games is a field that should see continued growth in the coming years.