September 24, 2012

Level Up!

Video games may play a positive role in recovery, mental health, cognitive ability and more.

By Rick Givens video games can have a positive benefit for your life and recovery.

If I were to sit down at any table and make a statement like that, people would look at me like I had a shark fin growing out of my head. Video games have gotten a bad rap, but recent studies suggest they actually may have wide-ranging benefits for their players.

Last year, East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic put 60 test subjects who met the criteria for clinical depression through the paces using a series of PopCap brand family-friendly puzzle and word games. According to the research, all members of the test group categorized as having moderate to severe depression experienced improvement, showing only moderate or mild symptoms after six months of playing the games.

Other studies have listed the use of video games, even action-intense games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 3, in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for troops returning from deployment. These studies find that patients suffering from certain mental conditions experience a reduction in symptoms after engaging in video game activities, and that certain cognitive skills, hand-eye coordination and problem solving are more developed in those who play. are also plenty of common-sense reasons gaming can be a great fit for recovery. For one, gaming can be a social activity. Whether you gather at a mutual meeting place or congregate online, you’ll have your peers, family and friends literally at your fingertips. Gaming nights can be spontaneous or planned in advance. You can bring a console to a peer meeting, or just have some friends over for Mario Kart on the Wii; either way you will find hours of entertainment with people who share your interests, some of whom may have faced the same issues you have.

Games are getting more active, too, and if you take advantage, you stand to reap the benefits as you supplement your workout routine. Playing Madden sprawled on the couch isn’t going to do it, but fitness games such as Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, Just Dance 2, and Kinect Sports get you off the couch and breaking a sweat. From cardio kickboxing to yoga, you have access to workouts designed by various fitness experts, or you can just fool around and have fun.

If you’re new to gaming and looking for what the community calls “casual games” to get started, two good choices are Portal and Portal 2, among the most popular games of all time. Players work alone or in pairs to figure out puzzles, avoid traps and escape a testing chamber. any new hobby, gaming can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to. Many cell phones are equipped for web browsing or apps, and there are plenty of free titles that are challenging, fun and interactive. Web and free-to-play versions of games are becoming increasingly popular as well. Many offer premium content, but you can stick with the basics and skip buying the extras.

When it comes down to it, gaming has many benefits that people are finally beginning to realize. Whether you want to improve your health, hang out with friends, or simply get away from the pressures for a few minutes, a video game is a great way to take your recovery to the next level.

Rick Givens is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, freelance writer and technical consultant for the video games industry based in the greater Chicago area.

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