Non-gamers might describe them as unproductive and social recluse individuals who spend countless of hours a day in front of their PC or favourite gaming consoles. This is inevitable. Gamers have the habit of detaching themselves from the real world to dive into an otherworldly environment where they can solve problems, complete quests, or slay their virtual adversaries.
But not all gamers are antisocial. In fact, a study by Nicholas Taylor, Jennifer Jenson, Suzanne de Castell, and Barry Dilouya found out that gaming augments the social lives of gamers.
The researchers travelled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and U.S. to observe the social behaviours of gamers and survey another 375 gamers playing massive multiplayer online role playing games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft. In tracking both the online and offline behaviours of these individuals, they found out that gaming was only one aspect of social behaviour at gaming events.
“We found that gamers were often exhibiting many social behaviours at once: watching games, talking, drinking, and chatting online,” said Taylor, lead author and a professor of communication. “Gaming did not eliminate social interaction, it supplemented it.
“This was true regardless of which games players were playing, and whether a player’s behaviour in the online game was altruistic. For example, a player could be utterly ruthless in the game and still socialise normally offline.”
There is also a reason to believe that gamers are not only socially aware but also equipped to function in several social situations. A report based on a United States survey by research and consultancy firm LifeCourse Associates and published by gaming site Twitch revealed that gamers have more positive attributes than their non-gamer counterparts. To be specific, these gaming-obsessed individuals are more sociable and educated than non-gamers.
The survey specifically revealed that gamers consider family a top priority (82 percent versus 68 percent) while also placing a high importance on friends (57 percent vs. 35 percent) than non-gamers. Gamers and their parents are also more likely to have finished their college education (43 percent and 52 percent, respectively) than non-gamers and their parents (36 percent and 37 percent, respectively).
In terms of values and norms, gamers are more likely predisposed to making a positive impact on society (76 percent vs. 55 percent). They prefer patronising businesses that promote social causes (58 percent vs. 36 percent) and they give more importance on ethical business practices (78 percent vs. 65 percent).
There are more benefits to gaming according to other studies. For instance, a research from the U.S. Department of Defense discovered that gamers are considerably smarter than non-gamers. There is a commonly held belief that most individuals achieve their full brain capacity by the age of 20. However, the research of Rey Perez, program officer at the warfighter performance department of the Office of Naval Research, that centred on exploring the effects of video game-like training programs has produced surprising results.
Gamers perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive abilities compared to non-gamers according to the research. Furthermore, the research revealed gamers have longer attention spans and larger field of vision than normal people.
The aforementioned benefits have made video games an important training tool inside the U.S. Department of Defence. Perez said that video games increase the fluid intelligence of individuals regardless of their age. Accordingly, fluid intelligence is the ability to change, to meet new problems, and to develop new tactics and counter-tactics without prior knowledge or experience.
Although there is empirical evidence of increased brain plasticity in video games, Perez noted that the biological and neurological process behind the phenomenon is not well understood. He hypothesised that the neural networks involved in video gaming become more pronounced, have increased blood flow, and become more synchronised with other neural networks in the brain.
But not all genres of video games produce the same advantages. The study of Vikranth R. Bejjanki et al demonstrated for the first time that people who played action games like “Call of Duty” and “Unreal Tournament” had greater visual performance and prediction capacity than those who play non-action games.
The Bejjanki et al study specifically compared the visual performance of 10 action gamers with that of 10 non-action gamers who played for 50 hours over nine weeks. To gauge this, the researchers measured the ability of the two groups to distinguish one set of black and white lines from another that were presented in rapid fashion. Results revealed that action gamers outperformed the non-action gamers.
To further understand why action gamers had better visual performance, the researchers turned to neural modelling. They subsequently found out that the brains of these individuals were more capable of estimating what various pattern of lines would look like before they appeared and then match to those expectations to what they saw. This advantage develops from playing fast-paced action games that on the other hand, sharpens the prediction skills of the brain as it becomes exposed to better perceptual templates.
Researchers from Drake University have also found out that gamers see more than non-gamers. To be specific, L. Gregory Appelbaum, Matthew S. Cain, Elise F. Darling, and Stephen R. Mitroff compared the visual sensitivity of gamers and non-gamers by subjecting them under a visual sensory memory task. Results revealed that gamers outperformed non-gamers and it further confirmed an earlier research that these individuals are quicker at responding to visual stimuli and can track more items than their non-gamer counterparts.
“Gamers see the world differently,” said Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry. They are able to extract more information from a visual scene.”
The researchers examined three possible reasons for the apparent superior ability of gamers to make probabilistic interferences. Either they see better, they retain visual memory longer, or they have improved their decision-making. Based on the results of their study, Appelbaum et al believed that memory retention is not the reason. Instead, two other factors might be in play—it is possible that gamers see more immediately and they are better able to make the most appropriate decisions from available information.
Another small study from researchers at Brown University suggests that gaming not only improves the visual skills of gamers but also may improve their learning ability for those skills. The study authored by Andrew V. Berard et al involved pitting nine frequent gamers against a control group of nine people who play video games rarely if ever. The two groups participated in a two-day trial of visual task learning. Subjects were shown an on-screen “texture” of either visual or horizontal lines and had to quickly point out—in a fraction of a second—the one area where an anomalous texture appeared. In visual processing research this is a standard protocol called a texture discrimination task.
Earlier studies demonstrated that most people can be trained to improve their performance on texture discrimination tasks, but only if they are given enough time for the learning to “consolidate” in their mind, presumably as neural circuits embodying the learning take shape. If they move on to a second task too quickly, for example, that could interfere with their learning of the first one.
Berard et al wanted to find out if gamers were better able to overcome this interference, compared to non-gamers. They therefore trained the subjects on a second similar task soon after training them on the first. If in the first task the main texture was horizontal, for example, the second time it was vertical, or vice versa
The researchers found out that gamers managed to improve performance on both tasks, while non-gamers did what was expected: They improved on the second task they trained on, but not on the first. Learning the second task interfered with learning the first.
The data showed that gamers on average improved their combination of speed and accuracy by about 15 percent on their second task and about 11 percent on their first task. Non-gamers produced the same average 15 percent improvement on their second task, but they actually got a bit worse on the first task they learned, by about 5 percent. Despite the small number of participants, the results proved statistically significant.
During the recent years, research on the positive impacts of video games have become increasingly important for researchers from several fields including communication, psychology, and neuroscience, among others. There is more to video games than merely passing the time according to them.
“A lot of people still view video games as a time-wasting activity even though research is beginning to show their beneficial aspects,” Berard said. “If we can demonstrate that video games may actually improve some cognitive functioning, perhaps we, as a society, can embrace newer technology and media with positive application.”
According to the Twitch report, perceptions about the effects of games have taken a positive turn. Today, educational games are increasingly being integrated into classroom teaching and workplace environments as educators and employers use them to engage individuals and hone the development of new skills. In retirement homes, gaming consoles have become instrumental in keeping the physical and mental facets of aging individual active and sharp.
Further details of the LifeCourse Associates survey are found in the report “The new face of gamers” published in 2014 by Twitch. More details of the study of Taylor et al are in the article “Public displays of play: Studying online games in physical setting” published in 2014 in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. More information about the research and works of Perez are found in the article “Adults benefit from playing video game” published online in 2010 by the Defense Media Activity of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Further details of the study of Bejjanki et al are in the article “Action video game play facilitates the development of better perceptual templates” published in 2014 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More details of the study of Appelbaum et al are in the article “Action video game playing is associated with improved visual sensitivity, but not alterations in visual sensory memory” published in 2013 in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. Further details of the study of Berard et al are in the article “Frequent video game players resist perceptual interference” published in 2015 in the journal PLoS One.