Video games can have benefits, but...

By Pieter van Zyl
01 February 2016

It’s official, video games can be good for you – particularly if you're in your golden years.

It’s official – video games can be good for you.

These games are often regarded as a couch potato’s hobby but new research shows gaming can slow down and even reverse the detrimental effects of ageing.

According to a study by the University of California in San Francisco these digital games can prevent a change in the efficiency of the mind over time.

“The findings are a good example of how adaptable the older brain is,” says one of the researchers, Dr Adam Gazzaley, professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry.

The researchers used the 3D game NeuroRacer to test participants aged from their 20s to 70s. They found that the ability to carry out various tasks declines with increasing age.

Gamers had to steer a digital car on the screen along a winding road across hills while watching out for road signs that they had to shoot.

After the initial test that showed the young people did better at the game than the older ones the researchers trained a group aged between 60 and 85 and let them play for a total of 12 hours in the space of a month.

As the older people improved the game became more difficult. Within four weeks they’d improved so much that they were scoring more points than the 20-somethings.

Six months later their skill hadn’t declined. Their brain waves were tested and it was shown that their brain activity was beginning to look like that of the younger people in the study. They even did better than the youngsters in a memory test. The findings of the study were published in the magazine Nature.

“Because of the progress in the development of these games they can help with hand-eye-cordination, problem solving and logic, memory, concentration and fine motor skills,” says Durban psychologist Rakhi Beekrum.

“Gaming has advantages and disadvantages. In this digital era it’s impossible, and perhaps inadvisable, to limit this hobby.”

“Like chess and soccer, video games require skills,” says Dean Groom, an Australian educational developer. “Success in gaming depends on perseverance, intelligence and practice, not chance,” he adds.

Some experts say online video games could be a welcome social exercise for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild type of autism, and older people with Alzheimer’s.

But this type of interaction takes place in an unreal world with children seated at computer screens. There are better ways of learning social skills,” says Dr Hermann Liebenberg, a psychologist from Centurion.

In another study it was found that boys who gamed for five or more hours a day spent 33 percent less time reading than those whose gaming was limited to only one or two hours a day.

“In my opinion leading a balanced life with gaming as a creative diversion is healthy,” Hermann says. But don’t use video games as a nanny,” he warns.

By monitoring children who enjoy gaming you can get an idea of what they feel about certain issues, such as violence, success other people and other matters that could set off warning bells, says Rakhi.

Gaming can also bring parents and children closer together when they enjoy the hobby together, apart from stimulating creativity and imagination. Depending on the game, they can help improve maths skills. But gaming can become a problem if it takes over your life and keeps you from personal contact with people outside cyberspace.

WARNING SIGNS

  • You become withdrawn and experience anger, stress and/or depression when you don’t have access to a computer, Jerald Block writes in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

  • You’re spending at least 10 hours a day gaming, says Ignacio Lopez, an American expert in computer behavior.

  • When you game you lose track of time, says Jerald.

  • You develop an obsession with endlessly obtaining better computer equipment and software and spend many hours on your computer.

  • Minecraft or any other computer game is the first thing you think of when you wake up or the last you think of when you go to bed.

  • Outbursts of anger when someone bothers you while you’re gaming.

  •  You lie, neglect your responsibilities and friends and are continuously tired from all your gaming.

Sources: thenextweb.com, minecraft.net, deangroom.wordpress.com, cbsnews.com, bbc.com, time.com

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