Can video games be good for you?

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1. A dangerous influence?

You are a soldier stalking the enemy in an apocalyptic landscape. Suddenly guns are blazing and you are fighting for your life. Your heart and mind are racing!

For many, video games represent a world of violent images and aggressive emotions. Popular games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have been demonised in the media, blamed for everything from falling grades at school to provoking acts of extreme violence. But while the link between video games and violence has been debated for three decades now, there is still no clear answer.

There is, however, a growing body of evidence showing that playing video games could be good for us, from children to the over 60s. Some of the benefits are even accompanied by changes in certain areas of the brain.

2. Growing the grey cells

German neuroscientists asked 23 people to play Super Mario 64, a popular 3D platform game, for at least 30 minutes a day for two months. MRI scans showed some players experienced growth in specific areas of their brains. Click or tap for more.

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3. Life-enhancing games

As well as skills related to these areas of brain growth, playing video games can bring other benefits, including thinking in 3D and even improving our eyesight.

Some studies have shown that first person shooter games improve a player's capacity to think about objects in three dimensions. This explains why medics who played video games were instinctively better at keyhole surgery. Now a Dutch surgeon has developed a game designed to train doctors in this specialised technique.

Another unexpected bonus of gaming is improved eyesight. One study showed that those playing first person shooters saw an improvement in their 'contrast sensitivity function'. This is the ability to make out subtle changes in the brightness of an image. It also found that focusing on a screen to aim at the bad guy exercised our eyes. This is a skill we lose as we age, so improving it can help maintain visual acuity for longer.

4. Gamers, not loners

As well as improving these specific skills, playing video games can have a positive effect on your social life too.

With an estimated 1.2 billion people playing video games worldwide, it’s not surprising that a social scene has mushroomed. Gone is the stereotypical solitary gamer, stuck in his bedroom surrounded by drinks cans and takeaways. Games like Halo and World of Warcraft are often played in groups, with players wearing head-sets for communication and teamwork across the internet. When your group works together to win the game, your sense of achievement is higher than with a lone success.

All of this is said to improve self-esteem, and being part of a team and making new friends is claimed to help with depression.

So gaming is not the geek's paradise it once seemed, and while some video games will still make the headlines, they aren't all bad. There's a case to be made that playing some video games can have certain benefits, and if you're seven or 70 there's a game out there for you – in moderation of course!

5. Game skills

Research suggests that videos games could help us develop real-world, practical skills. So how could you benefit from some time at the console?

Setting your sights

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Improved eyesight

Canadian research showed that after 10 hours of gaming over a month, vision in young players had improved: they could read two extra lines of an eye chart.

Decisions, decisions

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Faster decision making

Gamers who play action video games make faster decisions, a particularly useful skill for something like driving where quick reactions are key.

Staying power

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Perseverance

Video games encourage perserverance, whether it's getting to the next level or beating a high score. That tenacity is something we can use in the real world.

Fighting the demons

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Games to tackle depression

SPARX, a role-playing video game developed in New Zealand has been shown to help youngsters combat depression.