The word “gaming” conjures up several images – from children deeply glued to handheld devices to young adults aggressively shooting a miscreant to even gambling. These images stir up negative emotions about gaming, leaving parents lamenting about their children being “addicted” to gaming. Today, the world over, video gamers spend a collective three billion hours per week on their screens. It is also estimated that an average young person will have spent about 10,000 hours on video games by the time they are 21 years of age.
As the number of gamers increase, the interest in the impact of video games on our daily lives is also growing. Though data has been used to link acts of violence to gaming, there are many more reasons that trigger such acts. Social factors such as family environment, exposure to violence in the family and influence of peers are only some of these. Recent researches have revealed that gaming offers several reasons to cheer for, as it can have a positive impact on brain development.
Should games remain a lazy, unsocial person’s hobby? Is it wise for parents to prevent children from playing video games? Can games really have a positive influence across age groups or are they meant only for children? I believe clearing doubts on several such questions that are troubling the minds of people, especially parents, can help use gaming to the advantage of human kind.
Decades of research has begun to offer evidence that gaming can impact people in ways that will eventually be in the best interests of the society. Video games have far reaching applications that can support brain development, help improve health and build professional skills. Action-based video games help to improve skills that are important for the real world as they help develop the ability to coordinate visual information with motor control.
Children who play video games are able to develop high-level thinking skills and meta cognitive skills. According to Cognitive Researchers Daphne Bavelier, video games train children to follow instructions and solve problems creatively. She also found that those who played video games experienced improved vision in two specific ways – ability to resolve small details and ability to discern different levels of grey. The latter specifically improves the ability to see and remain alert while driving in poor weather conditions. Yet another positive outcome of gaming is the ability to multitask. As the gamer moves up the levels, players are expected to juggle objectives and track the changing elements and connect the ideas.
Several video games have been created to help professionals develop expertise. Dr Hoedemaker a keyhole surgeon, has developed ‘Underground’, a game to help surgeons hone their skills in use of surgical instruments. The Army makes use of video games in their training routines. Soldiers improve their combat situational awareness by playing these games. Several strategy games throw sudden situational changes at the player requiring the player to change strategy and adapt quickly.
At the other end of the spectrum are the seniors, who can benefit immensely by playing video games. Certain types of video games can improve their memory, ability to multitask, and enhance reaction times. Some games can help improve cognitive ability and lead the brain to function with the same agility as that of a 20-year old. War Thunder, World of Warcraft (WoW) and Neuroracer are considered perfect for seniors. WoW is the most popular game to help improve the aging mind. Researchers are claiming that Neuroracer, a 3D racing car game, has the potential to reverse the effects of aging on the brain and perhaps reduce the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s amongst others.
Slowly but surely people are beginning to accept that several aspects of video games are good for improving brain elasticity, vision, learning amongst others. If played consistently for two hours a day, video game activities have the potential to increase grey matter in the brain and enhance functional connectivity.
Some game designers, such as Jane McGonigal, propose that as a planet we should spend about 21 billion hours a week playing video games. People who regularly boost physical, mental, emotional and social resilience live 10 years longer than the others. Depending on how video games are integrated into a person’s life, games do provide the opportunity to boost these. If played with family, rather than on personal devices, they can improve family bonding, thus boosting emotional resilience. Games such as Word not only keep friends connected, they also boost mental resilience.
I believe that adults who are gamers make better performers in their workplaces too. Games offer both individual and collective emotional rewards. An element of uncertainty also brings in lot of excitement creeps. Most games expect players to set short term and long term goals. The player achieves these tasks by performing small and big tasks and tracks progress, games become a source of motivation. With enhanced attention to details, people become inherently more accepting of risks.
As people continue to seek novelty, look for new challenges and think creatively, the global gaming industry experienced exponential growth in the first decade of this millennium. While it only doubled from USD 10 billion in 1990 to USD 20 billion in 2000, the figure stood at USD 50 billion in 2010. And the numbers are only growing not shrinking.
Looking at the larger benefits that video games have to offer, I believe it is time for India to popularize gaming. And, I am very happy that as a first step, Confederation of Indian Industry organised a Gaming Show in February this year. Japan, a leader in the video gaming industry, was the partner country. Mr Hideki Okumara, Chairman of Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association, who I had the opportunity to meet earlier during the year, guided the creation of this Gaming Show. While the show offered an opportunity for people to understand the larger impact of games, a large number of children gravitated to the arena for the entertainment value. But, I am sure as we mature we will begin to understand the deeper and larger benefits of gaming.
With the advent of 4G, increased internet penetration and the rise of smartphones, game downloads have been on the rise in India. According to a recent survey, game downloads in India more than doubled between 2014 and 2016. In the 2nd Quarter of 2016 alone more than 300 games were downloaded! Indian gaming industry is currently valued at USD 890 million, and is estimated to grow at 14.3 per cent per annum. India has the skill advantage along with the presence of big development centres such as Microsoft, Nvidia, UbiSoft, Zynga, Electronic Arts, Disney, Playdom, Sony, Digital Chocolate, etc.
Given India’s challenges in health, education and other socio economic parameters, there is opportunity to innovate and provide compelling content in the Indian context. But can India change its outlook to gaming from it being a waste of time to it being a productive activity? Can the advantages of gaming be harnessed to build a better society?