Let’s Get Physical


Games apparently make us fat, violent and antisocial, oh, and don’t forget the title “geek” stapled onto that as well. So isn’t it interesting that there is plenty of research coming out that says the opposite. What’s even more interesting are the various ways in which games can be used to improve physical well being.

In the US a study has just been started that will focus on how videogames can help people manage chronic illnesses and even quit smoking. The nine teams undertaking this research have been awarded grant money by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They will study digital games that engage players in physical activity or motivate them to improve how they take care of themselves.

The example used from my source  is to see if Dance Revolution could help Parkinson’s patients to reduce the risk of falling.

Certainly videogames have been used in remarkably intriguing ways as a therapeutic tool. Videogames have the ability to distract a physically injured patient while they undergo boring and repetitive exercise regimes, and they have the potential to help the management of pain.

Video games have been used innovatively as a form of physiotherapy for arm injuries (Szer 1983), in training the movements of a teenager with Erb’s palsy (Krichevets et al 1994), and as a form of occupational therapy to increase hand strength (King 1993). For example, King showed that just three-minute “exercise” periods on computer games could be used in an OT setting to increase a patient’s hand strength. (source)

Moving away from the realm of pain management and physiotherapy, gaming has also been proven to improve hand-eye coordination which is an extremely useful skill. According to a study done by the University of Rochester in New York, action gamers tend to be more attuned to their environment while they do things like drive, making them far more likely to notice a child running into the street than a non-gamer.

Already we can start putting on our red capes and boots…

According to the experiments people who play action videogames can process visual information more quickly and track 30 percent more objects than non videogame players. Not only do a gamers reflexes improve, but so does their ability to make quick and effective decisions.  According to the American Psychological Association, “certain types of videogames can have beneficial effects, improving a gamers dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve – attributes that have proven useful not only to students but to surgeons.

So these are just some of the basic side effects you can experience as a gamer, just by sitting in your chair and polishing off the undead. But it doesn’t include extras like the rash of gaming and exercise titles (the delightful portmanteau of exergaming) that may well help you to improve your overall health.

These have come a long way from the screams of Jane Fonda demanding that you go “through the burn”, instead you get to enjoy calm instructors that will get your metabolism moving, your heart pumping and are a valid addition to any exercise regime. While games like Wii Fit and its ilk are possibly not quite at the same level as an aerobic workout, they are moving rapidly in that direction. However, the most important part of that is they are fun! They adopt the “distractor” mode to get sedentary humans up and at ‘em. What more could you ask for?

Time to run those old stereotypical views of gamers into the ground, eh?

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