Playstation controller

The word ‘game’ has attracted more than a few nasty connotations. Largely associated with consoles and subsequently laziness and sheer mindless escapism, the mainstream view is that games are the preserve of the stupid.

There’s also the commonly held notion that games which involve violence breed this kind of behaviour in the real world- just look at the news coverage in the wake of any major violent crime and you’ll find some reference to the fact that the perpetrator owned a few R rated video games.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, the word has also become shorthand for the way that terrible lovers conduct themselves in their relationships.

All things considered, the language which refers to games has meant that they’ve gotten a pretty poor rep following their move from the table to the television.

What is perhaps most misleading about the perception of games, however, is that they’re a recent and unsightly addition to the cultural landscape.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, historian Johan Huizinga has convincingly demonstrated that games preceded society. In his book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, he explained how primitive games paved the way for our ancestors to communicate and ultimately form the relationships that serve as the cornerstone of our societies.

After spending a great deal of time advancing the idea that playing is central to the establishing and survival of a culture, he concluded that “for many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play”. Clearly, games are much more significant than separating the winners from the losers; they’re a vital medium of exchange which have helped to define the world as we now understand it.

Whilst historians have examined the importance of games for society at large, scientists have stressed the importance of games for individuals. Specifically, studies have been carried out to prove the way that video and board games can sharpen up the areas of the brain that deal with things like memory, focus, and creativity.

In one experiment carried out by Dezhong Yao at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, an MRI scan was used to show how the insular cortex of experienced gamers functioned at a higher rate than casual gamers. In layman’s terms, this piece of research proved that certain participants enjoyed superior cognitive abilities thanks to playing video games.

A similar study was performed at Princeton University which revealed that regular gamers possessed the ability to complete tasks more efficiently and had greater learning capabilities than participants who didn’t play games.

With science and history on their side, it couldn’t be clearer that games and play do in fact offer something of incredible value. Specifically, they help to improve the way that our minds work whilst providing entertainment. These improvements have implications way beyond the games themselves and promise to enhance the way that we perform at work and how we focus on our other hobbies.

Please don’t think this article is designed to suggest that we collectively migrate to some virtual universe, all plugged into headsets, desperately trying to shy away from life’s more unpleasant realities.

I’m simply proposing that the occasional brain holiday might not be such a bad thing when it comes to relieving the pressures that make up our workaday lives. They also stand to improve our ability to think. Demanding that we quickly process information and make decisions based off of this process, it’s not a stretch to suggest that by playing more games we stand to enrich our lives in a more general way.