In the News: Isabela Granic on the potential mental benefits of gaming

A young gamer sitting with headphones on in front of a computer screen

Despite the perception that video games are bad for you, research has shown gaming can provide cognitive, motivational, emotional and social benefits, says a McMaster researcher and developmental psychologist.

“The vast majority of the research around video games is on the negative impact,” Isabela Granic, industry professor of Health, Aging & Society, told Discover Magazine. That includes things like leading players to be anti-social or games being blamed for incidents of violence.

“After a couple of meta-analyses, it’s pretty clear that there is no causation [between video games and real-world violence],” says Granic.

In fact, there’s at least two decades of research showing some of the potential benefits of gaming.

For example, first-person shooter games can give players “increases in abilities for spatial reasoning and spatial cognition in general, hand-eye coordination, multi-level problem solving, and so on,” she explained.

Video games also have motivational benefits to players by rewarding them for their patience, persistence and effort after completing a task. This is especially true with games that increase in difficulty.

Much has been written about online harassment in multiplayer video games.

“There are plenty of people who play [massive multiplayer games like] League of Legends and hate the toxicity that goes along with it,” said Granic, but adds there are social benefits to playing with others, including team building and leadership skills.

Beyond that, playing these games can help players discover more about themselves and they can be used as an escape from the real world. Playing or creating different characters can help individuals explore their gender identity.

“That kind of playful experimentation and fantasy serves a real purpose in people’s lives when they can’t do it in their otherwise daily lives,” she said.

Granic is also director of the Games for Emotional and Mental Health Lab, which is researching and developing video games to treat and prevent emotional and mental health issues in young people.

“Something like 97 per cent of kids by the time they reach 18 are playing them daily, or certainly regularly,” she said. “It’s basically ubiquitous. Everybody is playing video games.”

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