(Cover image by artist Walter Newton: Gallery)

For decades, we’ve heard not to play video games because they will rot your brain, just like the “boob tube”. . Video games are harmful to a child’s development. Many of these people will sit in front of a tv show or a movie, but video games are “bad”.

What if I told you video games can encourage reading? Video games can assist with physical therapy. Video games can help develop critical thinking. Video games help to combat the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Gaming in Health Care:

Gaming affects health care
Physical changes

Studies have shown that preschool children who have played with the physically interactive systems, like a Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move, or an X-Box Kinect have improved motor skills. They are often able to kick, throw, and catch balls better than their peers who have not been exposed to said gaming systems. Many hospitals, therapy centers, and some nursing homes are using the Wii, Move and Kinect as part of their physical therapy. In a study of 20 elderly Parkinson’s patients who played for three (3) months in physical therapy, they found an improvement of 55% in gait velocity, 65% in stride, and 55% in balance. ICU’s have reported due to the lower costs of the Wii, they are able to save patients money and they still see a significant improvement in the 33-64 age range. These systems are now older and thus cheaper so families can also have them at home to encourage their child to move. (You can check online or at your local gaming store that deals in older systems). This is also great for children who have to stay indoors during certain seasons due to a medical condition or severe allergies.

I do plan on doing an article on the differences between the Wii, Move, and Kinect in the future.

Boston did a study on surgeons who use microsurgery. The results showed doctors who play video games were 27% faster than those who don’t AND made 37% fewer mistakes. So now its a good thing to have a surgeon who plays video games. In another study, they found eyesight improves with video games. (They have no idea how). In children with amblyopia (crossed or lazy eye), when they play games for a year, there was 30% significant, 60% moderate improvement to the crossed eye. In addition to sight improvement, people develop the ability to differentiate between more shades of gray. (Not a book reference). People who drive at night or are pilots benefit the most from this… and the poor people asked by their partner to pick a shade of gray to paint with. The Leap Motion combined with a VR (virtual reality) headset is often used to help with Occupational Therapy and “hands on” educational and training programs. In a study using virtual table video games (like tablets) for occupational therapy over one (1) month for children ages 3-15 with motor disabilities, they found 3x improvement in fine motor skills and range of motion, especially with manipulations over door knobs, zippers, and buttons.

Brain functions

Gaming affects a variety of parts of the brain. Games can help people with decision making. RPGs (role playing games) are some of the best ones that encourage the player to make decisions, whether it’s based on strategy for gameplay or options that will change the story line. Studies show that people who play games make decisions 25% faster than those who don’t play, and they do not lose accuracy. They also found that gamers can often make 6 separate decisions and act on them within one (1) second, which is apparently four (4) times faster than the average person. (This means the non gamer makes 1.5 decisions and acts them out within a second.

The University of Rochester, New York, found that gamers are able to multitask more than six (6) separate tasks at the same time and not get confused; the average non-gamer can focus on up to four (4) tasks.

RPGs, text adventure games (old school) which are like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and reading game guides are excellent ways to boost reading skills. Commodore 64 had tons of the text games that are still popular to this day. Classic Reload has them available to play online.

Off topic…

Interesting fact, a popular text based game called Jewels of Darkness was involved in a lawsuit. The game is actually a series of three (3) games that were based on stories by Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, Simarillion, and Tales from Middle Earth). Because of this, the game was originally released as the Middle Earth Trilogy. Needless to say, they didn’t have rights to his estate and so they had to change the name.

Psychological

The University in Auckland, New Zealand, had 94 young people play a computer/mobile RPG called SPARX, designed for ages 12-19 to teach skills that are often taught in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). In many cases, the game reduced symptoms of depression more than traditional treatments. There have been other studies with others young people and the total tested is 187 to date and they have found it also helps with anxiety and anger. 44% of players recovered completely from depression, compared to 26% who have standard treatments. 60% showed a reduction of symptoms by at least 30%. Unfortunately the game is currently only available in New Zealand. I hope it is more widely available in the future.

Oxford University found that people who play Tetris right after a traumatic experience can help reduce the chance of flash backs or PTSD.

The downside to this is individuals, especially males, who only play violent video games are foundto have a decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe, which can lead to altered mood states and aggression. It can also lower their empathetic response. It’s been found that those who only play excessively violent games have more anxiety than other gamers. Also, video game addiction can lead to decreased activity in the frontal lobe.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com
Gamification in Health care

These are games that encourage patients to make healthy choices. A very common version of this is apps that link to your fitness watch and such. Some are literal games that will let you trade in the steps you take for gear for your game, some are audio books that will read about an apocalypse or adventure. These often have “action scenes” that encourage you to run just like the characters in the stories do. Some are using games for behavior modification to combat childhood obesity. This has been particularly effective in the preteen range. They get more game time in trade for eating 2-3 more servings of fruits and veggies a day and less junk food. Results are typically seen within 2 months.

Zen games are becoming increasingly popular, these often have techniques that are taught in Bio Feedback Therapy. Some biofeedback centers use games to encourage children to relax. For example, we’ve seen some that are linked to the child’s heartrate and breathing that had a butterfly or a bunny come out and move when the child was relaxed.

There are some amazing innovations in electronics to help children, whether for education, calming, communication, or tracking.

Jerry the Bear is designed for children ages 4-9+ with Type 1 diabetes. He has lots of features so he children can relate. He is available for purchase (and donation) here.
My Special Aflac Duck is amazing. It is designed for children with cancer, although it is gaining popularity for those being treated with sickle-cell anemia.
Sidekicks was designed to he a holographic personal assistant. He’s been found to be helpful with individuals with Autism, Alzheimer’s, STEM education, and just plain fun. The Kickstarter is scheduled to start this month…
Purrble was launched late 2020 and it’s been an amazing tool in helping children with anxiety. It’s technically an interactive toy rather than a video game. There is not an app for it yet.
Gululu may be pricy, but they help children who actively refuse to drink water. Their water intake directly affects their virtual pet .
Jennie, although not a video game aspect, is an awesome interactive toy. It was designed with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, however, they are exploring it’s use for other people with disabilities who cannot care for an animal, but still crave the interaction. It was brought to life by Tombot and the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

Education:

In this day in age, many people have heard about educational games. Some commonly known ones are:

The Oregon Trail (Link will let you play online version. Oregon Trail has had many updates and expansions.) 1992 Remastered version.

Tinybop offers a wide array of STEM games for mobile platforms. We have several of them. Thing 2’s favorite was the human body. The apps explore anatomy, physics, nature, space, and engineering.

Note: the human anatomy doesn’t show the urogenital system unless you purchase it.

Toca Boca apps… when my kids were younger, they had all of the older ones. Toca Boca designs apps for younger children, or those with special needs. Many of these apps encourage human interaction so children who have social issues can learn from it (examples include Toca Store, Toca Birthday Party, Toca Tea Party). They designed a whole Toca Hair Salon series (I think there’s 5 games total) that can help with children who experience anxiety from the hair dresser. Tons of imaginative games, and even science games like Toca Lab, which is based on the periodic table of elements, and Toca Lab 2: Plants, which explores cross germination. (Update: I just got word they have also started releasing a box like Sago Mini.)

Sago Mini was also a favorite in our house. They design apps for toddlers and preschoolers that help them explore their world and emotions. They also introduced the Sago Mini Box which include playsets and activities that relate to the Sago Mini world. Sago Mini is a subsidiary of Toca Boca, so you know the quality is there, and it’s easy to transition to the next stage of play with Toca Boca.

And the list keeps going. There are online games that mimic school curriculums, games for subjects, games for typing.

One of the ways we help with education on “non educational games” is to have the kids design their own cheat sheets for the game. This is something my parents started with me. So I have PRIMA guides (which encourages reading and following directions) and tons of guides and maps I made myself.

In not so short, video games can be beneficial when used in the right way. If you are looking for ways to download games to your computer, our favorites are GOG and Steam for more modern games and indie games. Our favorite for puzzle games, including match 3, hidden object games, literal puzzles, and word games is Big Fish Games.

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or recommendations for types of games.

I’m now headed off to see if I die from dysentery again.

2 Comments »

    • This article may not fit everyone’s needs.

      The purpose of this article addresses the benefits for special needs and health care. It isn’t meant to replace the real world, it is to be used in adjacent.

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