Are Games Good For You?

The short answer is, yes. They are. (cf. "Reality is Broken" - by Jane McGonigal). The long answer is - it depends on how much time you're going to put into them, and what you expect out of them, and why you're playing instead of working (work can be a realtime game with a ton of benefits).

Looking at board games, and games that can be played in group or single, outdoors or in - you have a wide spectrum of activity that can include chance, skill or a combination of both. You can better yourself mentally, physically, emotionally - and you can learn to weather the storms of chance as well. Case in point: golf. Many golfers would not admit to the random element - but I would offer the following observation: are people like Tiger Woods all that prone to making mistakes? Why is it that we see, over and over again - a rotation on the leaderboard? If Phil Mickelson goes out and shoots a great round, and then the next day gets-pole axed by the lie he draws - how much does the lie contribute? If Mark Wilson is playing hot , and hits his ball to within five feet of the flagstick - and then misses his putt - do we acknowledge that the way in which the grass is growing has an effect on the game?

I picked golf because , in many ways, golf is similiar in my past discussion to a game called warcraft. Although golf is played outdoors, and places a premium on skill - warcraft also requires skill. One needs to be able to keep ones head when everything around him or her is heading to chaos. A dps caster needs to remember to keep casting. A tank needs to remember to taunt, and keep aggro. Healers need to keep the health of the entire raid up , and players need to remember to keep everyone else alive. Raid wipe happens when players just blow off the others in their group, and walk towards someone with a big debuff - or cause the healer to stress out and blow their ability to keep the group alive.

The random element in both games is maddening. Both have the allure that you can do these great and impossible things. Tiger Woods hits an eight iron straight into the hole. And the way he does it, you look at what he's doing and you say to yourself. Wow, I can do that. But when you see someone like a player from the NCAA basketball tournament, say, a forward guard from Butler, fly up five feet in the air, turn around backwards and do a reverse slam-dunk, you think "Man, I need to practice to be able to do that". I guess that's why there aren't as many fuzzy leprechaun basketball covers out there.

But both games require skill. Some play golf to a fault - they live to hit the white ball. Does it make them a lesser person? I think not. The benefit of a game, is that it provides you an opportunity to sharpen your skill. And when you actually do that, you're going to end up a better person. What you do with those skills - is a decision.

If , for example, you choose to blow off work and go play golf instead. That's probably not a great decision. Unless you made a small fortune yesterday, and the boss is taking you out on the links to congratulate you. At which point you're probably better off hitting the white ball.

From the book: Reality is Broken - a few pointers.

1. Don’t play more than 21 hours a week.

Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances--such as serving in the military during war-time--research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply. By the time you’re spending 40 hours or more a week playing games, the psychological benefits of playing games have disappeared entirely--and are replaced with negative impacts on your physical health, relationships, and real-life goals. So always strive to keep your gaming in the sweet spot: 7–21 hours a week.

2. Playing with real-life friends and family is better than playing alone all the time, or with strangers.

Gaming strengthens your social bonds and builds trust, two key factors in any positive relationship. And the more positive relationships you have in real life, the happier, healthier and more successful you are. You can get mental and emotional benefits from single-player games, or by playing with strangers online--but to really unlock the power of games, it’s important to play them with people you really know and like as often as possible. A handy rule-of-thumb: try to make half of your gaming social. If you play 10 hours a week, try to play face-to-face with real-life friends or family for at least 5 of those hours. (And if you’re not a gamer yourself--but you have a family member who plays games all the time, it would do you both good to play together--even if you think you don’t like games!)

3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family beats playing with them online.

If you’re in the same physical space, you’ll supercharge both the positive emotional impacts and the social bonding. Many of the benefits of games are derived from the way they make us feel--and all positive emotions are heightened by face-to-face interaction. Plus, research shows that social ties are strengthened much more when we play games in the same room than when we play games together online. Multi-player games are great for this. But single-player works too! You can get all the same benefits by taking turns at a single-player game, helping and cheering each other on.

4. Cooperative gameplay, overall, has more benefits than competitive gameplay.

Studies show that cooperative gameplay lifts our mood longer, and strengthens our friendships more, than competing against each other. Cooperative gameplay also makes us more likely to help someone in real life, and better collaborators at work--boosting our real-world likeability and chances for success. Competition has its place, too, of course--we learn to trust others more when we compete against them. But if we spend all our time competing with others, we miss out on the special benefits of co-op play. So when you’re gaming with others, be sure to check to see if there are co-op missions or a co-op mode available. An hour of co-op a week goes a long way. (Find great co-op games for every platform, and a family-friendly list too, at Co-Optimus, the best online resource for co-op gaming.)

5. Creative games have special positive impacts.

Many games encourage or even require players to design and create as part of the gameplay process--for example: Spore, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft; the Halo level designer and the Guitar Hero song creator. These games have been shown to build up players’ sense of creative agency--and they make us more likely to create something outside of the game. If you want to really build up your own creative powers, creative games are a great place to start.