Can gaming give you a longer, happier life?

3 min read
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Gaming is making the world a better place, as well as letting us live longer and happier lives, at least according to Jane McGonigal.  In her latest TED talk, she explains how.

There are three main elements to her talk: what people regret when they die, how games counteract those things, and how the skills learned in gaming can make you live longer.

Research done in hospices shows that most people have the following five regrets:

  • I wish I had not spent so much time working
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish I had let myself be happier
  • I wish I had the courage to express my true self
  • I wish I had lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me

Heavy stuff.  However, she then breaks it down into how gaming helps with each thing.  

The first regret, spending too much time working, she translates into people wishing they’d spent more time with their family, especially with children while they were young.  Video games are a great way to connect with your kids, show them that you care – something supported by recent research: a relationship between a father and daughter strengthens considerably more if they play video games together.

The second regret, wishing the person had maintained contact with friends, she links with social networking.  Studies show that social games, even those like the dreaded FarmVille or Words With Friends, help people stay connected and ask for help – something that then translates into real world similarities.  I suppose if someone is willing to help out with tips for a current game, they will be more likely to help in more ‘real world’ situations.

Third, “I wish I’d let myself be happier”.  As she explains:

Well, here I can’t help but think of the groundbreaking clinical trials recently conducted at East Carolina University that showed that online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression. Just 30 minutes of online game play a day was enough to create dramatic boosts in mood and long-term increases in happiness.

I don’t know about online game play, I’d have to avoid all the venomous people who stalk the corners of the internet.  However, I’m certainly a lot happier when I have an awesome game to play, and would love to use the excuse that it’s ‘medicine’.

The next regret regards having the courage to be true to oneself.  A five-year-long Stanford study shows that playing a game with an idealized avatar changes how we think and act in real life, “making us more courageous, more ambitious, more committed to our goals”.

Finally, there’s the living a life true to your dreams, instead of doing what others expected of you.  McGonigal leaves this as an open question.  However, I believe that gamers are more willing to pursue their dreams, and set attainable goals (or missions) to achieve them.  They are more in touch with their imagination, as well as their rational and spacial thinking.  Oh, and most gamers are so used to telling people off and ‘doing their own thing’ just by gaming, they are probably more likely to have that attitude about other parts of their lives.

These activities act to improve the four types of resilience needed to live longer: physical, mental/willpower, emotional and social.  If combined with achieving the three-to-one positive emotion ratio (experiencing three positive emotions to every negative emotion), you live 10 years longer.  Who knows if it’s true (or is like Geoff’s favorite, homeopathy), but if so, at least the 10 years of my life that I’ll probably spend playing games (half of which spent grinding in RPGs) will be well earned.

Oh, and here’s the video if you’re interested.

 

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Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!

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