Can gaming give you a longer, happier life? 
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Zoe Hawkins
June 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm

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.

 

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!

  • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

    Brilliant……i totally agree with this. Games are wonderful….we need to spread more awareness like this. Sick and tired of games being labelled as a bad and harmful activity. Gaming helped me through some of my darkest days..when i felt the light dimming games gave me that lil bit of extra hope and juice to carry on some more

    • Zoe

      Agreed! Gaming has helped me find joy and happiness in very dark times – don’t know what I’d have done without it.

      • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

        Indeed. I remember playing legend of heroes trails in the sky during such a time…all it took was a 2 minute cutscene to make me smile. Gaming can never make everything right. But it can be the rope you need till things eventually get better

  • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

    By the way…really loving your articles

    • Zoe

      thank you!! really appreciate it! I also love all the comments and discussion.

  • http://lazygamer.net/ OVG

    It saves getting bottled at the local club where all the normal drunk hooligans hang out.

    • Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

      But Mr Walker has taught me that no matter what I should just keep on walking :P

      • LordCaptainAwesomeness

        And to practice your roundhouse kicks…. Oh … wrong walker

  • Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    Games are awesome. It’s about time someone realises this :) Woot woot.

  • Tarisma

    I wish I had not spent my life in doors playing games alone.

    #trollololol

  • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

    One of my friends, a child therapist actually uses games as part of her therapy. While her methods are progressive, unorthodox and maybe controversial, even she admits that while games can be beneficial, moderation is always key.

    Take one example for instance, someone struggles with depression, gaming is the hobby they use to insulate themselves from the world, but it eventually becomes a crutch. They never deal with the issue, nor do they learn to cope with their depression or find the source of their ailment – it can be anything … physiological, genetic or their environment.

    While, I’m one to lean towards the positives of gaming, and I’m thankful that Jane McGonigal thinks the same, (even makes a fairly convincing argument), we can’t discount the negatives – and I don’t mean the sensationalist take on the dark side of gaming.

    • Lanfear Mierin

      Well that is really true of most things in life, i.e. moderation.

    • RinceWind

      True. But moderation is like air, it is needed in all respects. I think what I got from her talk was that gaming can be used as a self help kidda thing. I dont see a therapist, maybe it’s because I play games?

    • Umar Kiiroi Senk?

      Very true Bj..by BJ i mean banana jim :p but that is true for everything actually. People can use anything as a crutch when dealing with such affliction. Moderation is indeed true as well as dealing with it. I always viewed gaming as a tool of hope. I’ve dealt with many hardships before but I knew gaming would never solve anything…but instead gaming gave me that lil bit of hope.just enough to give me the strength to carry on till I eventually could overcome it all. But well said..I do agree that moderation is needed too

    • John Ambitious

      The banana makes a good point. I here I was thinking you’re just a peel waiting to happen.

  • RinceWind

    Nice article Zoe. Totally agreed. To me games are the same as books. When I’ve gone through breakups, had work worries or contemplated watching the last episode of Lost, games have always been there to distract me. I love reading as it’s total imagination workout, same with games, only I fond it more relaxing (depending on game of course… Vass didn’t chill me the fuck out by any means!) also interesting to note that soldiers suffering from PTSD use games to help deal with issues.

  • Mossel

    My thoughts as I read this.