There is nothing quite like getting your butt handed to you by an eight year old. If you’ve been brave enough, or gullible enough, to play video games with a child you’ll probably know what this feels like. The kid will have racked up enough diamonds to launch a takeover of seven galaxies before you’ve figured out which of the characters is yours. Having given up playing MarioKart after veering repeatedly over cliffs and into hot lava several years ago, I was somewhat disappointed to see that research is showing that video games offer a number of benefits of video games for adults that Masters Athletes should probably consider.
The virtual challenges of video can produce real improvements in physical performance.
There have been a number of studies in this area. Some have shown improvements in physical performance and some haven’t leading to a fair amount of controversy. They are not that effective, for example, in helping people lose weight. However, evidence is pointing towards a positive effect of video games, at least for older people. Video game experience for 30 min three times a week improved balance and gait in elderly adults.. Note though: so did playing games with a ball. Still, there is great benefit in variety. Video games may be a great way to provide challenge and change.
Video games can improve performance on mental tasks, mood and outlook.
A recent meta study (a statistical look at a collection of studies) says yes, video games improve cognitive performance in older adults. In all likelihood the type of game played will matter. To be honest, repeated trips off the road and into hot lava or some abyss has never improved my mood or outlook. Mostly, I’ve gotten frustrated and stalked off to make popcorn. However, a study of 40 older adults (57-80) playing a “non-action” games like Speed mach, Memory matrix, Rotation matrix, Face memory, Memory match, Moneycomb, Lost in migration, Space junk, Raindrops, and Chalkboard got better at
- Maintaining attention
- Recall and memory
- Improved sense of well-being
As seems to be the case with most training programs, you have to keep with it. Most of the benefits of video games for adults, at least for those skills tested, were lost three months after people stopped playing.
Competitive Video games can kill pain in the same way physical competition does, at least in men.
There is a well-known phenomenon that occurs during competition. If someone is engrossed in competition they may cease to feel pain. Or not even feel an injury that occurs during competition until later. This has been observed in both male and female athletes (See Sternberg et al 2001 below). A 2001 study compared how male and female athletes and non athletes responded to heat and cold pain perception tests. Males who played a competitive car racing video game had reduced pain perception. This wasn’t true for female subjects. This may be because females handle pain differently than men, or because females had less experience with video games. Women had less pain after non-competitive treadmill exercise, while males were unchanged. Hopefully future research will shed more light on the benefits of video games for pain management in both men and women.
If you are interested in a trying out a non-action video game this one, Myths2: Soul Lords works on iphone and ipad. It is free, as of the date of this post. There are plenty of racing car games. A number of them have no lava at all.
Park EC, Kim SG, & Lee CW (2015). The effects of virtual reality game exercise on balance and gait of the elderly. Journal of physical therapy science, 27 (4), 1157-9 PMID: 25995578
Sternberg, W., Boka, C., Kas, L., Alboyadjia, A., & Gracely, R. (2001). Sex-Dependent Components of the Analgesia Produced by Athletic Competition The Journal of Pain, 2 (1), 65-74 DOI: 10.1054/jpai.2001.18236
Ballesteros S, Mayas J, Prieto A, Toril P, Pita C, Laura Pde L, Reales JM, & Waterworth JA (2015). A randomized controlled trial of brain training with non-action video games in older adults: results of the 3-month follow-up. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 7 PMID: 25926790