Chances are, if you're reading this you like video games. Video games are awesome right? They can have a positive impact on our lives. They can help us make friends, overcome our problems and help us grow as people. Give me a personal story about the impact of video games over a story about frame rates any day.

A recent study in New Media & Society explored this positive impact. Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium developed a coding scheme from work that is usually used to look at the impact of the arts. They then analysed popular game forums for personal stories. The final sample included 964 individual messages on the positive impact of games.

The most cited games in the analysis were:

Total number of cited titles was 3,288.

So how did people perceive the positive impact of games? Results were categorized and included:

Civilization

This was the most common finding. People feel they are participating in a culture and belonging to a community:

From gaming […] I have a core group of friends who I have met and got close to online to the point I have been to one guy's wedding and cuddled his new born son. Also through gaming Ican safely say I have met the love of my life and now happily residing in Finland with him.

Games may lead people onto other arts:

Other games that have impacted me were Eternal Darkness, which (in addition to having an amazing narrative) led me to begin reading H.P. Lovecraft, which I love. Also BioShock led me to seek out and read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which I also feel is a positive impact.

Self-Development

The second most common finding related to a change in perspective and attitude. Games may help people interpret situations and suggest potential ways of dealing with problems:

For me, Lost Odyssey would have to be the one game in my life that has really altered my perspective of things. After playing it, I began looking at things very differently. After all, having just spent the last however many hours seeing the world through the eyes of a man who could never die, and always lived on regardless of those he left behind, you can't help but be affected in some way.

It sounds silly, but exposing myself to a lot of video games, books, and movies since I was young has certainly affected my outlook on life and world view. Many people scoff at the archetypal hero and the notions he or she throws around, but those are things I've internalized and worked into the way I see things.

Personal well-being

This refers to the simple pleasure of playing games. People also find games can help them relax and escape from stressors. Games were used as a form of self-medication or therapy:

Worms: Armageddon broke me out of my shell back in high school and was a major factor in stamping out my depression.

Final Fantasy VII helped me get through with a very tough spot in my life where I was contemplating suicide. Thus, it's one of my forever-favorites.

Education

People gained knowledge from games such as history in Age of Empires, rather than in educational games. People also reported games as sparking interest in other topics such as physics:

The Chrono series spurred my interest in time travel and parallel dimensions. So much so that I'm familiar with scientific theories dealing with string theory, and the 11th dimensions. I plan to eventually write a fictional story pertaining to that subject … "the butterfly effect."

Playing games like Final Fantasy VII and Diablo helped build vocabulary for the SAT. Honestly, somebody should put together a list of must-play video games to help your SAT vocab.

Appreciating game design

People described how the design of games made them reflect on the medium itself and appreciate the narratives and mechanics:

Braid—Similar to Portal, Braid takes two simple concepts (Super Mario Bros-style platforming and time-travel) and combines them into a stellar puzzle game. But more than that, it […]results in a culmination of all that is best in art. If any game could ever be considered "artistic,"Braid is it.

Real-life action

Lastly, this category shows the impact of games in action beyond just changes in attitude:

Believe it or not, Fallout 3 may end up being responsible for my life's work, and it's not the game itself but one little piece of the audio that's responsible. I got hooked on Galaxy News Radio […] I thought to myself, "whatever happened to good old-fashioned radio plays like that?" Then I thought "with the advent of the podcast, this old content delivery form could be brought back to life!" So I put an ad on Craigslist looking for writers […] We're up to a tenperson creative and acting team […] Plus, once our show goes live in May, it could be the spark plug for an Internet radio station. […] How's that for gaming making life better?

The study certainly echoes some of my own personal experiences from playing games. Not only does it illustrate that video games can have the same impact on us as the arts do, it also reconfirms how great they can be. They are fun. They can enhance our lives. They can help us grow as people. And these things are worth keeping in mind.

Full article: Bourgonjon, J., Vandermeersche, G., De Wever, B., Soetaert, R. and Valcke, M. (2015). Players' perspectives on the positive impact of video games: A qualitative content analysis of online forum discussions. New Media & Society. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1461444815569723

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