Bakshis, 15, plays a computer video game titled
"Dust An Elysian Tail" at his home in
ó Imagine a hardcore video game fanatic, and the
picture you summon probably wonít resemble Roman
grew up captivated by games from "Pokemon" to
"Call of Duty," and evaded his momís screen
time limits by covertly playing his Game Boy after
lights out. Now that heís 21, he spends up to four
hours a day battling enemies in the virtual arena of
he was an honor student and a member of the debate team
at suburban Downers Grove North High School, and today
heís studying economics at the University of Chicago.
These accomplishments didnít come in spite of gaming,
Rivera said; in a way, gaming helped to make them
pick up skills from whatever you do, and you can decide
to aim those skills in an intellectual direction,"
he said, crediting video games with broadening his
interests and improving his mental dexterity. "They
definitely enhanced the abilities I needed in life that
werenít always directly present. Without a doubt they
have benefited me."
belief echoes a new wave of research that has found
surprising advantages in an activity that many dismiss
as a waste of time, if not an outright menace. Social
scientists have recently linked gaming with enhanced
mental skills, moral sensitivity and even physical
fitness, creating a new image of this ubiquitous but
working really hard on understanding what aspects of
gaming could be leveraged for the betterment of
society," said Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive
neuroscientist who researches video games at the
University of Geneva in Switzerland and the University
of Rochester in New York. "Everyone understands itís
here to stay. Itís not going to disappear. You could
try to ban it, but it seems to have really interesting
have done thousands of studies on gaming since the
1980s, often with unmistakably negative results. Some
associated video games with an increased risk of
epileptic seizures, while others cautioned that the
games could provoke dangerously elevated heart rates.
Many studies also linked violent games to aggression and
findings contributed to the anxiety surrounding video
games, said Christopher Ferguson, a psychology professor
at Floridaís Stetson University. He cited the outcry
over violent games that came when Newtown gunman Adam
Lanza was portrayed as a shooting-game obsessive
(investigators ultimately found that Lanzaís primary
gaming fixation was "Dance Dance Revolution").
said early research into any new technology is often
flawed. Studies that aim to find negative effects get
funded and promoted, while those with more benign
findings are unpublished and forgotten, he said.
a new generation of scholars more familiar with the
technology comes along, different results often appear
ó and thatís what is happening with gaming, he said.
just not seeing the kind of data emerge that would
support the techno-panic that was common in earlier
years," he said.
has done dozens of studies on the subject and has
consistently found that violent video games do not
contribute to societal aggression. One recent project
actually concluded that some children who play violent
games are less likely than others to act like bullies.
speculation is that maybe kids turn to video games
cathartically Ö or it could just be that theyíre
busy, so they donít have time to bully other
kids," he said.
counterintuitive take on video game violence came from
University of Buffalo communications professor Matthew
Grizzard, who had research subjects play a first-person
shooter game as either a United Nations soldier or a
found that those who took the role of bad guy often felt
guilt over the virtual bloodshed they committed and
exhibited greater moral sensitivity than those who
played as soldiers.
games are these important moral sandboxes," he
said. "They allow us to practice moral
decision-making we canít do in the real world. Games
can be this really important tool for teaching people
what the right decisions might be. Maybe one way to do
that is showing what the consequences of wrong decisions
has long been identified as a factor in worsening child
obesity, but research that scholar Chennan Liu performed
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
suggests the pastime might have gotten a bad rap. Youth
survey data she examined found that those who play video
games for an average of three to six hours a day were
healthier than those who played less.
now a professor of social work at Renmin University of
China, said the unexpected result calls for further
study. But she guessed that gaming might burn more
calories than watching TV, or that kids gripping a
controller are less inclined to pick up a snack or a
theory made sense to Dan Wojtowicz, 18, a student at
Andrew High School in suburban Tinley Park, who spends
up to seven hours a day on "Starcraft II,"
"League of Legends" and other games.
I go on long gaming streaks, many times I donít feel
the need to eat as much, even though it takes a lot of
my energy," he said. "I can go without eating
for three to four hours."
most intriguing studies might be coming from
neuroscientists, who are using MRIs and other high-tech
devices to learn how gaming affects the brain. Simone
Kuhn, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human
Development in Berlin, has found that the prefrontal
cortex actually grows thicker and gray matter more
voluminous in people who play games as humble as
"Super Mario 64," changes that could improve
memory and navigational ability.
has focused on cognitive performance, finding that
first-person shooters ó one of the most reviled
categories of video games ó can help improve a personís
vision and ability to pay attention.
that might translate into real-world benefits is still
unclear, but Bavelier noted that young gamers have been
shown to make superior laparoscopic surgeons, performing
faster and making fewer errors than more experienced
thing about this work, you need to leave at the door
what you think this technology is doing and study it in
earnest," she said. "Itís not the case that
we can get a sense of its impact intuitively."
everyone is sold on the positive findings coming from
recent gaming research. Joseph Bisoglio, who has studied
the subject at Columbia University Medical Center in New
York, said "the hype has outpaced the data."
big problem, he said, is that studies generally donít
compare gaming with other activities that stimulate the
brain, such as learning to speak another language or
practicing a musical instrument. So while gaming might
improve cognitive performance in some ways, he said,
other activities could produce even more profound
just generally cautious, especially when something can
very easily be marketed," he said. "Video
games already make a lot of money, and to say theyíre
therapeutic before the evidence is there, that really
Bakshis was dubious of the value of video games when his
son Noah began to shut himself in his room to play the
likes of "Minecraft" and "Fallout: New
Vegas" for hours at a time. But then Noah, who has
Aspergerís syndrome, started to show a more open
games have had a very calming effect on him,"
Bakshis said. "In the gaming world, heís in
control of the environment, where heís not in the real
world. Heís gotten much more focused, and when things
have happened in the real world, heís been more able
to deal with it."
Bakshis, now a 15-year-old freshman at Downers Grove
North High School, said gaming has expanded his
interests, prompting him to study archery and Japanese
culture after first encountering the topics virtually.
His attention, focus and coordination have also
improved, he said, as has his self-awareness.
helped me discover what my inner ethics are, what
choices I would make in particular situations," he
said. "What Iíve found is I generally try to
resolve things peacefully. Ö You can grow emotional
attachment to the characters, and thatís not a bad
thing. It proves they can give humanization to a bunch