Culture TED Talks

7 talks on the benefits of gaming

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This weekend, hundreds of video games enthusiasts lined up in the cold, waiting 12 hours-plus to be the first to get their hands on Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U. And when the game Call of Duty: Black Ops was released in 2010, gamers around the world played it for more than 600 million hours in just the first 45 days. That is the equivalent of 68 years.

While some people worry about the popularity of video games, in today’s talk, brain scientist Daphne Bavelier suggests that gaming may be far more beneficial than we think (in moderation) — even if the game is all about shooting up the enemy.

“Most of you have thought, ‘Come on, can’t you do something more productive than shooting zombies?’ I’d like you to put this knee-jerk reaction in the context of how you’d feel if you found your girl playing Soduku,” Bavelier says. “In reasonable doses, action-packed shooter games have quite powerful positive effects on many different aspects of our behavior.”

In the lab, Bavelier and her team measure the impact of gameplay on the brain. While your mom might have told you that staring at screens will wreck your eyes, Bavelier’s lab actually found that playing 5 to 15 hours a week of video games correlates with better vision — and the ability to see more detail in the context of clutter.

It’s another common trope that gaming causes attention problems. However, Bavelier shows data that people who play video games are better able to keep track of objects around them — while the average person can track three objects effectively, video gamers can track six to seven objects. They’re also better able to multitask in general.

Initial studies suggest that these benefits may be trainable. In one study, Bavelier’s lab gave participants a test, and then asked them to play 10 hours of video games over a period of two weeks. When they came back for a post-test, their performance improved — and the improvement was still measurable five months later. Bavelier’s lab hopes to use these findings to create games that can improve eyesight or help keep the brains of senior citizens sharp.

To hear more about Bavelier’s studies, watch her talk. And after the jump, six other talks that suggest video games may simply have a bad reputation.

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Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world
Video game designer Jane McGonigal is deeply inspired by video games like World of Warcraft — because they call on players to become heroes and save worlds.  In this blockbuster talk from TED2010, she shares why she thinks it’s possible to harness the power of gaming to solve real-world problems like hunger, poverty, climate change and war.

Gabe Zichermann: How games make kids smarter
Gabe Zichermann wishes that we could channel the era of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?—when students, parents and teachers agreed that video games were great. In this talk from TEDxKids@Brussels, Zichermann suggests that video games make kids better at problem-solving and multitasking, and should be championed rather than villainized.

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Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to re-engage boys in learning
Many boys are having a hard time in school—they’re disproportionally suspended, marked as learning disabled, and diagnosed with ADHD. In this talk from TEDxPSU, Ali Carr-Chellman ponders whether this could be a simple culture clash. She shares a fascinating idea — that creating educational video games full of rich narratives could help boy culture connect with school culture.

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Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain
Video games are transfixing, says Tom Chatfield at TEDGlobal 2010. Why? Because they offer emotional rewards and satisfy our ambitions. In this talk, he wonders if other tasks — for example, going green or losing weight — could be made fun by emulating the brilliance of game design.

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Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life
After a severe concussion, Jane McGonigal found herself on mandatory bedrest and feeling deeply depressed. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2012, she shares how she found her way out of a downward spiral — by creating a video game, SuperBetter, that helps people heal. (Check out the TED Blog post: 10 online games … with a social purpose.)

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David Perry: Are games better than life?
Speaking in 2006, game designer David Perry says we’re at an interesting moment in video game history—where graphics and audio have gotten extremely lifelike. Which means that the next generation (meaning: now) could have games that actually surpass real life. While Perry is excited for what’s to come, he points out that video game makers have a big responsibility given their influence and reach, and hopes that his industry will rise to the challenge. What do you think: Has it?