by Chris S
Video games are an immensely popular form of entertainment and in recent years they have become increasingly interactive, social and immersive. Current research on video games focuses heavily on negative side effects, specifically aggression and violence. This focus on video games’ negative effects has led to a shortage of research on potential positive benefits. This paper attempts to reduce this imbalance through an exploration of video games’ ability to facilitate states of flow and other cognitive, social and creative benefits. This paper looks to recent quantitative research on video games and their effects, specifically with reference to happiness and subjective well-being, with an emphasis on the possibility of video games as a means of therapeutic intervention and promoting flourishing. Though the research on the positive effects of video games is in its infancy there is a growing body of research which demonstrates that people who play video games in moderate amounts do indeed show many positive benefits. These include increased levels of happiness, confidence, pro-social behaviour, creativity and physiological effects on the brain that included improved vision, problem solving ability, and hand-eye coordination which further suggests that video games can create positive effects on the brain through neuroplasticity.
Furthermore, video games have also been shown to facilitate flow, “a state of complete absorption in an activity that produces an altered sense of time and release of vital energy” (Csikszentmihalyi cited in: Kapitan 1). Flow must have two essential characteristics; total concentration on the task at hand and a balance of challenge and skill level (Arnold Bakker, 2004, 27). The experience of flow has been associated with a wealth of positive effects in adolescence, including higher self-esteem, less anxiety and greater achievement and commitment in high school (Gratic et al). Art therapists create positive change in a client through the use of facilitating extended states of flow through artistic process and expression (Chilton). Therefore, the flow induced by video games can be utilized to create positive outcomes similar in many aspects to flow induced by art therapy (Gratic et al). These arguments make it clear that surely video games should be used as a means of therapeutic intervention to improve mental health.
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