In a new Gamasutra feature, neuroscientist Erin Robinson looks at a collection of studies looking at gaming's effect on the brain, including many showing potentially beneficial health effects from gaming.
For instance, one study looked at using virtual reality games to limit the pain felt during difficult dressing changes in child burn victims. By interrupting and distracting thoughts of pain, the VR game led children to report reduced pain perception compared to those on painkillers, with fewer side effects as well.
Another study from two years ago looked at using the Wii to aid stroke victims in their physical therapy, finding that a group of 16 patients showed improvement in movement and coordination after just two weeks with the system. What's more, the entire group reported that playing the system was comparable or better than conventional physical therapy.
Video game can also be useful for limiting the symptoms of schizophrenia. One study showed eight weeks of game play decreased the incidence of schizophrenic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations, when compared to a group that simply watched TV and movies. The effect worked across all types of games, and may have to do with the medium's activation of the brain's frontal cortex.
Even those without active physical or mental problems might find benefits from gaming, with studies showing that those who play action games are better at processing complex visual information, and others showing seniors can improve thier cognitive function with logic and puzzle games.
The complete feature looks into other studies that involve the intersection between neuroscience and gaming, including the potential use of drugs to treat StarCraft addiction, the effect of virtual avatars on our self image, and a look at how the brain reacts to Super Monkey Ball.