"How Video Games Are Changing Our Lives" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO

How Video Games Are Changing Our Lives

December 1, 2010 - Video games mimic reality, which then impacts the way we live.

Video games have gotten a fair amount of criticism over the years for being too violent, too graphic, too explicit. But much has changed in recent years as a powerful new force in video gaming has moved away from depicting antisocial behavior and, instead, into building collaborative, future-oriented, “best case” scenarios.

For example, in World Without Oil, an online video game simulating the beginning of a global oil crisis, many of the players from around the world subsequently changed their daily energy consumption habits. This video game became an effective learning experience. Voluntarily using less energy was a very real outcome from a very virtual game.

At a recent national healthcare information technology conference sponsored by the Cerner Corporation, the first day keynote speaker was a renowned futurist and game designer, Jane McGonigal, PhD, who works at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA.

This 32-year-old scientist posed a question: Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experiences are optimized. Collaboration among gamers is emphasized, and that can provide solutions to real-world problems that are solved in the low-risk environment of a video game.

99% of boys and 94% of girls under 17 play games five or more times per week. Kids spend as much time on games as in school. Many of the parents of teenagers I subsequently asked about this admitted reluctantly that their teenagers probably fit this usage pattern.

Good Things Happen.

Actually, these parents should be pleased, not defensive. According to Dr. McGonigal, these teenagers have higher self-esteem, more self-confidence, lower stress levels, fewer nightmares, better social skills, and a sense of protection from real harm. The participants also learn how best to work in teams.

Who would have predicted these attributes? Certainly not me or any of the folks in my generation. (The last time I remember playing a video game was Pac-Man about 15 years ago.)

Some examples from today's online world:

· Super Mario Sunshine is a video game where airplane passengers become stranded on a desolate island which is plagued by pollution. The game's object becomes to clean up this polluted island. Cooperation among teammates is a must to achieve the common goal of conservation. There is an overview at: http://www.supermarioonline.net/

· The Rock Band Video Game has 1-4 participants impersonating a rock band complete with drums, guitar and singing parts. Interestingly, this virtual video game experience has been a first step towards picking up a real instrument for many children and young adults. See: http://www.rockband.com/games/rockband3?sourceid=engagement_wk_rockband-band-games_broad_58_band-game_home_1

· World of Warcraft encourages you to start your day with a world-saving mission. One of the characteristics of a successful video game is the presence of unnecessary obstacles. Interestingly, these obstacles need to be in place so that the gamers are focused, motivated, connected, and cooperative with each other. These attitudes are polar opposites of what unengaged, depressed, isolated loners might feel. A free trial can be obtained at https://us.battle.net/account/creation/wow/signup/

Unnecessary obstacles occur everyday. Consider the game of golf, where the object is to place a small white ball in a distant cup. The easiest way to do this, of course, would be to pick up the ball, walk to the cup and place the ball in the cup. Instead, the game of golf uses a long shafted club, and has water and sand traps in the way and all sorts of slopes. But, golfers are focused, motivated, connected and cooperative.


As I mentioned earlier, young gamers learn to collaborate on a massive scale. They work across nations. Many of the games are very “prosocial,” when someone acts to help another person, particularly when they have no goal other than to help a fellow human.

Game designers and futurists are not trying to predict the future but rather create a future by having an “epic win.” An epic win is defined as a win so great, so awesome that it is, well, “epic.” Prosocial behavior is an epic win.

Games can bring out the best in participants, instilling optimism and transforming them into the next generation of leaders. Studies shared by Dr. McGonigal show these Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals (SEHIs) have better dating self-confidence, improved social networking and an overall better outlook on life.

Being immersed in a video game, and having your brain stimulated, can encourage creative solutions and adaptations. These beneficial ideas and thoughts can then be applied to real life situations. The results can be surprisingly positive for individuals, communities, and society as a whole.

Still Needed: Oversight.

Even so, anytime teens are online with games, parents (and grandparents) need to exercise oversight.

For all the good that exists in the gaming community, there are still many unfortunate examples of games that glorify graphic violence, criminal behavior and virtual sex.

The best advice: Keep a sharp eye on what's on the computer screens of the younger generation, and do everything you can to minimize their access to aggressive and other anti-social behavior.

And every so often, urge them to take their eyeballs outside into the fresh air—and get some non-virtual exercise in the real world!

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines the “10,000 hours rule”—that in order to become proficient at anything, one must practice this amount of time. One of Gladwell's examples is the Beatles, who played together about 10,000 hours before they became proficient. A current example may be teenagers and young adults who accumulate these hours with online games.

With proper guidance and oversight, all those hours and all those games can bring out the best in us. Our future leaders can be those “super-empowered hopeful individuals.”

I believe that gamers can influence a whole new methodology of cooperating—leaders who will solve epic problems with prosocial solutions.

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.