Do you feel like you are fighting a losing battle with your children over how much time they spend playing video games? For years parents have battled guilt over allowing too much TV time, too much video game time, and too much time spent sitting, but new research published in PloS ONE has revealed that certain games may be good for happiness and may create positive motivation in children.
Before your kids get too excited and demand an extra hour of Halo, the game used in the research was specially created to promote positive motivation as an aid in helping cancer patients be part of their own healing process. Much research has been done that demonstrates a strong connection between a positive attitude/positive motivation and recovery, but this is the first research of its kind to make the connection between a video game that helps cancer patients stay motivated during treatment.
The game, called Re-Mission™, puts players in the driver seat of a miniature robot named Roxxi, killing cancer cells and helping fictional cancer patients battle the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. The results were remarkable: those participants who actively played the game had strongly activated neural circuits compared to the control group who passively watched the same games but did not actively participate. The results were so successful that the group is now designing a similar game for use with children fighting cancer.
The results were detected using functional MRIs that measured the neural circuits that respond to reward. The study showed that the brain responds to the rewards achieved by playing the video game, successfully killing the cancer cells, and helping the virtual victims by enhancing the participants’ attitudes and inducing more positive emotions. By enhancing attitude and emotion, the patients were more likely to complete chemotherapy and stick to cancer treatment protocols, including antibiotic treatments. The research showed that it took active participation in the game to achieve these effects, because the control group who watched the same game but did not play it did not have the same changes in attitude and emotion that could be beneficial to their treatment.
The lead researcher and co-author of the study, Dr. Steve Cole, explained, “Active involvement in video game play sparks positive motivation in a way that watching and hearing information does not. All participants in the study received the same information. It was the active participation in game play that made the big difference in motivation. This study helps refine our ‘recipe for success’ in harnessing the power of play in the service of health.”
While this game was specifically targeted to cancer patients, there’s growing research that demonstrates a connection between game play and positive emotional behavior and outcome. Games designed specifically to elicit this response could provide a number of benefits in the application of health and behavior modification in the future.