When video games first came out, people regarded them as little more than parlor entertainment – something to distract people after a long day of hard work, as they were games that you could just sit down and play casually.

Even with rampant technological advances, many still continue to view video games as distractions hardly befitting closer inspection, but some initiatives have begun to tear down this stereotype.

Henry Jenkins of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program has dedicated decades of his life to changing the way we view video games. He believes that games have the potential to be life-altering, saying that it’s worth looking at the gaming industry not just from an economic standpoint, but from an educational and artistic standpoint as well.

In his essay, Games, the New Lively Art, he speaks about how games have the capacity to evoke emotions in the same way as art, and how they have evolved to become more than just parlor entertainment.

How exactly can video games help us improve ourselves?

There are several ways. Much of gaming is centered on “Play as Performance”, and when it comes to action games, studies by the University of Toronto have shown that games can help people “learn new sensorimotor skills, especially eye and hand coordination”.

Let’s not forget that the new genre of augmented reality games, which use motion sensor technology to plunge gamers into the imagined worlds, also improve fitness by requiring the gamer to get off their couch and move.

Playing games can also help gamers improve their social skills. Many developers have gone social, and gone is the age of the single-player game that you could burn through without ever having to speak to another living soul. According to the developers of a popular video game, “Social Gaming, where the Company’s activities are focused, is currently worth approximately US$1.7 billion and is expected to grow to c.US$4 billion by 2015.”

Developers have gone to great lengths to bring their games to social platforms like Facebook, allowing players to interact with their friends and make new ones right out of the game itself.

In fact, a study discussed by theAmerican Psychological Association shows that:

“More than 70 percent of gamers play with a friend, and millions of people worldwide participate in massive virtual worlds through video games such as “Farmville” and “World of Warcraft.”

Adding to that, simply playing a game may actually be enough to improve your mood. “If playing video games simply makes people happier, this seems to be a fundamental emotional benefit to consider,” said Isabela Granic, Ph.D., of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands, lead author of the study.

When you think about it, some games are still little more than parlor entertainment, but with additional benefits.

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