Nottingham Trent University professor Mark Griffiths has published research in this month’s British Medical Journal (BMJ) indicating that video games can be used as a form of distraction, giving major benefits for younger patients undergoing painful cancer treatment. He also argues that games can be used as a type of physiotherapy, to help develop social skills among children with attention disorders including autism.
“Video gaming is safe for most players and can be useful in healthcare,” says Griffiths in his article. “Although playing video games is one of the most popular leisure activities in the world, research into its effects on players, both positive and negative, is often trivialized. Some of this research deserves to be taken seriously, not least because video game playing has implications for health.''
Griffiths refers to examples of video games that have been used to help treat specific physical conditions, including an eight year old boy whose illness caused him to pick his lip, causing scarring. Previous treatments had failed, so the boy was given a handheld video game to keep his hands occupied. Two weeks later, the affected area had healed.
Research has also shown, Griffiths claims, that computer games can provide “cognitive distraction”' among patients undergoing chemotherapy and treatment for sickle cell disease. “All these studies reported that distracted patients had less nausea and lower systolic blood pressure than controls who were simply asked to rest after treatment, and needed fewer analgesics,” says Griffiths.
Video games have also been used as a form of physiotherapy for arm injuries, Griffiths claims, including the case of a 13 year old boy who suffered with Erb's palsy, and for people with spinal injuries. The BMJ article does, however, acknowledge on-going research into the potentially harmful side effects of video games, particularly among young boys. As well as aggressiveness, other adverse effects, such as auditory hallucinations, repetitive strain injuries and obesity have been reported, but firm evidence is lacking, says the article.
“On balance, there is little evidence that moderate frequency of play has serious adverse effects, but more evidence is needed on excessive play and on defining what constitutes excess in the first place. There should also be long-term studies of the course of video game addiction”, adds Griffiths.