Video games teach mindfulness — even Call of Duty!

There’s big talk about mindfulness. Maybe because is the era of distraction because we are struggling with multitasking, partial attention, and information overload. But probably because we know there are enormous benefits to mindfulness, but achieving mindfulness is something that does not seem to be natural to us. Time magazine has documented the struggle.

So I was surprised to discover that if you let kids choose their own learning path, many (especially boys) will choose video games, AND video games teach mindfulness that lasts throughout life.

So it makes sense that the way we teach kids in school crushes the innate human drive toward mindfulness, and kids left to their own will choose activities that promote mindfulness.

(Other examples: reading every Nancy Drew book. Putting together every Lego project. Playing outside all day long. These are things that create mindfulness, but are not something you can do in school.)

How do video games promote mindfulness? My first thought is that obsessive, overly-focused activities promote mindfulness and video games are that. The activities that kids do so much that they become experts—the ones that only a self-directed learner could do—those are the ones that promote mindfulness.

But here is some other, recent research that shows video games, in particular action games which require very quick reactions, produce an interesting result: they train gamers’ brains to pay attention with less effort.

1. Video games train a brain like meditation trains a brain.
Like people who meditate, action gamers can stay focused with greater efficiency. The games train their brains to stay focused with lower recruitment of the fronto-parietal network, an area of the brain that helps people regulate their attention. Essentially, their brains don’t have to work as hard to stay focused.

2. Visual training creates a higher mindfulness in life.
Major league baseball players train their eyes to see a pitch in a way that creates an effect of meditating because players learn to tune out visual distractions and focus on details of physical movement.

Like baseball players, video games also improve gamers’ vision. Lab tests have shown sizable improvements in their ability to pick out small details amid visual clutter and even to recognize more shades of gray in their visual field.

When you become more mindful playing a game, you actually become more mindful throughout life. according to neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier, who has pioneered this field of research.

3. Video games require high emotional regulation.
Games played with friends or other players online require players to monitor their emotional reactions. Even single-player games force gamers to keep calm in the face of ever-mounting challenges and sometimes in the face of sheer chaos. Author Gerard Jones, says the attitude among players is, “You can’t be angry when you play a video game. You have to be calm, or you’re going to get wasted.”

The impact for failing to self-regulate in school is you get removed from the game: the principal’s office, bad grades, detention, etc. The impact from failing to self-regulate in a game is that you get another try, right away, to do it better. Child behaviorists tell us that the second way is a much more effective teaching method.

Also, whereas schools treat ADHD with medication, video games can treat ADHD with a wide range of strategies that are much less invasive.  Video games help mitigate ADHD. The emerging field of therapeutic neurogaming provides hands-free ADHD therapy game that works only if players are calm and focused. The controller is your brain. Your ability to remain calm and focused dictates how well you do.


6 replies
  1. malaika
    malaika says:

    Video games are also excellent training for what kind of career you should build (re your post on the 3 kinds of career paths). I hated single player RPG games because there’s no interaction with others, no strategy. But both my brother and I LOVED the Sims and spent hours offline discussing the families we’d created, which was (in retrospect) a big predictor of both of us liking and finding people management fascinating. If only MBAs taught HR through video games based on forcing/aiding character interaction…

    • Suzie
      Suzie says:

      This is so right! FPS games bore me to tears but anything involving city-building (balancing economic, social and military factors) will keep me absorbed for hours. #INTJalert

  2. galeforcewind
    galeforcewind says:

    Hunh – who knew I was self medicating (ADD) with my video game habit as a kid?

  3. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    When I met my husband, he was a gamer; although then, all the games were on a computer. Those were the days before Playstation and Xbox. Naturally, he purchased a Playstation and then later, at the prompting of our son, an Xbox.

    We were a military family then, and when Jeff was home he wore our newest child (and first son) in a wrap everywhere he went so I could get a break or work.

    Kenny (literally) grew up hearing FPS games because he was “on” his daddy. It became something they shared, and as the years passed, Kenny watched his daddy “kill bad guys” from Jeff’s lap, shoulders, and eventually, by his side.

    Now, they play together. My husband plays considerably less than he used to, and Kenny plays considerably more. Kenny has exceeded his daddy’s skills at the game and now schedules with out-of-town friends to meet online and play.

    Many of our friends think it is too violent, and when he was young, I did worry that it might make him aggressive or shorten his attention span. I worried about all of that; isn’t that what the majority of the internet has told us about gaming and kids?

    But the truth is, I don’t care anymore. It is something my husband and son have shared for years. It was the starting point of many long conversations between them. Kenny learned not to pop-off at his daddy when the game reached high-stress levels, and he learned to self-regulate the frequency of his play.

    So, whether or not it gives my 12-year-old superhuman focus, builds new neuropathways, or IS JUST PLAIN FUN, I don’t care. It’s one of the things my husband and son can enjoy together. For them, it’s a part of their close relationship. That’s good enough for me.

  4. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I keep waiting and watching for some of those harmful side affects from video games to show up in my child, but all I see is a well-adjusted, loving, logical, reasonable, non-violent, focused, amazing person. I often am so confused by the articles that tell me that video games are terrible for my child when all I see is good. I definitely think he is able to stay focused with minimal effort. Often I will think he is not paying attention because there is something else he is listening to, but then I am proven wrong the next moment. I have tiptoed through this video game adventure with a sick stomach, proceeding with caution, waiting for the moment when I have to say, “that’s it! No more video games!” But it never happens. Then I think, what if all the bad press is wrong and video games actually are beneficial? I then decide I should just go with my intuition, let the games stay, and pay attention to all the great results I have seen in him so far. I think it’s our job as parents to screen all the hype, and search for the truth in the eyes of our children. And Heather, my son plays Clash of Clans with his dad and it is awesome to hear the two of them together.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Kristin, I’ve watched my son get off the Xbox and be angry that he did poorly, etc…but he’s equally that way at the Dodgeball tournament Monday night. He didn’t want to get out as early as he did in the first game, for example. He’s 12. He’s learning how to be a better loser, and even a better winner.

      I think there are too many factors that play into those “harmful side effects.” Like, does the child have a loving family environment? Are the parents actively engaged in their lives–listen to them and communicate effectively?Do they have a friend or two to spend time with? What kind of relationships do they have with siblings?

      That’s cool your son and husband play Clash of Clans. It’s something they share. It gives them something to talk about and look forward to doing together.

      Within reason (of course), I think that’s all that counts.

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