Video games are increasingly popular. According to the ESRB, they are played in 67% of U.S. households and keep the average gamer occupied for an estimated eight hours a week.
Video games can reportedly make you smarter, help you land your dream job and boost your career. With this in mind, it might be tempting to play some Call of Duty and call it professional development.
There is also a long list of high-profile gamers, leading us to believe that video games are part of what makes them successful.
For instance, Mark Zuckerberg caught the computer programming bug when he built his own video game as a child.
Larry Page and Elon Musk play video games together.
Kobe Bryant, Justin Bieber and Mila Kunis are all self-proclaimed gamers.
With successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers such as these endorsing video games, it makes that gaming is a billion-dollar industry. And there is some science to back up the enthusiasm.
Many video game advocates cite a 2013 study from Germany that asserts that playing 30 minutes of Super Mario 64 a day for two months increased gray matter in the brain.
A British study claims that strategic games such as "Starcraft" can increase a player's "brain flexibility." And other studies even suggest video games can help people manage the symptoms associated with mental illness, stroke and autism.
But the experts are far from unanimous. One study hesitates to recommend video games, saying, "after all, we do not want to force grandmothers, stroke patients, and children with autism to spend their time shooting up aliens for nothing."
The biggest critique of video games is that they damage gamers by exposing them to extreme violence. The American Psychological Association released a study in 2015 demonstrating a link "between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior ... and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy, and moral engagement."
The American Academy of Pediatrics looked at over 400 studies to confirm a "significant" link between exposure to violent media and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts and angry feelings.
Gaming also consumes time that could be spent building relationships, creating a business or pursuing your dreams.
Jeremy Wilmer grew up playing video games and jokes that he is a "recovering video game addict." Today he is an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College and director of The Many Brains Project. Wilmer's research centers on the study of human variation and potential factors that can lead to variances in cognitive abilities, or the brain's capacity to process, retrieve, and store information.
According to Wilmer, the research that suggest video games can make you smarter unfortunately does not meet the scientific standards required to be considered fact. For example, most studies did not include adequate blinding of participants and researchers.
By contrast, he finds the evidence suggesting that video games do encourage violent behavior pretty solid. "There is an idea out there that video games can make you smarter, but I have yet to see convincing evidence for that," he says.
While he is yet to find evidence that video games can turn us into super-humans, there is one habit that can help your cognitive abilities: Exercise. So play video games for fun! They are a great way to escape, especially during these stressful times.
But if you want to make yourself kinder, smarter or happier, get up off the couch and get moving.