It's not hard to find stories that blame video games for all of society's problems. From ill-attentive children to violent, anti-social behavior, they're often the first place politicians and self-appointed morality guides point as they search for something to blame.
What makes the evening news much less frequently, though, are scientific studies that show the benefits of electronic entertainment. As gaming becomes a larger force in the pop-culture world, more and more academics are taking the time to study the effects of gameplay on the people holding the controllers.
The findings are sometimes surprising. Here are five positive effects today's video games can have on players:
They can improve your eyesight.
Once thought to be terrible for your eyes, it turns out video games might actually sharpen your vision.
In 2010, the University of Rochester conducted a study examining the effects of games on vision, including some action titles that opponents have labeled as overly violent. Researchers found that players were better able to make out small details within clutter and to distinguish shades of gray.
"People that play these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention and better cognition," said Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the school, during last year's Games for Learning, a daylong symposium on the educational uses of videogames and computer games. She should know, too: Bavelier has led over 20 studies on the subject.
They can boost your brainpower.
But we're not talking about the shady science behind Brain Age.
Earlier this year, the University of Toronto sat players down in front of 2004 shooter Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault and had them play sessions lasting up to 10 hours. The study -- which is currently under review for publication -- found that after playing, the subjects showed an increase in focus, says researcher Jing Feng.
Another study conducted by York University indicates that playing games may actually prep the brain for non-gaming tasks that require good hand-eye coordination. So if you catch your surgeon playing Tetris before going under the knife, don't freak out.
They can strengthen familial bonds.
Many people write gaming off as a male-centric hobby, but a new study from researchers at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life (and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health) found that girls between the ages of 11 and 16 who played video games with their parents were more connected to their families and had better mental health than those who played on their own or with friends.
Interestingly, playing with your son doesn't seem to have any measurable effect (probably because they play solo much more often). Also, the games need to be age-appropriate; playing a round of Gears of War 2 with your 11-year old is still inadvisable.
They can keep your heart healthy.
Sure, some games are as sedentary as ever, but thanks to the motion-control revolution of the current console generation, there are plenty of excuses to get off the couch and have fun while you exercise.
While there are plenty of Kinect and Move titles that get your heart pumping, the crown jewel in exer-gaming is still Wii Fit (and its follow-up, Wii Fit Plus). It's the only game to get the seal of approval from the American Heart Association -- literally. The group's iconic logo even appears on the game's box.
"Our two organizations come from different worlds, but we share a common goal," said Clyde Yancy, M.D., president of the American Heart Association, last year. "Nintendo has demonstrated clear leadership in active-play video games with the popularity of the Wii system, and I'm confident that together we can encourage Americans to become more physically active."
They can make you a better driver.
You can't get a much more authoritative automotive endorsement than AAA.
The organization has given its blessing to a game called DriveSharp, which is meant for drivers 50 and older. The game offers two exercises for the brain to improve divided attention and useful field of view (or what you can see in a single glance without moving your head). Developer PositScience says it can reduce the at-fault crash risk by up to 50 percent.
AAA is so gung-ho on the product that they have partnered with the developer to sell it at a discount to drivers.