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In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated with children and juvenilelevel activities, but play occurs at any life stage, and among other higherfunctioning animals as well, most notably mammals.

Play is often interpreted as frivolous; yet the player can be intently focused on their objective, particularly when play is structured and goaloriented, as in a game. Accordingly, play can range from relaxed, freespirited and spontaneous through frivolous to planned or even compulsive. Play is not just a pastime activity; it has the potential to serve as an important tool in numerous aspects of daily life for adolescents, adults, and cognitively advanced nonhuman species (such as primates). Not only does play promote and aid in physical development (such as hand–eye coordination), but it also aids in cognitive development and social skills, and can even act as a stepping stone into the world of integration, which can be a very stressful process.

Play can take the form of improvisation or pretence, interactive, performance, mimicry, games, sports, and thrillseeking, such as extreme or dangerous sports (skydiving, highspeed racing, etc.). Structured play has clearly defined goals and rules and such play is called a "game". Other play is unstructured or openended. Both types of play promote adaptive behaviors and mental states of happiness.

Other designed play spaces can be playgrounds with dedicated equipment and structures to promote active and social play. Some play spaces go even farther in specialization to bring the play indoors and will often charge admission as seen at Children's Museums, Science Centers, or Family Entertainment Centers. Family Entertainment Centers (or Play Zones) are typically ForProfit businesses purely for play and entertainment, while Children's Museums and Science Centers are typically NonProfit organizations for educational entertainment.

In young children, play is frequently associated with cognitive development and socialization. Play that promotes learning and recreation often incorporates toys, props, tools or other playmates. Play can consist of an amusing, pretend or imaginary activity alone or with another. Some forms of play are rehearsals or trials for later life events, such as "play fighting", pretend social encounters (such as parties with dolls), or flirting. Modern findings in neuroscience suggest that play promotes flexibility of mind, including adaptive practices such as discovering multiple ways to achieve a desired result, or creative ways to improve or reorganize a given situation (Millar, 1967; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).

As children get older, they engage in board games, video games and computer play, and in this context the word gameplay is used to describe the concept and theory of play and its relationship to rules and game design. In their book, Rules of Play, researchers Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman outline 18 schemas for games, using them to define "play", "interaction" and "design" formally for behaviorists. Similarly, in his book HalfReal: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, game researcher and theorist Jesper Juul explores the relationship between real rules and unreal scenarios in play, such as winning or losing a game in the real world when played together with realworld friends, but doing so by slaying a dragon in the fantasy world presented in the shared videogame.

Learning through play has been long recognized as a critical aspect of childhood and child development. Some of the earliest studies of play started in the 1890s with G. Stanley Hall, the father of the child study movement that sparked an interest in the developmental, mental and behavioral world of babies and children. Play also promotes healthy development of parentchild bonds, establishing social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones that help them relate to others, manage stress, and learn resiliency.

Modern research in the field of affective neuroscience (the neural mechanisms of emotion) has uncovered important links between role play and neurogenesis in the brain. For example, researcher Roger Caillois used the word ilinx to describe the momentary disruption of perception that comes from forms of physical play that disorient the senses, especially balance.

Studies have found that play and coping to daily stressors to be positively correlated in children. By playing, children regulate their emotions and this is important for adaptive functioning because without regulation, emotions could be overwhelming and stressful. Evolutionary psychologists have begun to explore the phylogenetic relationship between higher intelligence in humans and its relationship to play, i.e., the relationship of play to the progress of whole evolutionary groups as opposed to the psychological implications of play to a specific individual.

American historian Howard Chudacoff has studied the interplay between parental control of toys and games and children's drive for freedom to play. In the colonial era, toys were makeshift and children taught each other very simple games with little adult supervision. The market economy of the 19th century enabled the modern concept of childhood as a distinct, happy life stage. Factorymade dolls and doll houses delighted young girls. Organized sports filtered down from adults and colleges, and boys learned to play with a bat, a ball and an impromptu playing field. In the 20th century, teenagers were increasingly organized into club sports supervised and coached by adults, with swimming taught at summer camps and through supervised playgrounds. Under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, thousands of local playgrounds and ball fields opened, promoting softball especially as a sport for all ages and both sexes. By the 21st century, Chudacoff notes, the old tension between parental controls and a child’s individual freedom was being played out in cyberspace.

Sportive activities are one of the most universal forms of play. Different continents have their own popular/dominant sports. For example, European, South American, and African countries enjoy soccer (also known as ‘football’ in Europe), while North American countries prefer basketball, ice hockey, baseball, or American football. In Asia, sports such as table tennis and badminton are played professionally; however soccer and basketball are played amongst common folks. Events such as The Olympics Games and FIFA World Cup showcase countries competing with each other and are broadcast all over the world. Sports can be played as a leisure activity or within a competition. According to sociologist Norbert Elias; it is an important part of "civilization process". Victory and defeat in sports can also influence one’s emotions to a point where everything else seems so irrelevant. Sport fans can also imagine what it feels like to play for their preferred team. The feelings people experience can be so surreal that it affects their emotions and behaviour.

Although adults who engage in excessive amounts of play may find themselves described as "childish" or "young at heart" by less playful adults, play is actually an important activity, regardless of age. Creativity and happiness can result from adult play, where the objective can be more than fun alone, as in adult expression of the arts, or curiositydriven science. Some adult "hobbies" are examples of such creative play. In creative professions, such as design, playfulness can remove more serious attitudes (such as shame or embarrassment) that impede brainstorming or artistic experimentation in design. Imaginative play and role play may allow adult individuals to practice useful habits such as learned optimism, which is helpful in managing fear or terrors. Play also offers adults the opportunity to practice concepts that may not have been explicitly or formally taught (e.g. how to manage misinformation or deceit). Thus, even though play is just one of many tools used by effective adults, it remains a necessary one.

There has been extensive research when it comes to the benefits of play amongst children, youth, and adolescence. Most commonly overlooked are the benefits of play for adults, more specifically, adults who spend a lot of time in the workplace. Many adults in North America are in the workforce and spend half of their waking hours in a workplace environment with little to no time for play. Play in this context refers to leisuretype activities with colleagues during lunch breaks or short breaks throughout the working day. Leisure activities could include, but are not limited to, different forms of physical sport activities, card games, board games, video games and interactionbased type video games, foosball, pingpong, yoga, and bootcamp sessions.

Research shows that playing games may promote a persistent and optimistic motivational style and positive affect. Positive affect enhances people’s experiences, enjoyment, and sense of satisfaction derived from the activity, during their engagement with a certain task. While people are engaged in their work, positive affect increases the satisfaction they feel from the work, and this has also been shown to increase their creativity and improve their performance on problemsolving tasks as well as other tasks. The development of a persistent motivational style charged with positive affect may lead to lasting work success.

Play has varying effects and benefits to human development. There has been an abundance of research on the effects of different forms of play and how they influence various areas of a person’s life whether it is a child or an adult. These benefits of play can have cognitive, social and emotional or motivational effects on a person’s life or development.

Various forms of play, whether it is physical or mental, have influenced cognitive abilities in individuals. As little as ten minutes of exercise (including physical play), can improve cognitive abilities. These researchers did a study and have developed an "exergame" which is a game that incorporates some physical movement but is by no means formal exercise. These games increase one’s heart rate to the level of aerobics exercise and have proven to result in recognizable improvements in mental faculties In this study they use play in a way that incorporates physical activity that creates physical excursions. The results of the study had statistical significance. There were improvements in math by 3.4% and general improvements in recall memory by 4% among the participants of the study.

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