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Will video games become the new prescription drug?

Boys and girls want very different things from their video games.

In a national survey of both boy and girl gamers, researchers found that girls care more than boys about playing as female characters, according to GDC Vault, a video game conference series. The survey found that girls prefer to play as female characters, whereas boys are fine playing as either boy or girl characters.

Specifically, the study found that 28 percent of girls were more likely to play a game because of the protagonist’s gender, whereas just 20 percent of boys said the same, according to GDC Vault.

Despite the difference in preferences, boys and girls both play a lot of video games, although boys overall play video games more frequently. In fact, 19 percent of boy gamers said they played video games several times a day, while 6 percent of girl gamers said the same, according to Pew.

Boys are also more likely to play on any given day, Pew reported. In fact, 60 percent of boys said they played video games on any given day, whereas 39 percent of girls said the same, according to Pew.

But both boys and girls could soon benefit from booting up their Nintendo. NPR reported earlier his month that some video games may help children manage medical issues like ADHD, depression and autism.

Video games, experts told NPR, help the brain focus on specific tasks and situations, which can improve one’s cognitive skills and act like medicine.

"The qualities of a good video game, things that hook you, what makes the brain snap, engage and go, could be a perfect vessel for actually delivering medicine," said Matt Omernick, the executive creative director of Akili, a startup that’s developing a video game called Project Evo, which is aimed at helping children with mental health disorders.

Video games have also been known to help adults, too, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to my colleague Chandra Johnson. In fact, some video games have been created specifically to help those with PTSD cope with their traumas.

This isn’t the case with all video games, though, as some have been linked to aggressive behavior among children, according to a study from the American Psychological Association cited by Medical News Today.

Violent video games, like those from both the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty series, specifically have been linked to decreases in empathy, positive social behavior and sensitivity to aggression, according to the study, which reviewed four mega-analyses previously done by the APA about video game use and behavior. In some cases, these video games have increased criminal behavior among youngsters, Medical News Today reported.

Studies like these have made it difficult for Omernick and other startup leaders to get the FDA to allow doctors to prescribe video games instead of prescription drugs, NPR reported. The FDA and other researchers say there isn’t “good evidence that brain changes actually occur” for better or worse.

Dr. Michael Ehlers told NPR that more research that measures the effects of video games needs to be done before doctors can be allowed to prescribe video games instead of medicine.

"It's just essentially a digital version of otherwise typical kinds of psychological and cognitive behavioral therapy," he told NPR. "Quite important is that we hold them to the same standard of evidence that they actually work.”

For more on video games:

How the conversation about video games is changing

Video games battle back: How technology fights trauma

Department of Education seeks to harness video games for learning

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at hscribner@deseretdigital.com or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.