How Games Can Change Your Brain for the Better!

Posted by Conor Murphy on January 10, 2014 in Gaming Lifestyle -- Share:

If you were ever told playing video games all day would rot your brain, we have some good news – it’s not true! In fact, playing all of those video games may have given you a mental edge.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, a three-year study of middle school students found gamers performed better on a standardized creativity test than non-gamers. The researchers accounted for race, gender and even the type of game played. It didn’t matter, though – all types of students playing all kinds of games did better than non-gamers. Frequent internet surfers and cellphone talkers, however, didn’t achieve the same results.

The WSJ article also cited a few other studies you may find interesting. For example, people who played action-oriented video games were able to make decisions 25 percent faster than control groups, and they didn’t sacrifice accuracy for their superpowered thinking skills. Plus, experienced gamers were able to pay attention to six different things at once without getting confused, compared with four different things the average person can pay attention to.

Those results are pretty far removed from the myth that video games will rot your brain. In fact, University of Wisconsin psychologist Shawn Green said playing video games changes the structure of your brain similar to learning a new language or learning how to read. Intense concentration builds your mental prowess much the same way exercise builds your physical abilities. However, Green noted that “games definitely hit the reward system in a way that not all activities do.”

Tetris and building a better brain

This isn’t the first time researchers have noted the positive effect of video games. A Discover magazine article from 2007 also highlighted several cases of video game playing boosting cognitive performance. If you’ve ever started and stuck with an exercise regime, then you can probably relate to this next example.

According to the article, researchers studied brain activity in Tetris players. When players first started playing the game, their brains had to do a ton of work to figure out where the blocks were suppose to go. But, after a while, their brains didn’t have to put as much mental exertion into the game, even though they performed seven times better than when they had started. So, essentially, your brain is a muscle that can be made stronger through a strict regime of Puzzle games – and your mental diet doesn’t have to stop there.

Time Management games and the epic balancing act

If you’re not much for puzzles, do you like the challenge of Time Management games? Discover pointed out ways they could be helping you. Success at time management depends on your ability to balance short-term goals with long-term needs.

For example, in Farm Fables, you’re tasked with keeping a farm running. Your immediate needs will be to grow the right plants and make a profit, but you still need to think about long-term goals like buying upgrades for making ice cream! Practicing games like those can make you more proficient at completing short-term objectives while keeping the bigger picture in mind.

And those headlines that talk about the negative impact of violent video games? Besides not being necessarily true, even playing violent video games may have a positive effect on the brain.

“More than 70 percent of video games contain no more bloodshed than a game of Risk, and are popular because they challenge mental dexterity,” the Discover article stated. “Even a violent game like Grand Theft Auto involves networks of characters that the player must navigate and master, picking up clues and detecting patterns.”

A little gaming does the body good

Recent research also suggested activity-oriented games could contribute to physical health, so not only can video games turn you into a mastermind, they can also improve your physique. While not a complete replacement for vigorous activity, some games allow for “light-to-moderate” exercise, which could be useful for individuals who are unable to participate in more physically demanding activities.

For everyone else, there could still be some benefit to active gaming. Incorporating video games into a structured exercise program could yield significant results by motivating individuals to keep to their physical programs. Wei Peng, an associate professor of telecommunication, information studies and media at Michigan State University, said video games could be a helpful way to give a large number of people a way of staying active.

“For those not engaging in real-life exercise, this may be a good step toward this,” said Peng. “Eventually the goal is to help them get somewhat active and maybe move to real-life exercise.”

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+

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