Forget “Brain Games,” Try Video Games

While there was a fair amount of buzz about “brain games” – games specifically designed to target memory, executive functioning (planning, among other things), focus, verbal fluency, ot some other aspect of cognition – there is no strong evidence to suggest they are better for your brain than chess, Go, Starcraft, or League of Legends.

Even playing Pacman requires focus, impulse control, and strategic thinking. To date the only “brain game” with significant scientific backing is Dual N Back, which was found to boost the IQ scores of the study’s participants by 14 points (Jaeggi, 2007).

A follow up failed to replicate these findings, but another group uncovered marked benefits to focus from N Back training (Lilenthal, 2013). A meta-analysis in 2014 finally concluded that: “Our work demonstrates the efficacy of several weeks of n-back training in improving performance on measures of Gf [fluid intelligence]” – fluid intelligence is our ability to solve problems.

The task (it is somewhat misleading to call it a “game”) is as grueling as it is boring – especially since the experiment suggests that 20 minutes a day are needed. It is often recommended by public health institutions that fitness begins with finding a form of physical activity that is enjoyable to you. If it’s not, there’s a good chance you won’t stick with it. While it needn’t be your absolute favorite thing, it should be tolerable.

The same goes for working your brain. Chess and Starcraft are challenging, but the capture of territory, even imaginary territory, can set off all reward bells in our brains. However, a person looking to test themselves doesn’t need to pick a strategy game requiring millisecond response time or an inhuman attentiveness to detail.

Grandpa Gamer

Many of us, myself included, cast video games to the wayside once other things started cropping up in high school and college. Like many things we do in our late teens and early twenties, this may be a mistake. While it is not recommended to play for days on end without eating or taking restroom breaks, video games in moderation can have have a positive effect on many aspects of cognitive and mental health.

Playing Super Mario 64, a game close to the hearts of many Millennials and, to a lesser extent, the generations immediately preceding them, made changes to the brain’s structural plasticity and gray matter. What does this mean, exactly? The researchers concluded that its benefits to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex could find clinical applications for PTSD, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders (Kühn. 2014).

The stereotypical gamer is hunched over and bereft of hand eye coordination beyond their console or PC, but this may be completely wrong. There is a growing literature that suggests video games can improve posture, balance, and muscle strength (Lee, 2017). Good balance is crucial to elderly people and, strangely enough, it looks like video games can help (Ray, 2017).

Isolation is an epidemic. It is allegedly worse than smoking or obesity (Tate, 2018). Although loneliness is most closely associated with the elderly, it is increasingly reported by people of all ages. Video games have been social since the first text-based MUDs, although these games were not and are not everyone’s cup of tea. With the emergence of graphical three-dimensional Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, online interaction in virtual worlds has become more accessible and aesthetic than ever.

Social media is not as fulfilling as face-to-face interaction, but it does partially protect against the ills of social isolation (Moorehead, 2013). Steve Hill, a writer for the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, notes that “socializing is well documented as being an important key to aging and longevity… social media is fairly static and nowhere near as dynamic as these online gaming communities are, so perhaps future studies will map these social interactions and their effects on the brain and compare them with face-to-face socializing.”

Gamer Dude

Allysian Science’s products are used by both casual and elite gamers to optimize their performance. MasterMind, RISE, Genesis, and Symphony contribute to short term and long term improvements in skills needed to excel at games and life.

Video games are like a musical instrument, a blank canvas, or an empty notebook – they offer something on which we can test ourselves without serious consequences – assuming we’re not competing for a million dollar prize. Like any other skill they are an extension of yourself, a way of expanding your experience and getting out of your comfort zone. It’s important to, every now and then, make some time to play.


Works Cited and Further Reading

1. Au, Jacky, et al. (2015) Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory: a meta-analysis. Psychonomic bulletin & review 22.2: 366-377.

2. Jaeggi, Susanne M., et al. The relationship between n-back performance and matrix reasoning—implications for training and transfer. Intelligence 38.6 (2010): 625-635.

3. Kühn, Simone, et al. (2014) Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular psychiatry 19.2: 265.

4. Lee, Y., Choi, W., Lee, K., Song, C., & Lee, S. (2017) Virtual reality training with three-dimensional video games improves postural balance and lower extremity strength in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of aging and physical activity 25(4): 621-627.

5. Lilienthal, Lindsey, et al. (2013) Dual n-back training increases the capacity of the focus of attention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 20.1: 135-141.

6. Moorhead, S. Anne, et al. (2013) A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research 15.4: e85.

7. Tate, N. (2018) Loneliness Rivals Obesity, Smoking as Health Risk. WebMD

By |2020-03-26T23:15:07+00:00May 26th, 2019|

About the Author:

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of two obscure novels.