Video Games Build Strong Brains

Too often treated as a social vice rather than a supplement to veggies and fresh air, video games may actually be good for you.

The hoary stereotype of avid video gamers as pasty shut-ins missing out on the world is already passé—too many of the people making things happen in today's high-tech world are gamers themselves for that image to survive. But skeptics continue to raise doubts about the wholesomeness and healthiness of video games. They can be addictive, scary articles warn us with...well...compulsive regularity.

They can even make you scary—and violent!

Yeah. Maybe. But they can also be good for your brain, and even fend off senility.

For one thing, playing World of Warcraft can give you a massive, pulsing noggin. Oh, OK, not quite that. But gaming can increase left front cortical thickness in teens. That means more gray matter, to you and me. Specifically, it means more gray matter in areas that help people pay attention and exercise something resembling good judgment.

Researchers studied 152 adolescents who played video games for an average of 12.6 hours per week. They found that gaming correlated with increased thickness in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the left frontal eye field.

Huge nogginThis Island EarthThat's important because these areas of the brain are connected with attention, and with executive functions, including working memory, planning, inhibition, and abstract reasoning.

Teens could use a little help in these areas. Actually, so could a lot of us.

Seperately, 72 non-gaming female undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, were recruited to discover what video games would do to their brains (you're not the only one visualizing Dr. Egon Spengler here). Actually, the participants were all women because the researchers couldn't find enough men who played fewer than two hours per week to include in the study. The subjects were assigned to play either StarCraft or Sims, to see if different kinds of video games would have different effects.

Fortunately, the results did not involve spontaneous human combustion.

Videogamersluccacomicsandgames / FoterWhat researchers found is that participants engaged in "real-time strategy" gaming—StarCraft, in this case—improved their cognitive flexibility. That is to say, they got better at switching between thinking about different concepts, and at thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously.

In this crazy, fast-paced world of ours, these are good skills to cultivate.

But if video games improve the gray matter of the young set, it also assists those who have gray hair to match. It can actually help older people outperform their juniors on matters mental.

A study of people aged 60-85 years old published in Nature found that cognitive control is improved by playing a custom-designed, three-dimensional video game. That is, the participants enhanced their ability to multi-task, as well as their working memory and their ability to sustain attention.

The driving game, NeuroRacer, attained "levels beyond those achieved by untrained 20-year-old participants, with gains persisting for 6 months."

So video games don't just build strong brains, they restore them, too.

That's not too bad for a popular pastime that's too often treated more as a social vice rather than a supplement to veggies and fresh air.

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  • UnCivilServant||

    Actually, the participants were all women because the researchers couldn't find enough men who played fewer than two hours per week to include in the study.

    I got a laugh out of that part.

    Yet somehow we gamers are still 'the other'?
  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    STOP THE VIDEO GAME STORIES!

    What's that, 69 in the last 10 days? The first one was mildly interesting...then...a sharp decline.

  • UnCivilServant||

    They launched a whole segment of their website dedicated to vidya gaems, to try and draw in more clicks, so expect more.

  • From the Tundra||

    Yep, apparently gay marriage is played out.

  • Sevo||

    I'll bet minimum wage isn't yet:
    "Fast-food protest organizers plan global actions"
    I'll bet the guys in Uighur are really gonna like $15/hr!

    Anyhow, at least this article is honest enough to state:
    "Labor organizers [...] backed by the Service Employees International Union,"...
    The lackey who keystrokes the SEIU press releases in the local rag had it that "strikers" were organizing the protest. I'm guessing there won't be a single striker out there, cause "FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS"!
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/art.....479831.php

  • Matrix||

    I believe that May's theme is video games.

  • VicRattlehead||

    No Don't stop them! it was a pleasant surprise to see Reason finally try and appeal to our obvious allies against big government, and as a plus I enjoy being pandered to.

    Could do articles on freedom themed games themselves and interviews with their game writers.

    Whats more free market than the "Hold the Line" movement which used the free market, and internet to push back against bad game producers ruining good games
    There's a hell of a lot more out there for games than these weaksauce articles

  • Eric Bana||

    I thought this article was interesting though.

  • Sevo||

    ALL VIDEO GAMES! ALL THE TIME!

  • Matrix||

    Now that's a candidate I could vote for!

  • Restoras||

    I'd be more aligned with this new video game obsession if it featured a lot of Morgan Webb.

  • Otisjay||

    Oh how i miss the old G4 & TechTV

  • Otisjay||

    Oh how i miss the old G4 & TechTV

  • lap83||

    I don't see video games as different from any other sedentary activity... such as reading. It's not a problem in and of itself, but you'll be lucky to see middle age if you do nothing but.

  • Sevo||

    "I don't see video games as different from any other sedentary activity... such as reading."

    Assuming a steady diet of spy-thrillers or some such...

  • lap83||

    True, the genres tend to be different, but they're both essentially innocuous hobbies. The anti-video game people often act like it's akin to smoking crack.

  • Sevo||

    lap83|5.15.14 @ 10:47AM|#
    "they're both essentially innocuous hobbies."
    Agreed, but the complete recorded knowledge of humanity is available via reading, That isn't available from any games.

    "The anti-video game people often act like it's akin to smoking crack."
    Again, agreed. They're being treated as the innertubze were; if it's one of those, SATAN!

  • Zeb||

    I just don't understand how people have time to play these big, complicated games and do anything else. Do people just not sleep, or what?

  • Brett L||

    Some people do that instead of bar trivia or watching TV to unwind. You can get 2-3 hours a night in after work and before bed if you don't have a significant other and kids.

  • Gadianton||

    Or if you get the SO and kids hooked too ;)

  • Homple||

    What is it with Reason's fixation on video games? Makes as much sense as getting excited about Parcheesi or ant farms.

  • Brett L||

    Everybody did a bunch of research for the video game issue. They'll get thrown out of the Guild if they don't squeeze every last article out of that research before moving on to something else.

  • ||

    I wonder who had the highest APM and what the mean was. Statcraft II's built-in APM counter would seem to be a good start for quantifying brain function.

  • Otisjay||

    It would be neat to see you guys do a story about WCS/LCS leagues, ie. Esports.

    Hell. Riot, makers of League of legends, is just about to start a Fantasy League on there site.

  • SteveC||

    House of Cards' Frank Underwood is scary and violent, and an avid gamer.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Anyone else out there remember the This Island Earth- MST3K movie? all I could think of when I saw that noggin again.

  • kewa622||

    its awesome. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $500 a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. www.Pow6.com

  • Tomelis||

    I will have to play more! :D Maybe I will get really smart :)

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