There’s an age-old critique of gaming—from many a parent and teacher and other well-meaning people—that it’s bad for you in nearly every capacity. Too much sitting! Too much screen time! Not enough social interaction! All the violence! So unproductive! No real learning!
We’ve all heard it before.
But those tropes are changing these days because many scientists, researchers, and studies have come out with findings of gaming’s numerous potential benefits—and more specifically, the positive effects gaming can have on our brains.
That’s right, Mom and Dad: Gaming is good for our brains.
One thing here is not like the others
Now, that’s a bit of a sweeping statement, and we must throw the caveat out there that studies and researchers will remark across the board that there are many variables at play. “Video gaming” is an incredibly broad category, as is “gamers”. There are so many different types of video games, played on so many different devices, and so many different types of people who play them. One person’s natural body constitution and chemical make-up may change how their body and brain are affected, in comparison to another person playing the same game. For the sake of this post, it’s important to note that most of the formal studies conducted on the subject have used action video games specifically.
But understanding those disclaimers—let’s talk about what positive things have been discovered.
Most studies looking at gaming’s effect on the brain focus on cognition, and it turns out it improves a whole swath of areas here.
Memory: Our memory (short-term, long-term, spatial) is located in the brain’s hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that helps us navigate space. So, when you’re navigating so many different spaces in video games and exercising your hippocampus, you’re by default exercising your memory center and improving that as well. Because of this, it also means that it helps reduce mental decline. We all have heard of our grandparents doing games and puzzles like crosswords in order to engage their memories. Well, gaming apparently has a similar effect.
Vision: Gaming has been found to enhance low-level vision, including our ability to discern the depth of view and differentiate disparities between images. It also enhances our visual attention, involving things like pattern recognition and figuring out the most and least important objects in our line of vision. There are very clear benefits to our visual acuity and sharpness, which among other things helps us read things at a distance. Gaming as a repeated practice has even been found to help with rehabilitating lazy eyes.
Cognitive Workload: This refers to how much information our brain can receive and adequately process, manage and move forward without asphyxiating (*not used here in the scientific sense of the word). Well, we probably don’t need to explain to you that gamers handle a lot of information at once and simply must keep going to play the games. So, as you can guess, studies show that’s a good thing for your brain functionality.
Attention and Focus: In an earlier post, we wrote about things you can do to help improve your focus while gaming. But we also mentioned that gaming, in fact, can be the thing that improves your overall focus. You have to be attuned to so many details when gaming because if you miss the littlest thing, the result can be drastic. In effect, they’ve found that the parts of the brain that have to engage to keep people focused and keep our attention on point actually need less stimulation for gamers to get the same level of focus as it would take to achieve in non-gamers.
As we said in the beginning, there are lots of factors as to how and why gaming affects brains, and which types of games and gamers it affects. As one researcher aptly put it:
“Games that require progressively more accurate and more challenging judgments and actions at higher speeds, that require focused attention and the suppression of progressively stronger distracting lures, that increase working memory spans, that provide pro-social training contexts, and that offer increasingly harder cognitive challenges can be expected to drive positive neurological changes in the brain systems that support these behaviors.”
So there you have it, gaming is the same as exercising your brain. The more you do it, the stronger your brain can become. One caution, however, and that is, like exercise, there is a level at which you can over-do it. Too much stress or exercise can actually be counterproductive. Find your balance. Exercise those brains…responsibly.