Can video games be good for your brain?

Video games have often been the target of criticism, being blamed for promoting violence and encouraging self-isolation. In some countries, even video games considered “violent” have been banned by law. However, research has not agreed on the existence of a link between violence and video games, and some conclusions have been reached about the positive effects of video games on the brain and cognitive abilities.

Health benefits for playing video games

  • Strengthen your memory: In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the link between video games and functional memory was tested. Participants were assigned an action video game (such as Call of Duty) or a video game such as The Sims, and measured for 30 days. The researchers found that playing action video games appears to stimulate visual functional memory more than other activities, results that appear to be consistent with previous research. Other studies indicate that action video games are better for this purpose than “brain-training games” that are specifically designed to improve memory.

  • Improve your social skills: Other studies have found that narrative aspects in video games can help improve children’s social and emotional skills, especially in those with forms of autism. This evolution, which can also be seen in people who consume fiction on a regular basis, tells us that narrative allows players to access other people’s mental states, thus helping children practice empathy and understanding skills towards others.

  • Prevent brain aging: One of the aspects of videogames whose potential could be more ambitious and promising is linked to their ability to decrease the decline in mental abilities in adulthood. At the University of California, a group of researchers and game designers have created a game called Neuroracer, designed to help the elderly improve their cognitive abilities. The game requires individuals to drive a virtual car while performing other tasks. After 12 hours of using it, the researchers found that the elderly had improved their performance, functional memory and attention span. More importantly, it was demonstrated that the skills gained could be transferred and used in the real world.

  • Improve your motor and visual skills: A game called Underground, where players must guide a child and his or her robot pet out of a mine, has been adapted to train surgeons in specific skills: players use adapted controllers that resemble the tools used in surgeries, and those who perform best in the game also perform best in assessing their surgical skills. Certain games, where accuracy is key, can become tools for fine motor skills training.

(Source: TED Talks)