You might remember being told to stop playing video games when you were younger. Perhaps your parents were worried that they were going to make you into a violent thug (which has largely been disproved by the research), or perhaps they were concerned they would ruin your eyes and melt your brain.
Well, as it happens, you were right to ignore them. Not only are computer games not bad for you – they’re actually incredibly good for you and can improve all manner of cognitive abilities making you objectively smarter across the board. Let’s take a look at how and why that’s the case.
A recent study looked at the effect that playing action games had on the brains of young adults and teens. What was found, was that far from reducing brain power, computer games were actually able to increase it and make the children smarter in all manner of ways.
The key thing that came from the study, was that these children were now able to make better decisions in shorter amounts of time. In other words, they would make decisions in less time than non-gamers while showing no impairment in judgement.
This effect is very likely due to the many scenarios that most action games present that require this kind of thinking. In a lot of computer games, the player will need to decide which target to prioritize or how to evade enemy fire when their health is low. This kind of concentration and quick decision making is a valuable life skill!
More surprisingly, it was found that these participants actually also exhibited greater ‘visual acuity’. This refers to their ability to make out small details from a distance and it was even found that the players had an improved ability to differentiate between subtle shades of grey. This ability will be the result of gamers having to look out for enemies on the horizon and in the distance while playing.
What’s more though, is that computer games actually speak to our primal desire for learning and for challenging ourselves.
Most of us will do the same thing day in and day out – which is something that the brain finds very boring. Eventually, the brain will become ‘set’ in its ways and stop learning and adapting.
But every time you pick up a new computer game, you are forced to learn new controls and to navigate a new environment. In short, it’s like learning a whole set of new motor skills while simultaneously exploring a new world – which is excellent for your brain.
This is the equivalent of learning chess, then another new game, then performing maths puzzles… it keeps the brain constantly guessing and flexible and it creates all kinds of new neural connections. Combine this with the competitive element and the release of dopamine that comes from solving a problem and you have a formula that will keep the brain nimble and fluid even as you get older!