Talk to anyone over the age of 40 about video games and they’ll likely launch into a rant about how they’re destroying the minds of the youth. Due to their often violent content and target demographic of teenage boys, video games are viewed mainly as a moronic outlet for aggression. Anything well-liked by the younger generation tends to take a while to gain any respect, and so video games aren’t always appreciated for the very real benefits they may give.
New research suggests that gaming can stimulate the growth of new neurons, and connectivity in certain crucial regions of the brain. In the 2013 study, researchers used an MRI to quantify brain activity, and, compared to the control group, the group that gamed showed neuroplasticity and neurogenesis improvements in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum. These regions are responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and motor skills respectively. As well as this, high intelligence and consciousness are also linked to the level of connectivity between these brain areas.
However, this link between brain activity and gaming is a casual one. The study doesn’t prove that video games are undeniably beneficial, and as it was only done on one game (Super Mario 64) the improvements may be a result of just this game. In order to know for show, more research is needed.
Experts unrelated to this study also say video games can be good for you. Not only may video games be able to improve brain activity, but they could also improve mental skills. Studies have shown that older people can expand upon mental abilities, such as multitasking, through video game training. Some suggest that video games may even be helpful in therapy for a whole range of issues, including schizophrenia, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and dementia. This is because these mental problems often are a product of brain regions that have altered in size.
Gaming could also assist children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia. According to Dr Vanessa Harrar, a researcher at Oxford University, video games can sharpen crossmodal attention (the distribution of attention to different senses) skills. People with dyslexia experience shifts in this attention as their eyes examine different lines of text, and so this is one of the reasons they find it difficult to read. In many video games, the fundamental tasks involve the need for crossmodal attention. By gaming, this skill is could be improved upon for many and may allow people with dyslexia to learn to shift their attention with greater ease.
Unfortunately, video games do have their downsides that need addressing. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, they often glorify violence. Sometimes gaming can even cause your brain to shrink and become disconnected. Humans are designed for the conditions of the real world, and in order to develop important social connections we need to interact with people in the flesh. Video games should never replace reality for you, and their benefits will only be substantial if they’re played in moderation, so be careful how many hours you rack up shooting zombies in Call of Duty.
Have you experienced enhanced skills after gaming? Do you think they improve your focus, or take away from it?