Video games offer a considerable amount of adventure and entertainment. Traditional games, like Tetris, or the more modern Candy Crush Saga, are puzzling brain busters that require a certain level of strategy in order to be successful.
Others, like Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild or Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, provide an escape from the real world and into familiar or far-off places. And even violent video games like The Last of Us 2 have become critically acclaimed for their level of inclusivity and accessibility, impactful storytelling and innovative game design.
Increases Brain Matter
Much research has been done to show that video games impact brain plasticity (your brain’s ability to change in response to learning) through the use of attentional control and reward processing. The idea here is that the more you’re able to direct attention toward a certain task, the more stimulated you are by completing that task. From there, you can then move on to more complicated tasks. This is especially important when you consider that your brain’s gray matter — the outer-most layer of your brain — contains billions of neurons and is responsible for controlling your movement, retaining your memories and regulating your emotions. Essentially, the more you learn, the more your brain can adapt.
“Like stimulants, video gaming can increase gray matter in the brain,” says Dr. Manos. “Gray matter provides interconnectivity and allows parts of your brain to communicate with other parts of your brain and advance your self-perception.”
Perception and Vision
When faced with a complex environment with competing stimuli, your brain creates a perceptual template that helps you determine what is important and what is not. This perceptual template enables you to assess and respond to a situation. According to a 2014 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, playing action video games can improve a person’s ability to create perceptual templates. This type of improvement in perception is especially beneficial, as it is not task-specific but can apply to any situation.
High-action video games can also improve your ability to distinguish patterns and different shades of gray. Scientists used to believe your ability to distinguish contrast was not something that could improve, however, research from the University of Rochester showed gamers who played about 5.5 hours of action games each week for nine weeks showed a 43% improvement in their contrast sensitivity.
The gamer’s brains were able to process visual stimuli more efficiently, and this improvement in perception lasted for months after the experiment ended. This improved perception has valuable real-life benefits, such as being able to keep track of your friends better in a crowd or find something you have dropped in the grass.
Fast-paced video games like Need For Speed or Call of Duty require you to stay on your toes and make decisions quickly. These energizing action games can also improve your ability to make game-time decisions in real life. Research shows that one of the many benefits of playing video games is an increase in plasticity, or your brain’s ability to change in response to learning.
Playing video games lets you direct your attention toward a specific task and receive stimulation as you complete these challenges. Since your brain knows how to handle these smaller decisions, it can quickly move on to more complicated ones. The more you learn, the better your brain adapts, and you can make smarter decisions faster.
Faster decision-making is beneficial in everyday life, as you can accomplish more when you make trivial decisions quickly. Instead of wasting time debating what shirt to wear, you can get real work done. Making decisions quickly can also have more serious implications. Just like being faced with an ambush in a shooter game, quick decisions are important when facing a dangerous situation in real life, such as a car that might hit you on the highway.
Video games can also improve decision-making as it relates to long-term planning. When playing strategy games like Civilization or SimCity, you have to plan ahead and make decisions now that will benefit you down the road. These games train your brain to recognize potential outcomes and implications of your choices to make the best choices for your desired result. When a person practices these skills in a virtual world, they will be able to better apply them in the real world.
Strategic and role-playing video games also challenge players to solve complex problems. This virtual problem-solving serves as great practice for real-life hurdles. Researchers at the University of South Carolina found that video games simulate how players process the world. Players solve problems in engaging virtual environments and become more likely to apply the lessons they learn and the experience they gain to situations outside the game.
Almost every genre of video game involves problem-solving, whether it’s figuring out a puzzle or finding the fastest escape route. These problems can involve both memorization and analysis to solve them, as well as a little creativity. Obstacles in video games are often very open-ended without a lot of instruction, meaning players must experiment with trial and error. When your attempt to solve a problem in a video game fails the first time — or the first 10 times — you are also learning how to be resilient and persistent when facing challenges in real life.