fancycrave1/Pixabay
Source: fancycrave1/Pixabay

Be honest, you want to be smarter. There’s nothing wrong with that. Studies consistently demonstrate that intelligence is among the most desirable qualities a person has. Whether you’re trying to survive an intensive college schedule, appreciate the finer points of Machiavellianism, or impress your friends with an accomplished understanding of string theory, there are plenty of ways to boost your actual (and perceived) intelligence.

A lot of people agree with the idea that learning should be fun. It’s a bit surprising, but totally supported by science, that computer games not only increase your brain power, but also preserve your mental faculties.

The bottom line is, computer games make you smart, and better at life. Here’s why:

1. Failure is the key to success

Ask pretty much anyone who has ever had any success in anything if they have ever failed. You will invariably get a resounding “Yes!”, because EVERYONE has failed at something.. The key to ultimate success at just about anything really, is to fail, a lot.

Most people probably know about Thomas Edison and his spectacular failure rate (or his SUCCESSFUL ruling out of 1000’s of possible solutions, if you’re a glass half-full kinda person), but you probably didn’t know about some of these epic fails:

  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers
  • 1009 people said no to Colonel Sanders
  • Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4, and didn’t read until he was 7
  • Van Gogh only sold 1 painting in his lifetime
  • Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

Failure is important.

In many video games you start out with more than one ‘life’. Straight away this tells you that failure is ok.  A lot of the play consists of failing to reach a goal. This encourages persistence and grit: the ability to stick with a problem and see it through without getting demoralized and giving up. This is a really important life skill.

2. Computer games increase your problem solving skills

There is evidence to suggest that RPG’s are great for brain training. Games such as the incredibly popular Call of Duty can actually improve your cognitive abilities even more than games specifically designed to do so by designers like Luminosity!

Consider some advice from Jane McGonigal (world renowned designer of alternate reality games, PhD in performance studies): she suggests that if you want to have fun AND stimulate your mind, playing about 3 times a week for just 20 minutes each time should do it.

The thing is, just about all of the most popular video games have some requirement for problem solving and/or critical thinking. This promotes adaptability and cognitive flexibility. These are really important skills to have in any kind of problem solving task.

3. Gaming keeps your mind active

It’s unfortunate but inevitable: as we go through life we succumb to both physical and mental decline. Going to the gym or having frequent sex will help to prevent (or at least slow down) the physical losses. To stave off mental decay one must maintain an active brain. Doing crosswords, Sudoku, playing brain games or video games (as long as they’re not entirely mindless) all help to curb the loss.

Research does suggest that seniors who stay mentally active are about 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, a number of studies have suggested that playing video games helps to improve memory (and mood), and overall longevity. Clearly the message here is to give both your grandparents and great grandparents Xboxes this Christmas.

4. Gamers are better at visual tasks

Video games sharpen the visual processing skills of frequent users.

Researchers pretty much agree on the idea that gamers perform better than (or at least comparable to) non-gamers on many visual tasks. Studies have previously shown that compared to non-gamers, experienced gamers are better at: tracking objects; keeping track of several objects simultaneously; filtering out irrelevant information; switching from task to task; detecting changes in visual layouts; and 3D mental rotation.

A recent study conduct by researchers at Brown University found that gaming does improve visual skill, but it might also contribute to learning ability. Video game practice was associated with improved visual learning, but it may also allow gamers to improve on those attributes faster than the average person.

At least one experiment has found that playing video games can improve the mental rotation abilities of non-gamers. Game-related improvements (in general) are permanent. They are typically associated with lasting changes in cognitive processing.

5. Gaming increases processing speed

Being able to process information rapidly is critical in many situations. Motorists, for example, are presented with a lot of information (some of it constantly changing) and asked to make rapid and accurate decisions that can have dramatic implications. In decision making, however, speed is typically sacrificed for accuracy or vice versa. To put it simply, fast decisions often lead to mistakes.

Computer games are notorious for requiring rapid processing of sensory information, and prompt action. Indecision or delays in response are often severely penalized. Players are therefore highly motivated to reduce their reaction time (RT).

A fair few studies have shown that gamers have better RTs than non-gamers. This is hardly surprising, but what may be is that this speed generalizes to various tasks (not just the specific game), and that the increased speed does not lead to a decline in accuracy. So basically, gamers process and respond faster, but they don’t lose any accuracy when doing so.

A few of these studies have indicated causality by showing that RTs can be trained by game-play! If you want to improve your processing speed, play computer games.

6. Gamers have better memories

Take heed anyone who fears the onset of (or is currently suffering from) dementia, or just wants to remember stuff better. A team of neurobiologists from the University of California have found that playing 3D computer games can boost memory power.

They got a group of people to play 2D games half an hour a day for 2 weeks, and another group to play 3D games half an hour a day for 2 weeks. Everyone was given a memory test before and after the 2 weeks. The 2D group didn’t really improve at all, but the 3D group improved by 12%!. This might not seem like a whole lot but 12% is about the amount that memory performance decreases between the ages of 45 and 70.

Previous studies have shown that exploration of a 3D environment promotes the growth of neurons, and can lead to increases in the size of the hippocampus.

This is great news for gamers who can now keep a straight face when describing their Call of Duty sessions as ‘brain training’.

7. Playing computer games improves your ability to multitask

If this article has just one consistent message, it’s that playing computer games has benefits for your brain.

Parents seem to be big on decrying gaming, but there is significant evidence that, as Daphne Bevelier (professor of brain and cognitive sciences who has conducted 20+ studies on playing action video games) put it, “action video games are far from mindless”.

Her studies suggest that gamers have improved skills in attention, cognition, vision, and multitasking.

In non-gamers, multitasking RT increased by about 30% when they switched from a single task. Gamers still had an increase, but it was only by about 10%.

A study appearing in Nature in 2013 found that just playing a basic 3D racing game for a total of 12 hours over a period of four weeks improved multitasking performance for up to 6 months. Improvements were seen in 20-70 year-olds but surprisingly, the trained 60+ year-olds outperformed 20 year who hadn’t played the game. Various other cognitive abilities (sustained attention, working memory etc.) also improved among older subjects.

To sum this article up in a single phrase: play 3D video games (in moderation), especially if you are over 50.

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