Gamers have always had to defend their entertainment vice far more than your average cinephile or bibliophile over the years, but that’s all about to change thanks to science… and video games. Several scientists and mental health researchers (who are probably all avid gamers) have been conducting studies over the last decade proving that there are actual mental benefits to playing video games. Below are five shining examples of why playing video games is the best brain food activity on the planet and perfect ammo for all of the gamer haters of the world. Feel free to continue reading books or watching stuff on Netflix, but your brain will be way better off if you spend that time killing monsters, collecting gold coins, and saving princesses.
#5 It Makes Your Brain Bigger
Okay, that’s not entirely true, but a 2013 study published in Molecular Psychiatry by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany discovered that playing Super Mario 64 (one of the greatest video games ever) caused brain regions to increase in size. Playing the game caused several portions of the brain responsible for memory information, strategic planning and spatial orientation, and fine motor skills to grow in size. The Max Planck researchers conducted MRI’s on the participants who played the game for at least 30 minutes a day and found that they had increased grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum, compared to the other control group that hadn’t played any Super Mario 64. “This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games”, said one of the researchers, Simone Küh. Take that, nature!
#4 Increased Cognitive Skills
A recent story published by PLOS One studied five groups of gamers and had them play a phone game for one hour a day for a month. They study discovered that playing some form of video games improved cognitive function in the participants and this was demonstrated by short term memory tasks conducted after their month of the phone gaming life. Your move, Minecraft… your move.
#3 Defeating Anxiety Disorders with VR Gaming
Virtual Reality gaming could not only help people tackle things like a fear of heights, but it could also help treat a wide variety of anxiety disorders. A study by Pub Med found that VR treatment is effective for tackling spider and flying phobias. There is also a growing sentiment that VR might also be able to help with other things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Could we be seeing VR-specific hospitals in the very near future? One can only hope so.
#2 Action Video Games Can Help People Overcome Dyslexia
A study conducted by Current Biology observed a group of 10-year-olds who played 12 hours of an “action” video game and discovered that it improved their reading speed without any cost to accuracy. The Italian team claimed the effects were the mental equivalent to more than a year’s worth of reading development.
#1 Gaming Might Slow The Aging Process
Sure, a nasty game of canasta or pinochle can get the blood pumping through your veins, but elderly people need to start playing more video games if they want to extend their golden years. Recent studies have discovered that gaming has the potential to help seniors age more gracefully, keep their minds sharp, and more responsive through game play (and hopefully tons of trash talk). “There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests playing video games actually can improve older adults’ reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities,” said Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab. The ability for video games to sharpen elderly minds was showcased in a 2008 study where 40 people in their 60’s and 70’s were asked to play Rise of Nations, a real-time strategy game. “We wanted to see whether we could take an off-the-shelf game and see fairly substantial changes,” said Art Kramer, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Illinois, who participated in the study. Researchers measured the cognitive abilities of the players, none of whom had played any video games for at least two years. They then had half the group play Rise of Nations for nearly 24 hours total over an eight-week period. Follow-up tests discovered that the seniors who played the strategy video game improved their performance on tests of memory, reasoning and cognition. There were particular improvements, Kramer said, in what’s called executive control processes — abilities such as planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity and multi-tasking. “As we get older, we show declines in many of those abilities,” he said. “As a result of doing certain things, we end up doing them less often. The kinds of processes that were exercised in the video game were some of the processes that older adults show deficits on.” So it’s simple, play more video games and you’ll live longer. Any questions?