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Growing up, my two brothers and I loved to play all sorts of video games. We’d crowd onto the couch and battle each other in Halo 2 and Call of Duty on the Xbox. We’d spend hours creating our dream houses and families on Sims (with the help of some cheat codes, of course). And we’d get through long drives only thanks to our Nintendo DS’s—Mario and Pikachu were two of our greatest friends. Now, this of course drove our parents crazy and kept them sane at the same time: the games kept us entertained, but ultimately they couldn’t be good for our brains. Right?

As it turns out, they were probably right—staring at screens and investing our time into playing those video games probably wasn’t super beneficial. But, that’s not to say that all video games are worthless and detrimental to our brain cells: A new study “Exploring the relationship between video game expertise and fluid intelligence” from the University of York has found a link between high IQ’s and young people’s ability to perform well on a certain kind of video game: multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs).

Looking to explore whether there is a relationship between performance levels specifically on online strategy games and intelligence, the researchers from York’s Departments of Psychology and Computer Science focused on analyzing two major types of games: MOBAs, which usually involve two opposing teams of several individuals, such as League of Legends; and first-person shooter games (FPSs), which involve shooting enemies and/or targets, like Call of Duty. These two genres are incredibly popular, as they’re played by millions of people worldwide, and therefore, were of great interest.

In the first of several tests, the research team analyzed a group of highly-experienced League of Legends players; more specifically, they examined the potential link between performance in the video game and in standard intelligence tests. And in the second test, they evaluated big datasets from four different games, two of which were MOBAs—League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2—and two of which were FPSs—Destiny and Battlefield 3. The researchers found that in the large groups (with thousands of players) performance levels in MOBAs and IQ proved to show similarities as players get older. This, however, was not found for FPSs—instead, performance weakened after the teens.

Alex Wade, professor in the University of York’s Department of Psychology and Digital Creativity Labs, explains why MOBAs may yield this result, while FPSs do not: “Games such as League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 are complex, socially-interactive and intellectually demanding. Our research would suggest that your performance in these games can be a measure of intelligence.” FPSs, on the other hand, consist more of speed and target accuracy, says lead author Athanasios Kokkinakis. Wade goes on to say that their findings are supported by past research, which suggests that people who are good at other strategy games (such as chess) also tend to score higher on IQ tests.

This discovery could lead to more groundbreaking discoveries in the future, as this study reveals that video games may be useful in fields such as cognitive epidemiology and provide means for monitoring cognitive health. “This cutting-edge research has the potential for substantial impact on the future of the games and creative industries—and on games as a tool for research in health and psychology,” says Professor Peter Cowling, co-author and Director of DC Labs and the IGGI program at York.

My parents were certain that our beloved video games would do some damage in the long-run. And while this could be true, this study suggests that the issue may not have been the act of playing video games—but which video games we chose. And while it doesn’t claim that playing online strategy games makes younger people more intelligent (only that there is a link between the two), I now wonder if I should’ve swapped Halo out for Defense of the Ancients.

Sources: University of York (2017, November 16). Multiplayer Video Games: Link Between Skill and Intelligence Discovered. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from <http://neurosciencenews.com/gaming-skill-intelligence-7957/>

Athanasios K. V., Cowling P. I., Drachen A., & Wade A. R. (2017, November 15). Exploring the relationship between video game expertise and fluid intelligence. PLOS ONE. Retrieved November 17, 2017 from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0186621

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

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