Gamers around the world spend approximately 3 billion hours per week collectively sitting in front of favorite games on consoles or PCs.
Traditionally, video games have been seen as an unhealthy hobby because it lacks a physical activity component. While individual games and even full consoles, like the Wii Fit, have been developed to merge physical activity and video games, researchers are increasingly linking playing standard video games with better brain health.
How Does Playing Games Increase Brain Health?
While certain games rely on hand-eye coordination, stimulating the visual centers of your brain and, even adding a little cardio to the mix (like in the case of Wii Fit), other games require us to stretch out mental abilities through the use of visualization, memory and sequencing skills.
For instance, strategy games, like Virtual Chess or even the evergreen Age of Empires, require us to use the part of our brain that allows us to plan future events. Other games demand the use of advanced spatial reasoning, like good old-fashioned Tetris.
Other classic games such as roulette require your brain to consider different types of bets based on probabilities and try to use maths to predict the future outcome. Moreover, as in many variants of table games, it’s essential to understand the anatomy of the roulette wheel and table rules in order to place bets and give your brain a proper workout.
Taken together, playing games can be as much of a workout for your brain as the gym is for your body.
Combatting Brain Aging
Brain aging is a sad fact of life. As you age, your brain actually physically shrinks at about 5% per decade after the age of 40.
While we’ll have to leave that physical shrinkage to the scientists to solve, there are steps you can take to combat brain aging and cognitive decline. Video games and online gaming, in particular, are some of those methods.
What Does the Science Say?
Thanks to an aggregate study complied in 2017, we have some hard scientific data to back up the idea that playing video games is good for brain health.
Headed up by the Laboratory for Neuropsychiatry and Neuromodulation at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, the study conducted a systematic review of all previous studies looking into the effects of video games on the human brain.
Overall, the review indicated that there were significant health benefits associated with playing video games. Because nearly all video games require a substantial proportion of your attention, playing video games actually increases your ability to concentrate on complex tasks.
The study showed that people who consistently played video games showed improvement in both sustained attention and selective attention. This increase in the ability to pay attention was linked to increased efficiency in the areas of gamer’s brains that dealt with focus.
More obviously, playing video games can improve visuospatial skills. The visuospatial parts of a person’s brain govern their ability to identify the relationship between shapes and objects.
Playing first-person shooters, like Call of Duty, 3D puzzle games like Trine, or platformers like Shovel Knight all increase the brain’s visuospatial centers’ efficiency.
Why Are Online Games So Important?
The reason that online games are so important is that many of them have a social aspect to them. Research conducted by Rush University Medical Center has indicated that a lack of socialization can lead to cognitive decline.
A study of 1,138 adults as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that maintaining an active social life can significantly reduce cognitive decline and keep the brain healthy. In contrast, isolation, loneliness, and perceived social isolation can lead to rapid cognitive decline in otherwise healthy adults.
Playing online video games puts you in touch with a vast online community that can help to slow or even reverse the cognitive decline associated with social isolation.
So, as it turns out, when your parents told you that video games would rot your brain and you wouldn’t make any friends playing them, they were well off the mark and, as science is coming to understand, the reverse might actually be true.