What Kinds of Video Games are Good for your Brain?
Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Pac-Man. Even the worlds of Sonic and Super Mario are six generations behind video games being released now! What was once dismissed by the majority of the population as a mindless form of entertainment has evolved into a powerful medium with numerous cognitive and therapeutic benefits. In this blog, we will explore the fascinating evolution of video games and delve into the brain-boosting advantages that they offer.
The Evolution of Video Games
To understand the impact of video games on our brains, we must first examine their evolution. In the first generation of video games, consoles were able to play only one or two specific games and had 0-16 KB of memory. We are currently within the 8th and 9th generations of video games. These 8th generation gaming systems include Nintendo Wii U, Sony Playstation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The 9th generation gaming systems include Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. These consoles have 2-16GB of memory and can play a limitless number of games. They are designed utilizing state of the art technology, with the ability to make fantasy worlds look just as real as live action movies.
From the early days of simplistic arcade games to the present era of immersive virtual worlds, video games have become tools with the potential to enhance our brain functioning. This metamorphosis itself is like the growth of a character in a role-playing game. Each level or milestone met unlocks new skills and abilities. Similarly, video games have transcended mere entertainment and now engage players on deeper levels.
The Brain-Boosting Benefits of Video Games
Contrary to common misconceptions, research has shown that video games offer a wide range of cognitive benefits. Some of these benefits include:
- Problem-solving skills are honed as players navigate intricate puzzles and overcome challenges.
- Memory is enhanced through the constant retrieval and utilization of information within the game.
- Fine motor skills are strengthened through the need to use the control, keyboard, or mouse in specific and repeated ways.
- Hand-eye coordination is also put to practice through exploring the worlds of video games
This is only a short list of benefits. The more that we have been researching video games, the more we are discovering how beneficial they can be to our brains. The Cleveland Clinic outlines several scientific studies that show how video games can benefit our cognitive functioning- including attention and focus! This even includes results that show video games can increase gray brain matter. Gray matter plays a major role in regulating emotions and memory retention, among other critical brain functions.
The Role of Video Games in Psychotherapy
The therapeutic potential of video games extends beyond the benefits to cognition in individuals who play them. In recent years, mental health professionals have started incorporating video games into their practices. These unconventional therapists can provide a safe space for individuals to explore their emotions, confront fears, and develop coping skills. Case studies have highlighted the effectiveness of video games in addressing a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, video games can be a vital part of the journey toward healing and self-discovery.
Spotlight on Brain-Healthy Video Games
Different types of video games can help in different ways on that journey. Here is a list of genres and specific games that can have a positive impact on our brains.
- Massive multiplayer online games (MMOs): Encourages teamwork, cooperation, and communication skills (e.g. World of Warcraft, The Elderscrolls Online, and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn)
- Puzzle games: Enhancing problem-solving skills and memory processing (e.g., Tetris, Portal, and Candy Crush Saga)
- Role-playing games (RPGs): Improving social skills, perspective taking, and empathy (e.g., Mass Effect, Pokemon Yellow, and The Witcher)
- Strategy games: Boosting critical thinking and decision-making skills (e.g., Starcraft, Civilization, and BattleTech)
There are many games that also target specific therapeutic topics. Grief is a topic that can be processed through many different video games. That Dragon, Cancer is a game designed by parents who lost their 5 year old young son to cancer. Games like Spiritfarer, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are also games that help players process grief.
PTSD is another major area that can benefit from playing video games. An article by Mike Richman (2019) outlines how video games specifically can be used to help veterans recover from PTSD and cope with their experiences of trauma. The original study can be found here. In this study, researchers found that a large percentage of veterans report that video games have helped them with their mental health recovery. Games like Call of Duty, Tetris, and Night in the Woods and Pry have all been used therapeutically to help veterans heal from PTSD.
The Under-Served Population: Video Games for the Elderly
We often only think of video games in relation to younger populations. However, video games have the potential to revolutionize cognitive health for the elderly. Research findings have indicated that engaging in video games can slow cognitive decline, improve memory, and enhance overall well-being in older adults. Despite this, the stereotype persists that video games are exclusively for the young. Here lies the irony: a form of entertainment initially associated with youth is proving to be a powerful tool in promoting cognitive health among the elderly. Let’s challenge this stereotype and unlock the untapped potential benefits of video games for all generations!
Video games have transcended their humble origins to become catalysts for cognitive growth and emotional well-being. Throughout this blog, we have witnessed the evolution of video games, explored their brain-boosting benefits, and examined their role in therapy. We have shed light on brain-healthy genres and confronted stereotypes by highlighting the potential for video games to enhance the lives of the elderly. It is time to embrace this transformative medium, unlocking its potential to improve our cognition and overall well-being. So, grab a controller, embark on a new quest, and let the power of video games guide you toward a stronger, healthier mind.
Blog written by Sentier therapist, MARY/MAGGIE DEVORAK, MS LMFT (they/she)
Colder Carras M, Kalbarczyk A, Wells K, Banks J, Kowert R, Gillespie C, Latkin C. Connection, meaning, and distraction: A qualitative study of video game play and mental health recovery in veterans treated for mental and/or behavioral health problems. Soc Sci Med. 2018 Nov;216:124-132. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.08.044. Epub 2018 Sep 24. PMID: 30257787; PMCID: PMC6193255.
Manos, M. Are Video Games Good for You and Your Brain? Cleveland Clinic. 2022 Nov. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-video-games-good-for-you/amp/
Richman M. Study: Video games can help Veterans recover from mental health challenges. US Department of Veteran Affairs. 2019 May. https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0519-Video-games-can-help-Veterans-recover-from-mental-health-challenges.cfm