/Technology Discussion: Game Brain

Technology Discussion: Game Brain

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Joseph Iacoviello

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The question of whether video games are good or bad for you has been debated nearly to death. Scientific studies may put this argument to rest, however, as studies show that action based games actually help to improve various brain functions, such as attention to detail, problem solving skills, and motor skills. Some studies researching the effects of video games on the brain suggest that one day, we may be able to use video games to treat mental disorders, such as depression or ADHD.

A new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus has found that playing Super Mario 64 improves spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning as well as fine motor skills. This study had a group of 23 adults around the age of 24 to play Super Mario 64 for thirty minutes a day, over two months. The group that played Super Mario 64 showed an increase in gray matter in areas of the brain that controlled spatial orientation, memory formation, and fine motor control of the hands. The more the subject wanted to play the video game, the more gray matter grew. This study is one of the first to show a direct causal link between playing video games and an increase in gray matter. “This proves that specific brain regions can be trained by means of video games”, says study leader Simone Kühn, senior scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute. The scientists conducting the study suggest that this shows that video games can be used to treat mental disorders where certain brain areas are smaller than normal, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, schizophrenia, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Another study conducted by Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has found that action based games can help increase the player’s ability to discern between different shades of gray. To test these improvements Daphne took 22 students and had half of them play “Unreal Tournament 2004” and “Call of Duty 2.” and the other half play “Sims 2”, which is a visually rich game but does not have the action based coordination that Unreal Tournament and Call of Duty provide. The students played fifty hours of their games over the course of nine weeks. At the end of the test, the students who played the action oriented games showed an average of 43% improvement in their ability to pick out shades of gray, while the students who played The Sims showed no improvement. “Normally, improving contrast sensitivity means getting glasses or eye surgery—somehow changing the optics of the eye, but we’ve found that action video games train the brain to process the existing visual information more efficiently, and the improvements last for months after game play stopped.” says Bavelier. Her previous studies have shown that action games can increase visual attention and contrast sensitivity, which is the primary limiting factor in how well a person can see. Bavelier says the findings show that playing action video games may be a useful complement to eye-correction techniques.

Video games can certainly be used to improve health. They have been shown to help improve problem solving skills, eyesight, and can even teach new skills through simulation environments. It is important to remember, however, that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and bingeing on video games will likely have detrimental effects on your health that far outweigh the benefits gained from playing games. It’s also helpful to remember that the best results are seen playing action based games such as Call of Duty or Super Mario 64 – and not just from playing them, but enjoying them.