CAREER ADVANCEMENT / JUL. 25, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Playing Video Games Boosts Your Brain

I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t work hard so that they can play hard. What you play matters very little, but the fact that you play is important. Even more important is that you find time to play video games. There are a number of reasons, but the most important and exciting is one from a study titled “Playing Super Mario Induces Structural Brain Plasticity: Gray Matter Changes Resulting from Training with a Commercial Video Game”. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I’m not the one naming these studies. In short, the name implies that playing video games makes your brain bigger. Sorry Mom.

What Does the Study Mean?

First, I should place a disclaimer here; I am not a doctor. So everything you are about to read is from a layman’s point of view and worded based on careful research on the study. I want to be sure I understand what I am saying so I can convey it to you, and explain why you should play game some. The study involved a game called “Super Mario 64”. This is far from a cutting edge game, but it is one where you control the famous Mario in a 3D world. Instead of running sideways and jumping, players can move in every direction possible.

The thing that makes this so important is that players have to judge distances based on spatial recognition. In the study, adults played the game 30 minutes a day. Brain volume was quantified using an MRI. The control group, which did not play games, was used as a base line. The science-y part of this is that those that did play the game saw an increase in grey matter, which is where the cell bodies of the nerve cells of the brain are situated. This was all found in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum. They are used for spatial navigation, strategic planning, fine motor skills of the hands, and memory functions. I don’t know much about each part of the brain, but I have watched “House” enough to know they are pretty important.

This is not the first study to show an increase in brainy abilities based on video game playing, but it is the first that can show a direct casual link between gaming and volumetric brain increase. An interesting aside is that it seems that games may also be therapeutically useful for patients with mental disorders such as PTSD or Alzheimer’s dementia.

So, Play Old Games?

While the game used for the study is pretty old – it was released in 1996 – it is not the only game that can give you benefits. Most games these days actually live in realistic 3D worlds. The same things that “Super Mario 64” did to cause brain increases are found commonly among video games today.

Finally, your smart phone is a great place for brain games. Those games actually focus on making the brain work outside of its comfort zone. Doing so, helps it slow the degeneration process of age and some studies are even showing that it can help it actually work more effectively. Again, I’m no scientist, but I know a good excuse when I see one. If you have to think at work, work with your hands, plan things, or think on your feet, there is no better excuse to play video games. Just like anything, make sure it is done in moderation.

Image Source: Smash Bros

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