Playing video games is not usually associated with improving the brain or making one smarter, but this is what many studies suggest. Many kids love playing video games. It is one of the most fun and engaging childhood activities. Kids will do anything to win, including giving their brains a strenuous workout.
This strenuous mental workout consists of mastering a lot of cognitive as well as motor demands. As players work with the intellectual and motor skills needed to win a game, their brains adapt to the pressure by learning, as well as by physically growing, according to many studies. Indeed, many researchers think that playing video games is a form of weightlifting for the brain.
A Silicon Valley research group, S.R.I. International, finds that video game playing could raise cognitive learning for students, improve problem-solving and memory. Other studies found improvement in hand-eye coordination, pattern discrimination, reaction time, and spatial visualization abilities.
When playing video games, the players’ brains are stressed and adapt to the kind of challenges they face. Researchers have found that this learning and mastering a challenging task can actually change the brain.
“Videogames change your brain,” according to University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green, “So does learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating the streets of London, which have all been shown to change the brain’s physical structure. The powerful combination of concentration and rewarding surges of neurotransmitters like dopamine strengthen neural circuits in much the same the way that exercise builds muscles… Games definitely hit the reward system in a way that not all activities do.”
Not all video games are played the same, therefore different video games present different cognitive challenges and emphasize different thinking skills. The differences in the way the game is played categorizes video games into genres. The more popular video game genres are first person shooters, strategy games, simulation games, and puzzle games.
Below are the most popular game genres and the cognitive and motor challenges they present, which forces the players’ brains to adapt, learn, change, and become smarter. Note that a game can belong to more than one genres and may involve the use and development of multiple skills:
Strategy games requires the brain to plan, strategize and manage limited resources and logistics. When playing a strategy game, the player has to be flexible and should be quick to change tactics when something unexpected suddenly happens, just like in the real world. Playing a strategy game also involves making fast analysis and quick decisions, sometimes with incomplete information.
Complex, strategy-based games can improve other cognitive skills, including working memory and reasoning.
1. Starcraft (Franchise latest: Starcraft II)
“Starcraft,” is a science fiction real time strategy game where different alien species fight for dominance. Each specie has different fighting units available and requires different tactics to win. The game involves resource management to build and sustain units. A study has found that playing Starcraft can increase a player’s “brain flexibility,” the ability to allocate the brain’s resources under changing circumstances, which the scientists described as “a cornerstone of human intelligence.”
2. XCom Enemy Unknown
XCOM enemy unknown, a science fiction turn-based strategy game, allows players to control the fate of the human race by creating and managing a fully operational base, researching alien technologies, planning combat missions and controlling soldier movement in battles.
3. Civilization (Franchise latest: Civilization V)
Civilization V is a strategy game that is recognized as one of the greatest strategy franchise of all time. Players strategize to become Ruler of the World by creating and advancing civilization from the dawn of man and into space age. It involves waging wars, conducting diplomacy, discovering new technologies, and going head-to-head with some of history’s greatest leaders.
First Person Shooters
A player needs a developed hand-eye coordination to be a good first person shooter. In almost every second of the game, a player keeps track of the position of the enemy, his speed, where the gun is aiming, and so on. The player simultaneously works these factors out in his head, and coordinates his brain’s interpretation and reaction with the movement in his hands and fingertips. He also needs to think fast, making decisions that are accurate under stressful situation.
In trying a combination of weapons and power to defeat an enemy, the player’s mind goes through the process of hypothesis testing, which is an important foundation for scientific thinking.
Playing first person shooters is found to strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, according to several studies reviewed in the article.
The downside, though, is that many of first person shooter games are violent and may affect the mind of vulnerable youngsters.
4. Call of Duty (Franchise latest: Call of Duty Advanced Warfare)
The game puts the player in powerful battlegrounds of the future, where new tactics with advanced weapons are used to win in a high-tech era of combat. The advanced arsenals include vehicles like hoverbikes and highly specialized drones.
According to a University of Rochester study, shooting bad guys in video games can unexpectedly give players better vision. In a 2009 study, expert action gamers who played first-person shooting games like “Call of Duty” saw a boost in their “contrast sensitivity function,” or the ability to discern subtle changes in the brightness of an image. Considered one of first of the visual aptitudes to diminish over time, the ability to pick out bright patches is key to tasks like driving at night.
5. Battlefield 4
In Battlefield 4, the player control Sgt. “Reck” Recker who leads a squad of soldiers. The battles are in land, air and sea, complete with intense water-based vehicle combat. Playing involves the use of a heads-up-display that shows a min-map of the battlefield. Players can use a variety of weapons and use a variety of survival capabilities.
Playing games such as Battlefield enables players to effectively judge what information should be stored in their working memory and what can be discarded considering the task at hand, according to a study published in the Psychological Research.
Titanfall is a multiplayer first-person shooter where players control “pilots” and their mech-style Titans, and fight in six-on-six matches set in war-torn outer space colonies. It features fast-paced future warfare, and enables players to have the tactical ability of x-ray vision, invisibility cloaking and regenerating speed boosts. Players employ tactics that they can change quickly on the fly.
In Destiny, players become the Guardian of the last city on Earth, able to wield incredible power, exploring the ancient ruins of our solar system and defeating Earth’s enemies. It boasts an unprecedented variety of first person shooter gameplay, and players are able to customize with nearly unlimited combination of armor, weapons, and visual customization. The game integrates a number of differing genre elements – aside from being a first person shooter, it is also a role playing and massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.
Action Role Playing Games
In action role playing games or RPG, you take the part of a character in a fictional world. The characters have a goal while exploring a dangerous environment. In order to reach a goal, the player also makes fast analysis and decisions, just like in first person shooter games, although the pace is slower. On the other hand, the decision-making is deeper than first person shooter games because many other variables are involved. The games also exercise the player’s inductive reasoning skill, that is, the ability to think scientifically by hypothesis-testing, which is fundamental to learning.
8. Diablo (Franchise Latest Diablo III)
In Diablo, players choose one of many character classes – like witch doctor, barbarian, wizard, crusader – and aim to defeat the Lord of Terror, Diablo. It involves exploring, acquiring, and trading weapons, armor and magic items and battling hordes and demons.
9. The Elder Scrolls (Franchise Latest: The Elder Scrols V: Skyrim)
The player (playing with a first or third person perspective) freely roam over the land of Skyrim, an open world consisting of wilderness expanses, dungeons, cities and towns. The player navigates by riding horses or using a fast-travel system to warp to previously discovered locations. The objective is to develop the player’s character so that it is able to cope with the quests it pursues. The character also chooses from a variety of weapons, armor and magic that he acquired to be effective in combat.
10. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
This is an open world video game where the player controls a Ranger named Talion. There is a main quest, but the player has the freedom to pursue side quests and roam around the world. The player levels up the abilities of Talion both as a Ranger and Wraith. The “Shadow of Morder” has been called the strategic person’s action game.
11. Mass Effect (Franchise Latest: Mass Effect 3)
This is a science fiction role playing action game that is also a third person shooter. The player assumes the role of Commander Shephard and use extreme character customization. The game reacts to every decision a player makes. The game has a rich, branching storyline with multiple endings based on the player’s choices and actions throughout the game.
Simulation games usually mimic the real world, such as flying a plane, managing a city or a zoo. As such, it teaches or introduces real-world skills. Many simulation games also teach players to make management decisions, such as the effective use of finite resources. Many of them also requires math or number skills to make analysis needed for decisions and actions.
12. Microsoft Flight Simulator X
This game brings the player as close as possible to the experience of flying planes. At the very least, it is helpful for learning instrumentation and navigation and the basics of flying in a fun way. There are 80 missions with fun assignments from around the globe.
13. Sim City
Sim City enables the player to build a city and do the challenging job of urban planning. Players zone land for residential, commercial or industrial development, as well as building and maintaining public services, transport and utilities. It effectively teaches the player how to manage finite resources and the complex consequences of decisions.
14. Farming Simulator
This game makes the player take the role of a modern day farmer who grows crops and raise livestock to earn money. This involves breeding animals, harvest and sell crops, and control farm vehicles and machineries.
In achieving goals in puzzle games, players work out their brains by figuring out patterns, logical thinking, or solving intricate problems under time pressure. Many puzzle games are played casually, that is, they are usually simple games with simple rules and do not take a lot of time commitment or skills to play. The popularity of smart phones and tablets gave rise to many puzzle game players. These games bring a relief from boredom, especially when commuting or waiting.
15. Cut the Rope Series (Latest: Cut the Rope 2)
This game, popular in mobile devices, uses game physics as the main element to solve puzzles. The player help On Nom collect candies by cutting rope and manipulating objects and obstacles such as floating bubbles and bellows, using the touchscreen. Each level introduces new challenges.
This mobile game uses logic and math skills to win. The player swipe numbered tiles around the board. When two tiles with the same number touch, they merge into one. The object is to swipe numbered tiles around the board until a player create a tile with the number 2048
17. Portal (Franchise Latest: Portal 2)
In “Portal”, the goal is to escape from an evil lab using only one tool, a portal gun which creates one blue and one orange portal, only one entry and exit portal at a time. If you enter through the blue portal, you’ll come out of the orange portal, and vice-versa. The game requires the player to plan out his steps to escape traps. The game environment are varied and in later levels of the game, the usefulness of the portal gun grows as well as the difficulty of the puzzle. The puzzles can be completed with many possible solutions, and the player is required to think and act not only logically, but also creatively as he uses the portal gun.
18. Little Big Planet (franchise) Little Big Planet 2
Little Big Planet is a puzzle platform game where players control Sackboy, and navigates him through various levels, collecting items and battling the forces of Negativitron (which sucks the fun, color and life out of Craft World) along the way. The best aspect of the game is the players’ using their creativity to design levels for them or others to play. Players can make their own scenery, character, obstacle and even compose their own music.
Sport games are similar to action games in the sense that they are fast-paced and take good hand-eye coordination to win. For some, they are preferable to many action games because they do not involve violence. Though players won’t learn the physical skills necessary to excel in actual sports by playing sports video games, they can learn player moves and team strategies that are used to win games. Thus, quick thinking and making fast analysis and decisions are involved, often in situations that are constantly changing.
19. NBA (Franchise Latest: NBA 2K15)
Playing with NBA 2K15 is like having a true-to-life NBA experience. The graphics are life-like and the gameplay ultra-realistic. Players have control of such moves as rebounding, steals and blocks making the player feel engaged in every basketball decision and action.
20. FIFA (Franchise Latest: Fifa 15)
The game is designed to give players the experience of playing soccer that is close to life-like. It even models the emotions of all 22 players, giving fans the chance to experience the personalities of the world’s best soccer players during a match. The player control is responsive making Man-to-Man battles more engaging.
21. Madden NFL (Franchise Latest: Madden NFL 25)
This sports video game based on the NFL gives you all the moves of the American Football game and more. There is even a skills trainer that teach not only gameplay skills, but strategy and football concepts as well.
Action-adventure games combine fast-paced action that engages the reflexes, as well problem-solving that involves thinking, in both violent and non-violent situations. Popular action adventure games range from hybrid first-person action-adventure that involves shooting, to sandbox open-world adventures that involve non-linear game-play in an open world. Depending on the game, action adventure games engage players in experimentation, problem solving, strategic thinking, teamwork, and even creativity.
Minecraft is a very popular open-world sandbox game set in a landscape with blocks representing trees, dirt, rocks, water, and a lot more that are randomly generated. Players perform various activities in the game, from building things, exploration, to combat. There are no specific goals but there are different modes: survival, adventure, and creative.
Around the world, Minecraft is being used to educate children on everything from science to city planning to speaking a new language, said Joel Levin, co-founder and education director at the company TeacherGaming. “Minecraft extends kids’ spatial reasoning skills, construction skills and understanding of planning,” said Eric Klopfer, a professor and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scheller Teacher Education Program. “In many ways, it’s like a digital version of Lego.”
23. Super Mario 64 (Franchise Latest: Super Mario 64 DS)
In this platform game, the player controls Mario who explores Princess Peach’s castle to rescue her. It places an emphasis on exploration within vast worlds that require the player to complete many diverse missions in addition to the linear obstacle found in traditional platform games.
In a research conducted jointly by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charite University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus ,it was found that players of Super Mario 64 on a Nintendo XXL had “significant” increased gray matter responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, and strategic planning, as well as fine motor skills.
It should be noted that there is also a study that video games might actually be good for kids if they play for an hour or less per day.
Also, like everything else, playing video games should be done in moderation, and it is important for kids to spend more amount of time in other activities that improve the mind such as reading and physical activity.
See also the good and bad effects of video games.
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