What Happens to Your Brain When You Play Games?

Mental Health, Wellness, Psychology, MindWe’ve established that video games can be good for you. This week, let’s get into the psychological aspects of how gaming is beneficial. To start with, it’s important note that there are different kinds of video games. Pokémon, for instance, falls under the type called RPGs (role-playing games). These tend to have an external camera perspective, so you’re watching the events like you would on a TV. RPGs are known for a focus on storytelling and intricate management of your character’s life. As the name implies, they were initially inspired by games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Action games are another common genre. Like RPGs, they usually have an external perspective. The main difference is that characters move around quickly, interacting with the game’s environment and other characters in a physical way. The Super Mario series is perhaps the best example of action gaming. Sometimes criticized for featuring a certain degree of violence (such as Mario breaking bricks), studies have actually shown big benefits to partaking in this kind of play. The well-established difference in special abilities between boys and girls, for example, disappeared when participants played action games for a ten-hour experiment.

Children, Win, Success, Video Game, Play, Happy
Stock photography is fantastic. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the awkwardness.

Popular video games can help us improve teaching. Unlike most other forms of media, games are interactive, demanding that players develop specific and generalized skills in order to progress. This is precisely what we want out of an education system. It has been argued that games are “learning machines,” which perpetuate themselves by teaching players how to learn. If we can design lessons around how the most successful games accomplish this task, we can better serve our children as they go about developing new skills. In essence, we should view the biggest titles as laboratories, giving us the chance to observe how people learn.

But what about those who keep gaming as they grow up? Now that we have people entering middle age who grew up with Nintendo, there is every indication that game consoles will start appearing in more and more retirement homes as time progresses. That’s a good thing. Controlled research trials have been pretty conclusive that the brains and visual-spatial abilities of older adults are healthier after playing puzzle games.

At this point you may be wondering about all those articles from some years ago claiming that violent video games will turn youths into mouth-foaming psychopathic murderers. I will be addressing the matter in greater detail in future posts, but for the time being, rest assured that the research points in the opposite direction. Besides the above awesome results of playing games on a regular basis, long-term studies of teens who play violent games have found absolutely no connection between their choice of recreation and the likelihood of becoming violent.

And you don’t have to be a dedicated lifetime gamer to reap the rewards of having fun. Even people who played casual games from time to time were found to improve their stress markers. Want to stop worrying, lower your blood pressure, and tune up your brain? Consider picking up a less involved game for a few minutes each day. There are worse things you can do for your wellbeing than enjoying yourself once in a while.