Play Video Games for a Powerful Brain

America is in the midst of one of the slowest economic recoveries in its history, but that has not stopped the video game industry from exploding in recent years. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the industry generated more than $22 billion in revenues in 2014 and is growing at a pace more than four times as fast as the broader U.S. economy. Much of this revenue is driven by adolescents (12 to 17 years of age), 97 percent of whom play kids-playing-video-gamesvideo games according to a recent ABC News article. Strikingly, more than half of adolescents report playing video games on an almost daily basis.  I must admit that I was no exception to this trend. I played for at least a couple of hours a day when I fell into that age category and I likely would have played more had my mom not feared that my brain would rot. Perhaps out of pure spite I rejected the notion that gaming could be at all harmful to the mind and continued to play as often as I was allowed. I still contend that parents in fear of rotting brains need not worry, and in this post I will explore my hypothesis that playing video games actually improves cognitive functions and perhaps even grows the brain in a physical and measurable way.

Note: In this blog I will not seek to discuss the social and moral implications of the content that many of today’s popular games possess. The consequences of video game violence, drug references, sexual innuendos, etc. is a fiercely debated question that has yet to be fully answered and will not be considered in this post. 

In the course of my research, I found studies that show benefits that go beyond enhancing quick decision making and hand eye coordination. In this experiment, researchers were able to establish that playing video games with strategic elements leeds to improved strategic thinking and enhanced brain power. The experimental design was simple yet enlightening: researchers split 72 test subjects into three groups. The control group played a game called The Sims, one that requires no strategic thinking. The two experimental groups played a game called starcraftStarCraft, a real-time science fiction strategy game. One group played the game on a higher difficulty that required more complex strategic solutions to problems presented in the game. Potential confounding variables were considered by researches by taking the following measures: All of the groups had roughly the same median age and prior experience with video games. All participants were undergraduate female students. All three groups had roughly the same median score on benchmark tests of strategic thinking prior to the experiment. Each group played 40 hours of their game over a six week span. The results were measured by using a complex battery of cognitive tests to determine if the groups playing StarCraft saw an increase in brain function when compared to the Sims group. The tests showed that not only did the StarCraft groups perform better, but the benefits derived from playing seem to be proportional to the complexity of the game. In other words, the group statsplaying the more advanced version of StarCraft saw even more cognitive gains that the group playing the less complicated version. These results support the claim that video games can help to improve strategic decision making. The researchers were unable, however, to establish a firm physiological mechanism to explain their results (and to confirm my hypothesis), so I continued to research to try to find a causal link between video games and brain power…

To support my claim that video games directly improve the brain and its functions (and to explain the findings in the last study), I sought evidence to demonstrate that video games have a profound impact on the anatomical structure of the brain itself and I encountered a recent 2013 experiment that did just that. This experiment was conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Scientists there used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure any volumetric increases that might have occurred in the brains of people who played Super Mario 64 daily for 30 minutes over a two month span. They also monitored the brains of a control group whose participants did not play video games for the two month period. They concluded that playing the video game sparked neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons in neurogenesisthe brain) and an overall increase in grey matter (where nerve cells are located). Growth was detected in many important regions of the brain including the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum. According to the Mayfield Clinic, these structures are critical for such functions as hand-eye coordination, short-term memory, strategic thinking, and other cognitive functions. The researchers also noted that the ability to train specific parts of the brain with video games can have very valuable therapeutic applications that should be researched more in depth.

Based on my research, I conclude that playing video games is likely to improve many aspects of cognitive function by training the brain in a way that results in measurable volumetric increases in brain matter. I warn, however, that at present there is a lack of data to show the long-term effects of frequent video game play. It is unknown whether the initial benefits will erode quickly when one stops playing or if they will continue to benefit the player well beyond that. Despite this, I conclude with confidence that playing video games is a fun way to do your brain some good.


6 thoughts on “Play Video Games for a Powerful Brain

  1. Victor William Gregory

    Hey Matt,
    The study you used that looked into the increase in grey matter was extremely informative! I’ve always believed that occasionally playing video games was good for your mind. Some people believe that they’re terrible for you all together, so it was to see the studies you utilized was interesting. I would have liked to see you bring up reverse causation, or a possible third variable that could affect this as well. Could it be possible that people with higher amount so grey matter tend to play video games? I think that there are a lot of possible discoveries to be found in regards to how video games affect our minds.

  2. Katrina Burka

    Hi Matt, I really enjoyed your post. I never really grew up playing video games but my twin sister loved gaming. One comment I have is that for the first experiment, I felt like the demographics were extremely specific. Also, the test used only females and although many women play video games, the industry is mainly dominated by men. Also, if all the women had the same ” benchmark tests of strategic thinking prior to the experiment” so I wonder what the results would look like if you examined multiple levels of intelligence. I think asking that question would show more of how video games can affect people more holistically. There is still a lot of backlash against video games and yes it may be true that if improves things for some people, but, long term effects have yet to be discovered.

  3. John Carney

    This is a very interesting post Matt. I always believed that video games harmed and destroyed all teenagers brains so the fact that it actually helps with building up certain parts of the brain is astonishing. Although it does increase certain things like hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking and short term memory, it also could have affects that hurt the human body as well. It could cause things like childhood obesity, poor performance in school, violence and many more harmful effects that can be further researched at: . Video games could also hurt your vision from staring at a screen to long which I will actually explain in one of my upcoming blogs so check it out!

  4. Jarrod T Skole

    I have been playing video games all my life and have always thought it helped add my my quick thinking in real life. I used to love playing the games online where you would have to escape a room by finding clues and matching them with certain objects. My dad was never opposed to these games because he said it helped build my problem solving capability, and I would have to agree with him. These games make kids think outside of the box and be quick on their feet. I understand parents may not like the violent video games, especially some like GTA, but these games do help us learn skills we could use in the real life. I think all kids should play video games for the sole purpose to helping their problem solving skills and quick thinking.

  5. Isaac Chandler Orndorff

    Wow, great post Matthew! You did a very good job of presenting your hypothesis and having good data to support your hypothesis. I always have played video games, ever since I got an Nintendo 64 around when I was five years old. I firmly have always believed that it helps hand-eye-coordination and faster critical thinking. Whenever I see someone play who hasn’t played before, you see them go at a snail’s pace and barely able to get looking and moving at the same time down. This is something that is second hand to me and I can’t even remember when I was like that back when I was younger. My question is, is the increase in cognitive function worth the violence kids will see playing said games? My mother never cared what I played, so I played “bad” video games at a young age and I’m fine. However, this may affect others in the future. If the studies point that this makes kids more aggressive or dangerous, is the increase of cognitive function worth it?

Leave a Reply