How Does Playing Video Games *Actually* Affect Your Brain And Well-Being?

how do video games affect the brain

In my 11 years blogging here I may have written about my love for video games 3 to 5 times. Using those posts to highlight ways that game developers and designers push the boundaries of immersion.

When my mom bought me the Nintendo entertainment system my life changed. I’m talking about the first one, that came with Mario and the duck shooting game; I was instantly hooked. My mom would always tease me that video games make you stupid, because I’d spend hours and hours playing ignoring anything else going on.

She wasn’t alone in her belief, as most people believe video games have negative effects on us.

How do video games affect the brain?

I’ve always believed video games have some brain enhancing benefits. Anyone who plays video games likes the entertainment aspect of them, but what we really like is how they enable us to get into a state of flow.

Flow is a very positive state of mind, where you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing. This is one of the reasons that I believe video games should be used in education to enhance learning; because they’re a medium that immerses people.

Video games have a bad reputation, along with hijacking our attention, that they can drive negative emotions in people. But studies conducted to understand how video games affect us don’t confirm this assumption.

Rather, playing video games have various cognitive benefits:

  • Improve perception;
  • Improve ability to focus;
  • Improve hand eye-coordination;
  • Improve problem solving capacity;
  • Improve memory;
  • Help people relax, feel better, and trigger emotional positive reactions.

Wired magazine seeked to find out how video games affect our brains, by testing the brain of a gamer versus non-gamer to find out:

The main question that still needs further study is whether these benefits transfer over to other parts of our lives.

I think there’s nuance to the question, because there are many types of games. The ones explored in the video above are mainly shooters, which focus on perception and hard eye-coordination. Other games like RPG’s and strategy games help people become more strategic thinkers. And games like Sims teach people project management skills and economics; among other things. And games like World of Warcraft teach people leadership and collaboration skills.

Rather than focus on the negative side of gaming, let’s ask ourselves: how might we make video games more useful for people, not just entertaining?