Shooting and Strategic Games Are Good For Us
If it’s true that an idle mind is the Devil’s playground, then video games are God’s amusement park. Studies done by the American Psychological Association on gamers are revealing the cognitive benefits inherent in playing shooting and strategic games. The next time we pick up a Playstation controller, we no longer have to feel guilty. We are enhancing our cognitive abilities.
Compared to puzzle or roleplaying games, the action-packed and oft-maligned shooter games yield the most benefits. The APA recruited in-experienced gamers to play a shooting game, then tested several abilities upon completion. Compared to subjects who hadn’t blown away virtual enemies, the shooter players displayed quicker and more accurate attention allocation, enhanced mental rotation abilities, and higher spatial resolution in visual processing. This is due to the high frames-per-second that shooter games require players to absorb and respond to. Placing blocks in Tetris takes time and allows for some consideration, while dodging enemy fire, finding the culprit, and quickly reacting requires higher functioning.
Medical imaging gives us a clear picture of the effect these fast-paced games have on the brain. Recent fMRI studies revealed that the fronto-parietal network (involved in attention allocation) was less active in shooter gamers than in non-gamers, meaning that the former are able to pay attention more efficiently and filter out irrelevant information more effectively.
Our attention spans and spatial abilities are not the only beneficiaries of gaming. Problem solving skills improve upon playing strategic games, which may not come as a surprise to anyone who has experienced the mental work and subsequent joy of completing a challenging puzzle or level. Aside from brief tutorials that detail which buttons do what, current video games generally give the player a blank canvas and free world to explore and figure out on their own. No step-by-step instruction manuals are provided, and players must learn through trial and error how to navigate the landscape. One study found that adolescents who played strategic games for an extended period of time went on to report increased problem solving abilities.
Strategic video games have led to progress in the fight against AIDS. This stark example highlights the real-world transferability of the skills employed while gaming. Researchers at the University of Washington created an online, cooperative game called Foldit. The public was tasked with modeling the genetic makeup of proteins in a three-week competition. The game proved a success, as the researchers managed to identify a solution of the crystal structure for an AIDs related monkey virus. The nonlinear and cooperative aspects of Foldit inspired gamers to use creative problem-solving techniques.
Decades ago, when gamers of the 70’s bounced a ball off a virtual wall in Pong, the possibilities of video games were not yet evident. In our digital age, shooter games are helping our attention spans and visual processing, while strategy games are leading to medical breakthroughs and inspiring new, trial-and-error focused methods of problem solving.
Granic, Isabela, Adam Lobel, and Rutger Engels. “Playing Video Games.”The Benefits of Playing Videogames (2006): n. pag. 2006. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Coren, Michael. “Foldit Gamers Solve Riddle of HIV Enzyme within 3 Weeks.”Scientific American Global RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.