Think video games are child’s play? Think again.
According to an article published in Frontiers in Medicine, mental stimuli that comes from informative, interactive video games exposes users to “beneficial positive stress which upregulates neuronal function.” This increase of cellular response benefits the somatic repair mechanisms, which some researchers believe can reduce age-related neurodegeneration.
One of he key factors at play here is that these games present minimal stimuli while creating a good amount of activity for the user to take on. A couple factors make this possible. First, video games often create what researchers call a non-linear sort of stress. Scenarios tend to be brief and unrelated to other issues in a person’s life.
Second, they require useful cognitive skills, be it problem solving, taking actions or adapting to circumstances. But because the stimulus is relatively weak, it doesn’t have the same negative effects on health and disease states as chronic stress and other anxiety inducing stimulus has.
Finally, interactive gaming has gone beyond simply watching a video or exergaming to set routines. Scenarios are built with teams of people in mind, people who can communicate with each other to build strategies, rapport and social support networks that create different circumstances in a common, consistent setting.
Interactive games that involve communication with other players aren’t just some exercise in socializing, though the commonality of breaking through politeness to develop bonds based on both performative and linguistic interaction does have its benefits. With that said, they also present cognitive benefits thanks to the brain’s physiological response.
It has been shown that action-based games can affect the plasticity of sensorimotor regions in the brain’s gray matter to improve connectivity between neurons, particularly those involved in attention and experience. The studies suggest that even one hour of use per day can improve spatial memory, verbal flexibility and cognitive control.
The research suggests that internet use in general is beneficial to the brain, but the caveat here is that meaningless and repetitive tasks involving the internet do not hold the same health benefits. Gaming, with its ability to make the user act is proving useful while web based applications in particular may well prove beneficial, particularly in the case of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia.
In the past, skepticism over the effectiveness of gaming to improve cognitive health has been significant. Whether it’s a team of researchers suggesting that games only improve the user’s ability to do a specific task with little effect on anything else, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, suggesting that the evidence to support cognitive training is thin at best, there have been no shortage of well-educated minds doubting the effectiveness of gaming.
But in recent years the number of credible studies looking at gaming has proliferated and the evidence has begun to pile up. So much so that the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper in 2019 which highlighted the ability of gaming to improve our ability to multitask, something that tends to hamper healthy brain function.
The study concluded that online gaming has the power to enable people in their 70s and 80s to multitask similar to a person 50 years younger than them.