Exercise Your Brain by Playing Video Games

Super Mario 64

Mamma Mia! Last year, scientists in Berlin found that playing Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day increased gray matter in the brain. According to the journal of Molecular Psychiatry, this astounding find was observed in the parts of the brain that involve spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills.

Enjoying yourself with a video game is a great way to exercise your mental skills without it feeling like a chore. Keep in mind, though, that all video games are not created equal. If you want your gaming to make you smarter, you’ll have to choose games that specialize in improving memory, concentration or critical thinking skills.

Memory

Do you always forget where you placed your keys? Do you have difficulty remembering names? If you can’t remember what you had for lunch today you might want to play games that improve memory. Fighting games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 might seem like the last thing you should play to improve your memory, but remembering button combinations and moves for each character — plus your opponent’s special moves — requires great memory skills. If you’re not big into fighting, The Legend of Zelda is an adventure game that requires the player to remember where certain items, characters and doors are located in order to progress.

Concentration

If you have trouble focusing on a task, play hidden-object games to improve your concentration. These games require you to direct your complete attention to a single task while racing against the clock. You can download games from iWin that challenge and improve your focus, like Alice: Behind the Mirror, a hidden-object game with a wonderland theme, or Murder, She Wrote, a mystery game with hidden object levels.

Fine Motor Skills

Psychology professor Paul Schrater theorizes that video games can potentially improve fine motor skills. He says, “Video games form a really natural environment where visual and motor skills are required,” and that “repetitive use seems to be a way to gain these skills.” What games can help? Schrater mentions the shooting game genre is the best to play when someone wishes to improve their fine motor skills. The precision necessary to aim and kill the enemy asks that the player have a high level of hand-eye coordination. So, go ahead: get your Call of Duty on.

Critical Thinking

Games like World of Warcraft require discussion, knowledge sharing, strategy and debate — all of which must be accomplished through critical thinking. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin studied nearly 2,000 posts in a WoW online forum and found that 86 percent contained some obvious level of critical thinking.

Yet virtual worlds can’t take all the credit; the Nancy Drew adventure/mystery PC game series made by Her Interactive improves critical thinking by encouraging the player to think creatively and make connections between seemingly unrelated clues. The CEO of Her Interactive, Megan Gaiser, has even mentioned in past interviews that the core philosophy of these games is to help players improve their deductive and critical thinking skills to solve the case.

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Author:

Katie Fitzgerald

Katie is a grad student studying how gamification can help small and large businesses. She's also an avid gamer.

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