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Pick Up That Joystick! How Playing Games Enhances Cognitive Development

January 23, 2024

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I remember meeting my friend’s 93-year old grandfather and being wildly taken aback by how sharp he still was. I even mentioned it to him, “Wow, no offense, but for a person your age, you don’t seem to have lost a mental step.”

He reached over to a magazine sized booklet and held it proudly up. “Sudoku,” he said. “Keeps my neurons greased like lightning.”

I smiled. Made sense. Lots of older folks were on the Sudoku bandwagon for the exact same reason. They staunchly believed playing this game was good for their mental health. But swap out Sudoku for Fortnite, Overwatch or League of Legends and that’s when the “Video games melt your brain,” tropes often start flying.

Games are good for cognitive development. Often seen just as a source of entertainment, video games have much more to offer, especially in enhancing various skills. Here are a few ways gaming can positively shape our brains.

Gaming Sharpens Critical Thinking Skills

Video games are like fun, interactive puzzles, constantly challenging our critical thinking abilities. Studies show that regular gamers often develop enhanced strategic planning and analytical skills. Yes, they are like a brain workout (which can be a lot more fun for people than repeated bicep curls at the gym.) They can even improve mathematical abilities.

Gaming Strengthens Memory and Boosts Recall

Both short-term and long-term recall have proven to get a boost from gaming. Research links this to the intricate narratives and immersive worlds in many games.Remembering character names, storylines, and in-game strategies keep those neurons firing.

Gaming Enhances Concentration

Fast-paced games demand intense focus. This can translate into improved attention spans and concentration levels in real-world tasks. It turns out that chasing game objectives can train our brains to stay on track in other areas of life, too. Georgia State University’s lead researcher Mukesh Dhamala at the school Neuroscience Institute says, “Our findings illuminate how video game playing alters the brain in order to improve task performance.”

Gaming Enhances Cognitive Flexibility

Adapting to new challenges is a key aspect of gaming - and a key component to success in life! Games often require juggling multiple tasks at once. This can lead to better multitasking abilities. Research shows that gamers can often manage several tasks more efficiently than non-gamers.

Gaming Enhances Spatial Reasoning

Navigating 3D worlds in games enhances spatial reasoning and navigation skills. It’s like a mental map-building exercise, with studies backing up significant improvements in spatial awareness among gamers. In fact, one meta-analysis highlights how the most significant effect detectable in the continued use of videogames is improvement in visuospatial competencies both in males and females.

From Sudoku to poker to Minecraft to Rocket League and on and on, gaming is more than just play. Video games, in particular, are tools that can sharpen our minds, improve our cognitive abilities, and even help us learn better. So next time you see someone pick up that joystick remember, they’re not just gaming; they’re hitting the mental gymnasium.


Alan Sitomer

Alan is Mastery Coding's CEO and a California Teacher of the year award winner who has written 22 books. He left the classroom and started this company because he sees the opportunity for students to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through obtaining jobs in emerging technologies.

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