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Top reasons why you should NOT quit playing video games

November 24th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

There are 1.23 billion people worldwide who spend an hour a day, on average, playing video games, reported by Time.com. I used to be one of those game players when I was in elementary school. However, my parents enforced me to quit playing games by setting up strict time limits, and even locked the computer with a password that I have never successfully cracked. My parents are not the only ones who are of the belief that playing video games is not beneficial at all, but a waste of time. Searching “video game playing” on Google, the top 10 search results are on how to quit playing video games and why video games can ruin one’s life. On the contrary, recent bestseller books and psychology studies argued against this common belief that playing video games is in fact not a total waste of time. When people play games, they are “wholeheartedly engaged in creative challenges,” said Jane McGonigal, a game designer and bestseller author, cited in Time.com.


McGonigal argued that game playing can induce a “real sense of optimism” of being able to improve and succeed when engaging with difficult problems due to the desire to win. She also mentioned that some psychological studies have shown that reward pathway, which is associated with motivation and goal orientation, and the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning, are activated when playing games. McGonigal’s theory is supported by previous studies that action video game playing can improve visual and attentional skills (Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003) cited in Boot et al. (2008)). A study by Boot et al. (2008) tried to replicate and extend the result by examining the difference between gamers and non-gamers, and whether a wider range of cognitive functions including attention, memory, and executive control can be enhanced by video game playing.

The study was divided into two parts. The first part studied the cognitive difference between expert gamers (played games for seven or more hours a week in the past two years) and non-gamers (played games for 1 hour or less a week in the past two years). The cognitive performance of participants was evaluated by (1) visual and attentional tasks, (2) spatial processing and spatial memory tasks, and (3) executive function tasks. The second part of the study researched whether game practice can improve cognitive performance among non-gamers who were asked to practice one of three different games (Medal of Honor (action game); Tetris (puzzle game); Rise of Nation (strategy game)). Their performance was examined using the same three cognitive tasks in the first part of the study before, during, and after game practice.

Tetris http://tetrisgamez.org/games/images/originaltetris.gif

The result indicated that experts outperformed non-gamers in all cognitive tests. Experts were able to track objects moving at greater speed and switch between tasks more quickly. Their higher accuracy rate and faster response time demonstrated their better multi-tasking and attentional control ability, which helped them outperform in a broad range of memory, attention and executive control tests. No cognitive improvement of video game practice was found in different cognitive tests except for that mental rotation performance was improved from playing Tetris.

Why a broad range of cognitive functions, but not specific ones were better in expert game players? Boot et al. (2008) hypothesized that video game training encourages “flexible strategies” that the complexity of goals in modern video games requires gamers to constantly switch attention between different tasks. The ability of attentional control is trained which can be applied to a variety of cognitive tasks. Another possible hypothesis is game constantly provides novel situations, for example, tracking enemies moving in different ways at different speed. The novel situation requires gamers to apply the same skills in a variety of contexts. The application of skills in different contexts means constant retrieval practice which improves metacognition of gamers so that a broad range of cognitive functions are improved.

Why only little improvement seen in non-gamers? Though previous studies of (Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003) cited in Boot et al. (2008)) demonstrated that only 10 hours of training were needed to achieve significant cognitive improvement in non-gamers, Boot et al. (2008) argued it might require more hours of training to see any cognitive transfer. Boot et al. (2008) also mentioned that there might be a self-selection effect in expert gamers, who may have an inborn cognitive strength which help them succeed. People without the strength may have already quit playing games.

Though Boot et al. (2008) did not answer why cognitive functions in gamers are globally improved, Boot et al.’s study (2008) raised up several questions which may be interesting for future research, such as whether the enhanced cognitive ability in gamers has a correlation with real world task performance.

To date, game research is a promising field that game companies are investing in cognitive training games. Popular brain training games such as Lumosity advertise to be entertaining and cognitively beneficial.

Lumosity http://static1.squarespace.com/static/52212717e4b02da2a908fced/t/52d39a6ce4b075f75c5fbd91/1389599341372/lumosityattention

Surely, the statistics of “1.75 billion minutes a day playing Candy Crush in the world” sounds astonishing, but if game playing is proved to work, I would definitely invest in game playing.

If you want to learn more about the cognitive effects of video game playing, free free to check out this blog post and the original paper of the study.


Berenson, Tessen. “Why Playing Video Games Can Actually Be Good for Your Health.” Time. Time, 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M., & Gratton, G. (2008). The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control. Acta psychologica129(3), 387-398.


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  1. December 5th, 2015 at 14:28 | #1

    I have always been a person who despises video games and much like your parents believe that they are a waste of time. Lately there have been many arguments suggesting that video games are actually beneficial when it comes to accuracy and response time, but that makes sense. Any cognitive function if practiced enough times will become faster. That is one of the criteria for making a controlled process an automatic. However, what I am more interested in with this post is what specific cognitive processes are video games enhancing? If you are processing things faster and more accurately, what are the components of those things? And does playing video games slow down any cognitive processes? I can imagine that video games would not prove to be very helpful in increasing someone memory for something non-game related. I would also imagine that things like face recognition and how to process social interactions would become distorted as well. Bottom line with concern to video games for me is yes, they would increase response time and accuracy because the players are engaging in an activity for 7+ hours a week, that makes sense. However, I would think that the facilitation in processing due to video games would only be for selective aspects of cognition.

  2. December 9th, 2015 at 19:58 | #2

    This article definitely raises an interesting point, and it is something that I have always wondered about. Growing up, my parents were very strict about video games, and I didn’t own a video game console until I was a senior in high school and bought my own. I would not consider myself a gamer, and typically only play video games occasionally to relax or unwind after a long day, not to increase my cognitive brain functions. However, this article raises an interesting point about the benefits of playing video games as a way to increase accuracy and reduce response time. My mind immediately raised some questions about just how beneficial video games can be, and which ones are the best for increasing different cognitive processes. It makes sense that Tetris would increase a person’s mental rotation performance, which raises an interesting point about playing specific video games to increase performance in mental areas that they may be lacking in. Say I need to work on my pattern recognition skills, could a game developer create a specific game that I could use to permanently train my brain to be better at recognizing patterns? It seems that sites such as luminosity.com are already working on aspects to video games like this, but I feel as though this is still an area that could be more heavily researched. It is clear that games like Medal of Honor and Rise of Nation are not designed to specifically increase certain cognitive functions, but this study shows that they still have positive effects on certain cognitive tasks. It would be cool if game designers could begin to incorporate more aspects of a game that are proven to increase cognitive processes without the gamer being aware that they are actually helping their brain. I still have questions about how permanent these increases in performance are, and if there are other ways to increase these functions in a more timely manner without playing video games. Although much more experimental tasks must be performed to prove the validity, it is a cool idea to think that video games may not be such a waste of time after all.

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