The effect gaming has on the brain

The often-discussed topic of gaming and its negative effects has been a major talking point for years. No one ever imagined that the very first Atari console would result in millions sitting around in their underwear all day long, playing video games. As gaming technology advanced and games traversed all media, stakes became higher, and for some, unfortunately, these stakes ended in addiction. However, while most literature documents its negative effects, gaming also has beneficial effects on the brain.

Intrinsic benefits 

The cognitive benefits of gaming on the player are numerous. Interestingly and ironically, games that promote cognitive skills are violent, for example, action games such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Halo 4. Although violent, these games improve spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, all skills that can be transferred to the academic setting where critical thinking is required. Specifically, advances for students are seen in math and science courses as the result of improved spatial navigation and reasoning. Other cognitive advantages that result from gaming include strengthening of brain cell connections, greater control of sensory movement, improved decision-making and improvement in the area of deliberation and planning.

In addition to cognition, emotional benefits to gaming are related to player success and feelings of achievement. Flow, a word coined to describe feelings of complete control, is another emotional positive for the gamer. For adolescents, these emotions translate into commitment to their work and achievement at school. Additionally, the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine, associated with pleasure, is at work when gamers either sit down at the console to play with friends or are alone, playing online or with others. Gamers also might find playing games relaxing, as is the case with those who play Angry Birds.

Of course, educational games, online or as a part of a classroom program, can change a student’s attitude on a subject. Games that focus on a particular skill can transform dull classroom bookwork into an engaging activity. As a result of this engagement, students are motivated to understand and complete schoolwork. While many might find gaming negative, gaming has transformed the modern classroom into one where students learn as a result of being allowed to play.

Psychosocial benefits

Never before has there been a social draw like a gaming console sitting neatly tucked under an entertainment center. Whether the console is an Xbox, PlayStation or a Nintendo, the activity that involved at least two players sparked more than the excitement that went along with possibly being the best player. For this reason, gaming negates the stereotype of the isolated loner, because most of these games require at least one more person, usually a friend, with whom to engage. More importantly, the social benefits are manifest through the psychosocial behaviors that develop when players have to cooperate with one another. Other behaviors that develop from these types of games include helping and supporting each other.

The positive psychosocial outcomes of gaming are very apparent when the game moves from the living room space to an online reality, where players only know as much about the players as each one is willing to divulge. Games that can be accessed through a gaming site or those connected to social media sites, such as Facebook, for example, are places where the players convene and carve out rules determining who gains access and who leads, in addition to a number of other social roles. Furthermore, because players can remain anonymous, those belonging learn to discern whom to trust when playing. These games have even been the beginning of many online sites where gamers can place bets. Stakers.com  and other sites are places where gamers wager on virtual teams or players. While some of the sites focus mostly on sports, online gaming is featured as well. Ultimately, these sites are a place where gamers can convene and develop their psychosocial skills, as the participants are from diverse backgrounds and have very different moral paradigms.

Gaming has gotten a very bad rap in the last few years because of the focus on the negative social behaviors resulting from excessive play. This is compounded by potential addiction that is a reality for those who are pre-disposed to addictive behaviors, which includes gaming. On the flipside though, the numerous positive effects of gaming on the brain are manifested on the cognitive, emotional and psychosocial levels, as the skills attained through gaming are transferrable to other non-computer related tasks. As with any tool, the product of that tool depends on the person who wields it, and gaming is no different.