video games and the aging mind: can super mario improve your brain?

For decades, video games have been touted as a juvenile endeavor only sought out by the young. However, according to a recent AARP survey, 45% of people 50 or older are gamers. This growing interest in gaming among older adults is a fairly new phenomenon that started during the pandemic. The types of games vary but many of these older adults report playing video games to have fun, reduce stress, keep their mind sharp, and to feel challenged. As older adults suffer the most from cognitive decline, let’s dive in and see what benefits video games can bring to the aging mind.

Potential of Video Games

The biggest benefit that video games have is that they are fun! Older adults report that they play video games the most to just have fun. If video games do produce cognitive benefits, the fact that they are fun will make it easier for any patient to follow this prescription to just play video games! 

Playing most video games requires a lot of focus. In fact, games tend to engineer features that require quick decision-making that make sure you are paying attention. This increase in focus could potentially have long-lasting effects, such as improved general attention Other gamers also report improvements in their hand-eye coordination. Some research suggests that video games may have more far-reaching cognitive benefits which we will now explore in more depth.

Video games are a powerful tool in improving cognitive function. Research shows that video games can produce lasting improvements in memory and other processes such as attention, spatial problem solving, hand-eye coordination and visual contrast sensitivity. It also demonstrates that cognitive performance is improved by the repetitive actions involved in playing. This indicates that the type of games you are playing on may influence the benefits you receive.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) reports that immersive environments and novel experiences in video games can work together to improve cognition. The report also notes while it may not be an ideal replacement for real-world experiences, video games can serve as an additional intervention to improve cognitive health. In the study, researchers measured memory through multiple memory tests. Results revealed participants who played Super Mario (and other 3D games) had an improvement in their memory. More immersive games seemed to have a more lasting effect. (It should be noted that virtual reality was not studied in this literature).

Another paper purports that playing action games can improve eyesight through an enhancement in contrast sensitivity. This is important when you are experiencing low-light environments, fog, or glare. An example would be driving at night, which requires excellent contrast sensitivity. With notable improvements in eyesight, memory, and attention, it’s no wonder aging adults feel that games sharpen their minds!

The Role of Different Types of Video Games

There are many video games with great variety in genres and playing styles. Different types of video games are likely to draw out different benefits. That being said, ruleset memorization is fundamental in all games. The research from the NIA shows that the more immersive the game, the more striking and lasting effect it has on memory improvements. This could mean that 3D and virtual reality games could have the greatest effect on cognitive improvements, particularly with memory.

3D-action games and first-person shooters require the most focus and attention while playing. They are the most widely studied as they seem to produce the most benefits to the gamer. (This could also be because they are very popular games and have a vast player base). These games challenge the player with rapid decision-making and tasks requiring excellent hand-eye coordination. This is especially true as the player progresses to higher levels in the game, which generally get more challenging.

Slower-paced games such as role-playing games (RPGs) or strategy-focused games are likely to produce different benefits from action/shooters due to the type of gameplay involved. Typically, these games are more focused on storytelling, resource management, and problem-solving. Research suggests these types of games may help with improving logical reasoning, supervisory abilities, and working memory.

Beyond Entertainment: Gaming as Brain Exercise

The notion of video games as brain exercise may seem counterintuitive to some, especially considering the stereotype of gaming as a mindless pastime. However, emerging research challenges this perception, highlighting the cognitive benefits of gaming as a whole. For older adults, in particular, embracing gaming as a form of mental stimulation could have profound implications for cognitive aging.

Of course, like any form of exercise, the benefits of gaming are likely to be maximized with regular practice. Incorporating gaming into a balanced lifestyle that includes physical activity, social engagement, and other mentally stimulating activities can contribute to better overall cognitive health. Just as we exercise our bodies to stay fit physically, exercising our brains through activities like gaming can help maintain cognitive vitality as we age.

Conclusion

The intersection of video games and cognitive aging is a fascinating area of research with promising implications for the future. While more studies are needed to fully understand the long-term effects of gaming on cognitive health, the evidence thus far suggests there are many benefits to playing video games. Video games can potentially have a positive effect on cognitive functions such as memory, attention and spatial problem-solving. Certain types of games also seem to improve hand-eye coordination and visual contrast sensitivity. By challenging their cognitive abilities, gaming offers older adults a fun and engaging way to keep their brains sharp. So, the next time you pick up a controller, remember that you might be doing more for your brain than just scoring points or leveling up — you could be unlocking a world of cognitive benefits!

2 thoughts on “video games and the aging mind: can super mario improve your brain?”

  1. Didn’t know games could be such a source of entertaining and improving ones mental health. I appreciate the added knowledge.

    Reply
  2. Awesome. I shared this in an Activity Director group my sister added me to, as she is an activity director in an independent living center. I can see this a productive choice for stimulating activities. Many facilities already utilize gaming as a functional scheduled activity.

    Reply

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