Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Can Video Games Improve Brain Functioning?

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Even though video games could cause addiction, playing certain games can help improve the cognitive function of the brain.

A video game is a kind of electronic game that is played on an electronic device with the help of a user interface like a gamepad or joystick. The game is played with an inbuilt display unit or an external display device like a TV screen or computer monitor. Video games were first created by academic computer scientists during 1950s and were played for research purpose only.

In 1960, professors and students of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, played video games like Tic Tac Toe on such computers as IBM-1560. At that time video games were not familiar to everyone, because personal computers and game consoles were not easily available in the market. But after growth of the electronics industry, gradually video games became very popular all over the world.

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Many such companies as Atari, Nintendo and Sega started selling game consoles in the market during the 1980s. Later, companies like Sony also introduced many gaming consoles like PlayStation and captured the market in late 1990s. After emergence of PC gaming, people started playing video games on their PCs and laptops, either at home or work. Now people like playing video games on their cellphones, too.

Video game addiction and de-addiction

According to American Psychiatric Association, video games cannot cause any kind of addiction. But these can cause a different kind of addiction—a kind of behavioural addiction that makes someone play video games excessively, and that interferes with everyday life. There is no approved medication for this type of addiction, but still most psychiatrists are treating video game addiction using psychiatric drugs.

Behavioural addiction is a kind of addiction that does not involve use of any drugs. This type of addiction happens because of the rewarding system of our brain. Our brain is functioning because of neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and dopamine. Certain activity or behaviour of a person can increase such neurotransmitter levels in the brain and give pleasure. That is why this could vary from person to person, because everybody’s brain chemistry is different. Some people might find video games addictive, while some might find them a waste of time.

Usually, any drug-related addiction is cured using de-addiction (substitute) drugs. In case of a drug addiction, the brain gets dependent on a particular drug, and to de-addict someone from that drug, a substitute drug is used with a tapering plan. As the substitute drug is tapered gradually on daily basis, the brain starts to reduce its dependency on the addicted drug.

Similarly, for any behavioural addiction like video gaming, de-addiction can be done using a substitute game. For example, when a user starts playing a game, he or she may find some difficulty in the beginning, but after winning the first level of the game, dopamine levels increase and he or she may want to play the next level. As the level goes up, difficulty level also goes up. This causes the brain to take stress from the game, and the user wants to play again and again to reach the top level (reward). This process makes anybody (from children to adult) to get addicted to a video game.

Just like a benzodiazepine is used as a substitute for alcohol addiction, a substitute video game can de-addict someone from such addictive games. Such games as PUBG cause addiction because of their addictive algorithm and interface, but if a similar video game is created using reverse engineering and then changing the gaming code in such a way that it will cause less difficulty, and is less awarding, then playing that game will make the person get de-addicted from a similar video game.

Just like most people do not like watching a movie twice, such substitute games would prevent people from playing addictive games again and again. However, to get rid of video game addiction, the best solution is to play them limitedly for a certain period of time. Playing video games with breaks, instead of playing for hours, can also prevent addiction.

Psychological effect from video games

Apart from getting addicted to video games, it is also possible to get psychological effect from video games, and all games are not suitable for every user of all age groups. Video games are rated by Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) of USA according to age group. According to ESRB, games that are designed for everyone are rated E, for those above ten years of age are rated E10+, for teens between ten to seventeen years of age are rated T, for those above seventeen years of age are rated M, and for eighteen years and above are rated as A.

If video games are played by the suitable age group, then these will most likely not cause any psychological problems. However, some video games are often played by unsuitable age groups by means of piracy or if the game is free to download, which could cause psychological effect on the users.

Video games can improve brain function

Even though video games could cause addiction, playing certain games can help improve the cognitive function of the brain. Children who play video games develop better cognitive skills and better learning abilities. A new research done by the researchers at Yale University, USA, found that children who play video games are always good at learning.

Your brain is yours. If you do not use it, you lose it! Many age-related brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, can progress in people who do not like doing brain work and live an easygoing life. One research shows that people who play puzzles and board games frequently are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So, playing board games and puzzles on your PC or mobile can also help reduce the risk of brain-related disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Moreover, when you play a game like chess on a PC, you are competing with a computer, and a computer is a completely logical machine. The more you play with a computer, the better your brain learns to become logical. However, defeating a computer is not easy and some might find it frustrating, but playing with a computer instead of a human helps a lot in improving thinking abilities, because if the opponent player is a human, then he or she may not have better playing skills than you to compete with.

Apart from Alzheimer’s disease, some video games might also cure mental disorders like ADHD. Games like Project: Evo and Akili have been designed to cure ADHD but are waiting for FDA’s approval.

Video games are also good stress busters, and a new study of millennial gamers has revealed that video games can help reduce mental stress. Behavioral Science Institute in The Netherlands has found that some video games can help reduce mental stress. And, one survey done by Luke Hales, GM of Dave TV Channel also concluded the same.

Future of video games

Due to the advent of new technologies, video gaming experience has gone to another level. Previously, video games were only played on game consoles but now people can also play on their smartphones. Apart from using gamepads and touch screens, a new technology called gesture control allows playing video games only with hand movements and gestures. This technology has made playing video games a lot easier, and it is also suitable for people of all age groups.

Gaming console (Credit:
Gaming console (Credit:

Virtual reality (VR) is another new technology that allows users to experience video games or any 3D simulator in a 3D environment with the help of VR headsets. In VR gaming, one can feel the presence in the gaming environment and visualise everything around them, virtually. Apart from gaming, VR is also being used for simulation and training purposes.

Besides VR, there is another technology called brain computer interface (BCI), where a headset is used to communicate with the computer from the brain directly, using electrical signals. It can be used as a control device for video games, too.

VR can be used by doctors to get training on how to operate a human body using a surgery simulator
VR can be used by doctors to get training on how to operate a human body using a surgery simulator (video game)

As technology improves, video games will become increasingly enjoyable and useful in the future. Starting from game consoles to touch phones, video games are enjoyed by people of various age groups, and even though there are some dark sides of video games, playing them appropriately will not cause any problem and we can get the benefit of playing video games happily.

Debojit Acharjee is an IT professional


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