“Video games have the ability to change a person’s brain, but the myth is that it’s for the worse. It has long been suggested that gaming negatively impacts our children. The press consistently focuses on the negative aspects of video games: the correlation with “rotting” the brain, encouraging aggressive behavior, promoting anti-social behavior and the list goes on. Must we always look at the downside of something we are not altogether familiar with?
For countless reasons, parents and teachers are hesitant to use gaming technology in the classroom. As both a parent and veteran teacher of 14 years, I’ve had numerous discussions with colleagues who consider video games as simply “mindless” fun. But, those critics are unaware that the touchscreen taps, mouse clicks and joystick jiggles can help sharpen cognitive skills.
Ed u-gaming—a now-popular concept that integrates games with education—disputes the theory that video games will rot children’s brains. A recent and compelling article by writer Nice Fleming discusses how educational games are proven to help people see better, learn more quickly, develop greater mental focus, become more spatially aware, estimate more accurately and multi-task more effectively.
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As the current lead for reading engagement innovation at Evanced Games (a company that designs influential educational mobile game apps for kids), I spend time each week playing edu-games with children in their school environments. This gives me firsthand experience with the benefits of video games. When played with a purpose, video games are important tools for helping kids take the skills they learn in school and build upon them further after the school day ends.
Gaming Lie No. 1: Video games will rot your brain.
Playing video games is commonly thought to taint children’s brains. Yet, gaming is far from mindless entertainment. Several studies suggest that video games unlock different cognitive skills and improve brain function in measurable ways. In fact, a fascinating new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus, found that frequent game playing results in a direct increase in the regions of the brain responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning and motor skills.
Gaming Lie No. 2: Video games encourage aggressive behavior.
On the contrary, I have seen video games help redirect aggression and hostility in kids into something much more positive. For example, one of my former third grade students used to act out during reading and math lessons for any reaction from his peers. About mid-year, I began to bring in iPads for continued skills practice in small groups, and, after a couple of days of using these tools, this particular student showed a completely different side of himself. With the introduction of mobile gaming that tied directly to his interests, he discovered something that engaged him more appropriately.”
“Playing the Super Mario 64 video game causes increased size in brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning as well as fine motor skills, a new study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus has found.
The positive effects of video gaming may also be useful in therapeutic interventions targeting psychiatric disorders.
To investigate how video games affect the brain, scientists in Berlin asked 23 adults (mean age: 24) to play the video game “Super Mario 64” on a portable Nintendo XXL console over a period of two months for 30 minutes a day. A control group did not play video games.
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Brain regions showing a significant increase in gray-matter volume post-test (credit: S. Kuhn ET AL./Molecular Psychiatry)
In comparison to the control group, the video gaming group showed increases of gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum, measured using MRI.”