Since the invention of Pong 43 years ago, researchers have studied the cognitive and behavioral effects of video games on children with the expectation that the devil lies within, but evidence that today’s Mario Karters are tomorrow’s Mensa members grows every year. Now, researchers not only say video games develop the brain, so-called “brain games” — which are designed for that specific purpose — inspire less brain growth than action games like Contra, Need For Speed, and Call Of Duty.
Two psychology PhDs teaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California Riverside examined over 60 studies on the effects of video games before announcing their findings this week. “Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition,” the researchers report. “Brain games typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement.”In the movie realm, “action” is the opposite of intellectually stimulating, as viewers veg out to a brainless stream of explosions, speed, and bullets. It’s the exact same standard of elements in action gaming, but unlike a moviegoers, a gamer is selectively responding to the minutia of that visual clutter. By making split-second decisions with fine-motor reflexes after constantly scanning a visual field, action gamers have been linked to the following improvements:
• Mentally rotating objects (like an architect, not Magneto)
• Working memory and fluid intelligence
• Visual acuity in crowding
• Temporal processing
• Peripheral Vision
Granted, the vision perk from your kid’s drive through Grand Theft Auto might be a smidgen offset by the virtual education in hooker disposal, but “action” doesn’t have to mean death and perversion. To fit the genre, games should require rapid decisions, visual clutter mixed with irrelevant and relevant objects, and a need for players to quickly switch attention from highly focused to all over the place — basically everything that would have made The Oregon Trail suck less.