New academic research says video games, even violent video games, change brains — for the better. Photo by Flickr user Patrick Denker.
This week, the Wall Street Journal published a roundup of positive video-game research, and its arguments are compelling: video games are good for you.
Among other things, it addresses findings that people who play video games regularly have much faster decision-making skills, that women gamers gave improved spacial-manipulation skills, and that kids who play games are more creative.
But it also contains a couple of great tidbits that we’ve discussed at Backward Messages, including:
The violent action games that often worry parents most had the strongest beneficial effect on the brain. “These are not the games you would think are mind-enhancing,” said cognitive neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier, who studies the effect of action games at Switzerland’s University of Geneva and the University of Rochester in New York.
Now, other researchers have studied whether video games cause brain changes and argued that they do — implying the changes are worse. Not everyone in the field agrees:
“Videogames change your brain,” said University of Wisconsin psychologist C. Shawn Green, who studies how electronic games affect abilities. So does learning to read, playing the piano, or navigating the streets of London, which have all been shown to change the brain’s physical structure.
And, as WSJ writer Robert Lee Holtz points out, “The vast majority of the research did not directly compare gaming with hours of other intense, mental activities such as solving math equations.”
It’s clear that the direction of video-game research is changing, but is it changing fast enough? Can it overcome the popular opinion that games (especially violent video games) are at best an entertaining distraction, and at worst a training camp for future mass murderers? Holtz digs into that issue a little, too:
“There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines,” said computational analyst Joshua Lewis at the University of California in San Diego, who studied 2,000 computer game players. “Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence.”
I will say my usual caveats, that no studies are perfect, all of them have flaws and limitations, and the WSJ doesn’t link directly to any of the ones it mentions. But someday we’ll recognize that these games aren’t poison — they are, in fact, nourishment — and articles like this one will help change attitudes in that direction.