A few years ago, portable gaming devices in particular were privy to a particular fad, a phenomenon that promised to change our lives and transmogrify even the rustiest brain from something that forgets why it walked into the living room to something amazing. And all it required of the individual was ten or so minutes of their day. We’d blundered into the peculiar and not entirely effective world of brain training.
Just about everybody has an inherent desire to be smarter, less forgetful, or able to finish more than half of a crossword so intelligence-boosting games like Nintendo’s Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training were always going to be a success, if a short-lived one. Here’s the rub though; there’s only very limited evidence that they actually work, with the ultimate outcome of most brain-training games being increased proficiency at the task at hand.
Put another way, just because you can correctly remember the order of coloured cars approaching on a digital motorway that doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly stop forgetting your girlfriend’s birthday. A good 44,600 people failed to improve their minds with brain-training games according to a study mentioned in The Guardian a few years back, a figure that’s almost high enough to put a lid on the subject for good.
All isn’t lost though; where specialised brain training games failed, regular games, inclusive of Mario Kart-style experiences and more conventional hobbies like blackjack and bridge, succeeded. Alzheimer’s Research UK, while stopping short of linking stimulating hobbies to the prevention or cure of degenerative brain disorders, notes that people who play card games have better cognitive abilities and even larger brains.
This notion of card games providing mental-boosting benefits is is reinforced in a blog post by 888casino, which points to card games such as poker encouraging nerve growth in sections of the brain responsible for emotion and executive function, with games like bridge even stimulating the body’s immune system, due to players being required to use visualization, memory and sequencing.
Console and PC games represent a unique avenue for improving “neuroplasticity” or the ability for the brain to heal, grow, and repair, with special emphasis on high-octane titles like Call of Duty, DOOM, and Wolfenstein. The rationale is simple; in responding to stimuli and moving objects like bullets and cars, the player’s brain gets more efficient at making the same (and similar) decisions in future. Super Mario 64 takes the cake for brain boosting though.
There’s also a very strong case for the value of multitasking in video games too, at least with regard to neuroplasticity. Games like Mad Max, which require the player to drive, dodge, aim, and fight all at the same time, have a medically effective counterpart in NeuroRacer, a title that has the player drive a car while responding to signposts; the game can increase multitasking ability to that of a 20-year-old for players in their sixties.
So, whether you spend your evenings at the online casino or roaming the Great White for precious guzzoline, there’s a chance you’re doing your brain some good at the same time.