How Video Games Make You Smarter

There are a lot of negatives associated with digital game play, but what about the positives?

The stereotype surrounding gamers often involves teenagers (usually males) sitting in their living room and ignoring all responsibilities to focus on shooting virtual characters on a screen. But video games can be far more complex than they seem, and the physiological effects aren’t all bad. In fact, gamers are found to learn more quickly than those who don’t play.

The impacts of video games aren’t immediately apparent, but manifest through boosting ‘soft skills’ like critical thinking, reasoning ability, and attention to detail. The specific effects are dependent on what kind of game they are – video games span a variety of genres, from role-playing games like Final Fantasy, sci-fi and fantasy RPG, to simulations like The Sims, in which you can play out an entire life onscreen, with the potential for humorous outcomes.


Image via the official Final Fantasy VII website

Action games, the ones held most in disdain for being violent, can in fact create neurological benefits if played in moderation. The razor-sharp focus of gamers is often seen as a way to ignore the real world, but playing video games which require intense concentration can improve the ability to pay attention to a specific task for a prolonged period of time. A study done by the University of Rochester shows that action games increase visual processing and reaction time – because action games, whether they contain shooting or survival tactics, can help simulate realities which require you to make complex decisions quickly, and then deal with the consequences.

Another area certain games can help to improve is hand-eye coordination. By focusing on a screen in which elements move around according to a player’s use of a hand-held device, hand-eye coordination can be improved. A study of surgeons who performed laparoscopic surgery found that surgeons who played Nintendo’s Wii games for four weeks had a greater improvement in skills than those who didn’t – especially in terms of accuracy.

Video games aren’t just for kids or teenagers either. The average age of a gamer is 31, and while neurological and physiological effects differ according to age, games can be used to great impact on people of all ages. It’s been demonstrated that games which involve both driving in cars and noticing street signs can help improve memory and focus in adults. For children, although they shouldn’t be exposed to violent content too early, there are countless games focused on teaching young children everything from maths to Spanish. As for teens and young adults, games like Minecraft, a video game centred around construction and exploration in a world made of cubes, are a good way to help promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Image via Mojang

Games even offer miscellaneous information that may prove useful in the most unlikely of situations. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of 2016’s smash hit musical Hamilton, provided a humorous anecdote on a talk show when recounting a trip to the airport to pick up his girlfriend. Unfamiliar with Los Angeles, he took a wrong turn, but ended up being able to find his way without the use of a physical map, instead relying on a mental map of LA he had constructed through countless hours of playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

This isn’t to say that playing video games all the time is the way to a superior intellect. Balancing game play as a method of relaxation with real-world experiences is by far the best way to take advantage of what both have to offer. And, whether it be the brightly coloured and pixelated world of Super Mario or the stunning post-apocalyptic landscape of The Last of Us, you’ll enjoy the journey along the way.