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Why Video Games Can Be Good for Your Brain and Body

You can benefit from playing, but turn it off sometimes, too

spinner image illustration of brain on video game background
Sean McCabe

Video games can improve reaction time, attention and short-term memory in older adults, research shows.

But just don't expect every game to provide all those benefits. Any single game usually exercises a narrow set of skills.

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“So if the game requires you to have quick responses, it may facilitate speed of response,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president for policy at AARP and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health. “The more you play, the better you get at that skill. Gamers who are doing games like Speed Racer have seen a positive benefit in driving skills.”

Similarly, a game that has you navigating mazes or strange jungles in a digital space may help improve your ability to navigate in your everyday surroundings.

“I describe it like when you first start going to a new job and you have to learn new routes — you're using your hippocampus to navigate there,” says Greg West, researcher and psychology professor at the University of Montreal. “We believe something similar is happening in these 3D platform games, like Super Mario 64.”

A creative boost

Video games could even make you more creative. In one study, those who played Minecraft, which allows you to build environments, performed better on creative tasks when compared with those who played a driving game or watched TV.

“The question becomes, What would happen in the long term if you keep playing games where you get to be creative?” says Douglas Gentile, an author of the study and psychology professor at Iowa State University. “If you practice being creative, you should become more creative.”

Keep in mind

Video games are designed to keep you in front of the screen. “If you're doing it to the detriment of other things that are good for you, like exercise, it's a really bad idea,” Lock says. “You're doing yourself more harm than good.”

And don't consider video games a miracle preventive measure against general brain decline or dementia.

“Video games are limited to training your brain in specific ways,” Lock says. Just because a game can improve your spatial memory, for example, “that doesn't mean you're better at managing your financial affairs.”

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