The Brain Games How Videos Games Can Make You Smart


Video games have been getting a bad rap. Sure, a few involve nothing more than pointing several deadly weapons at the Undead and blasting them into a bajillion pieces. And there are cases of people wasting otherwise productive hours conquering a virtual kingdom and accumulating pixelized gold instead of going out and getting a real job.

But there are many, many times when video games actually provide a noble purpose in society. When they make you a better person. Or at least, a smarter person.

Because there are video games that are actually built on logic and reasoning, and involve complex problem solving that you can take with you even after you’ve walked away from the computer screen.

Take Tetris. Okay, so it’s a couple of colored blocks set against a metallic, monotonous sound track ‘ but it takes some degree of analysis and quick thinking to assess the shape of the pieces dropping from the top of the screen and deciding where to put it. Factor in that the game speeds up periodically, and the pile of blocks grows with every mistake you make, until you reach a point when one wrong move can kill your chances of breaking the world record’and your brain starts working pretty fast. Faster, in fact, than you would normally use it in the course of the day; admit it, most of the stuff you do at the office is pretty mind numbing, anyway. Between sharpening pencils and performing lightning-fast spatial analysis exercises, Tetris looks like it’s actually good for you.

And then there are the memory games. Ever spent 20 minutes looking for your keys? Or stood at the center of the parking lot, trying to remember if you parked on the same floor? Well, memory games can work that brain muscle so you don’t forget the important stuff (and yes, that includes your wedding anniversary). Studies show that memory isn’t really a function of IQ; it’s a skill: the ability to organize information in your brain, and then retrieve it through a series of memory-triggers. Not all of this is conscious (although you can take active steps to improve memory by researching on what methods you can use). But like all skills, it improves with use. Hence, memory games. The best part about memory games is that they’re actually fun (as opposed to simply memorizing a list of the capitals of each state, or the periodic table of elements) and even relaxing. Yes, relaxing. You’re doing something you love and getting smarter at the same time. Not a bad way to spend a 20 minute break between meetings.

And then there are the strategy games. Conquering the world, running a city, shaping an empire from a handful of barbarian villages to being the first country to set up a space station on Mars’obviously, these aren’t just random point and shoot games. They’re about the same skills you learn in business school, but with cooler graphics: how to manage resources, motivate people, and set goals.

So yes, video games can make you smart. Tell that to Mom next time she tells you to hit the books.

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