A visit to your local GameStop or online stores such as The Old School Game Vault can prove overwhelming when faced with the seemingly innumerable choices of video games available to you. They range from shooter games like “Call of Duty” to sports games such as “FIFA,” role-playing games including “Diablo,” and even music and party games like “Just Dance.” Considering the video game industry now makes upwards of 36.9 billion year in the United States and around 60 percent of all American households play video games — it’s no wonder there is such a variety.
The popularity of video games begs the question: how does consistent play affect our health — and most especially, how does it impact our brains?
Believe it or not, video games can actually foment positive neurological effects. Indeed, a study in PLOS One illustrates a correlation between video game playing and increased cortical thickness, particularly in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the left frontal eye field. These regions are crucial to the brain’s executive decision-making system. Greater thickness in these brain areas indicates a greater ability to juggle multiple variables.
Another study published in Molecular Psychiatry showed a “direct causal link” between video game playing and an increase of grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum: areas of the brain responsible for spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills in the hands.
The advantages of playing video games are becoming increasingly more well documented as time goes on. Further studies have demonstrated a link between video games and improved cognitive flexibility, a reduction in pain and anxiety, and even improved reading skills.
However, these beneficial influences cannot erase the very real detriment that can occur as a result of excessive video game play. One study from Indiana University found that those who played violent video games showed less activity in areas that involved emotions, attention, and inhibition of our impulses.
It is also now commonly believed that one can develop an addiction to gaming. As in the neurological mechanisms of other addictions, many players are flooded with a rush of dopamine when they play, which can lead to a cumulative deficit in this important neurotransmitter.
The complete body of research can lead to confusion for parents trying to decide if they should allow their kids to play them. The evidence seems to imply that excessive, violent game play should be limited for young and old alike. On the other hand, nonviolent games that emphasize strategy, role-playing, and even physical activity can be a useful tool in developing a cognitive edge.
Perhaps the best advice is what our grandparents would probably say. Remember to shut off the console, put down the joystick, and play outside from time to time.
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