Apr

19

Gaming Gives You a Bigger Brain and a Bigger Heart!

Mark Stephens

In previous posts I have talked about how the image of gaming has changed in recent years. No longer is it considered the domain of idle teenagers with nothing better to do, largely because their mums and dads are just as likely to be playing too. There was more evidence this week that gaming is good for you! Two separate reports looked at the effects of playing video games on one’s brain and how social gaming was affecting charitable contributions. The notion of gaming for good, it seems, is gathering pace.

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Gaming and Your Brain

The online scientific journal Plos One published a study recently that investigated the association between video game playing and the thickness of the prefrontal cortex part of the brain in adolescents. A positive association was found that led the study authors to conclude:

‘The results may represent the biological basis of previously reported cognitive improvements due to video game play.’

The study investigated over 150 male and female adolescents who played console-based video games for over 12 hours per week. They found an increased brain thickness, or density of neurons, in those participants who spent the most time playing games.

In particular two brain areas were affected: the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the left frontal eye field (FEF).

The former is considered the ‘control centre’ of the brain and is involved in higher thinking, working memory and decision-making – generally regarded as key to making complex decisions and achieving our short and longer-term objectives. Put simply, if this area of the brain is strong then we are more likely to function well and be more successful.

The left frontal eye field controls our visual-motor skills and is involved in judgments about how to handle external stimuli. It is key to more short-term decision-making as it controls our initial reactions to our environment.

Of course both types of decision-making are required as we go about our daily lives. It’s not surprising then that game players and manufacturers alike have grabbed on to this study and held it up as positive proof that playing games is good for us.

Maybe, just maybe, playing games is providing a great workout for the brain! This backs up another recent study by Bond University that researched thousands of Australian families and found that game players are neither anti-social nor idle but instead often played games to keep their minds active, for learning and education, and even for exercise.

Gaming and Giving

Another story published in the Huffington Post reported that the $9 billion social gaming market was positively influencing charitable donations to many NGOs and non-profits.

The article talks about the opportunity for game makers and players alike to contribute to good causes through the medium of social games, which can help introduce new concepts and ways of helping out.

‘A recent survey of 10,000 FarmVille players, found that almost two-thirds said they had already donated to a charity while tending their virtual crops.’

Virtual goods sales generally are on the up and projected to reach over $4 billion by 2016; so the potential for purchasing goods for charities is huge. Many organisations have already clocked this and started to embrace the concept as a way to reach out to people and increase funding. The likes of Water.org, Save the Children, World Food Programme, Direct Relief and Feeding America have all raised $1 million or more through games.

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To quote just one example, Farmville players raised $1 million in 20 days to feed the hungry recently, as reported by Venture Beat.

It is likely that we will see more charitable organisations commission their own games to tap into this desire for gamers to do good; gaming should become a key part of their fund-raising armory in coming years.

Game developers will also become more adept at building in the ability to make donations to certain charities at certain times in certain games – an art that is very difficult to balance (without ruining the game experience). The earthquake or flood relief possibilities are clear to see, for example–with the potential for gaming to raise money quickly through its captive audience really able to make a difference.

People are becoming smarter and more charitable all through gaming and we now have the proof! It is early days but, as relationships continue to grow between developers and their audiences, so do the possibilities. With gaming no longer considered the idle pursuit of the hopelessly bored, this is more welcome positive publicity for the gaming community.