Why Video Games Make You Smart (No Kidding!)

By: Karen van Kampen

Your kids flop down in front of the television and flick on their video game system. As they reach for their joysticks, your motherly sonar goes off -- video games are a waste of time and they rot your child's brain. Or do they? According to some scientists and academics, video games can actually make you smarter. No kidding! The strategic thinking and problem solving involved in video games makes them good learning machines. While there's no substitute for classroom learning or curling up with a book, video games challenge and workout the brain in different ways. Here's how:

How a Video Game Works. Most kids would rather play a video game than do their homework. Little do they know, they're giving their brain a good workout while exercising their thumbs on a joystick. Navigating their way through a mysterious virtual world, kids must figure out the rules of the game and the goals they need to achieve to win. For hours they work at solving a series of puzzles that are nested inside one another like a collapsed telescope. Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, calls this "telescoping." Gamers must deal with immediate problems while keeping their long-term goals on their horizon. "Probing" refers to the strategic thinking and complex problem solving of video games, according to James Paul Gee, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Gee says that playing a video game is similar to working through a science problem. Like students in a laboratory, gamers must come up with a hypothesis. For example, the hidden treasure is in the castle. They engage in an action by hunting for the treasure. Gamers discover if their hypothesis is true or false when they search the castle. If they don't find the treasure, they revise their hypothesis the next time they play. Video games are goal-driven experiences, says Gee, which are fundamental to learning.

How The Brain Learns. Brain imaging studies have shown that the brain can change with practice, says Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, co-author of The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education. This is called brain plasticity. Train yourself to do a certain task, and the part of your brain involved in the task can actually grow in size and activity, says Blakemore. A recent scientific study found that people who use their brain a lot have a 46 per cent decreased risk of developing dementia, says Blakemore. Playing video games is like learning a kind of new visual language, writes James Paul Gee in his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Players must figure out what each element in a video game is, and how it is used to play the game. Unlike reading a book passively, playing a video game is all about active exploration. Video games force your brain to make decisions, writes author Steven Johnson. While reading may activate the imagination, Johnson asserts that games help your brain learn how to think by forcing you to weigh evidence, analyze situations, consult your long-term goals and make a decision. As Johnson points out, it's not what you're thinking about when you play a video game, it's the way you're thinking that challenges your brain.

Video Games Make Learning Fun. Ask any kid. Playing a video game is way more fun than learning your times tables. This is because a game offers rewards. It's the reward system of video games that has a powerful hold over the brain, says author Steven Johnson. Find the hidden treasure, and win the game. Kids also get to create their own adventure, navigating where they want to go and what they're searching for. "It becomes their story," says education professor James Paul Gee. "It's their accomplishment. They're competing against themselves." Playing in the safety of their own home also avoids kids' fears of making mistakes in front of a classroom of other kids. "Failure works differently in video games," says Gee. "The cost of failure is lower, which encourages risk-taking and exploration." If kids get the answer wrong and their character dies, they just start the game over and try again.

Related Features:

Kaboose Health Disclaimer: Content provided on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be construed to be medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Content on this site is not a substitute for professional medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment, and may not be used for such purposes. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical question or condition. Reliance on information presented on this site is at your own risk. This site contains the opinions and views of other users. Given the interactive nature of this site, we cannot endorse, guarantee, or be responsible for the accuracy, efficacy, or veracity of any content generated by our users.
Mothers & Daughters
Provided by: Kotex

Today on Kaboose