Playing video games not a waste of time, according to recent studies

By Josephine Woolington

Whether it’s Angry Birds, World of Warcraft or SimCity, research has found that playing video games can improve the way people think.

Within the last few years, several University studies have shown that video games can boost creativity, reaction time and decision making. Researchers at U. Rochester found that video games improve decision making by 25 percent without sacrificing accuracy. And a new study published last month by researchers at North Carolina State U. found that playing World of Warcraft boosts cognitive ability in older adults.

Jason Allaire, coauthor of the study and World of Warcraft fan, had his 84-year-old grandmother try the game. After two hours of playing the game, Allaire said his grandmother was surprised how mentally tired she felt. Allaire and other psychologists at North Carolina State U. then designed a study for adults aged 60 to 77 to test their cognitive skills — such as attention and memory — while playing World of Warcraft. After participants played the game for 14 hours during a two-week period, researchers found the participants improved their cognitive function, especially those with previously-low cognitive function.

“Video games used to be considered mindless and it was thought that when you’re playing, you’re just letting your brain rot,” Allaire said. “I would think that playing these kinds of video games, or any video game that requires cognitive skills, is just another way to exercise the brain.”

Most research on video games has focused on how games can increase aggression and lower GPAs for students who spend more time watching a screen than hitting the books. But studies focusing on how games can improve cognitive function and creativity show that the 72 percent of American households that play a video or computer game aren’t just wasting their time.

A study last year from psychologists at Michigan State U.’s Children and Technology Project found that playing video games also enhances creativity.

In the three-year study, researchers looked at 491 middle school students and found that those who played more video games were more creative. The students were shown two pictures: a photo of an egg and a photo of an elf-like figure looking at its reflection in water. The students were asked to draw objects around the egg, title the drawing and then tell a story about it. Students were then asked why they thought the elf was looking at itself.

The study’s leading author, Linda Jackson, said children who consistently played video games produced more creative responses.

“If you’re trying to figure out how to kill the enemy, you have to think of something that is not obvious,” she said. According to Jackson, this type of thinking and also navigating in a three-dimensional space may be why video games improve creativity.

Jackson said video-game playing can also serve as “training wheels” to succeed in science, math and technology fields. She said she has friends who attribute their career success to their video game skills.

“Good things can happen playing video games,” Jackson said.

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