Vitamin G: Video Games and You

2010/03/09
By Ms Baker

Jack playing a video game

***Play Jack’s Game BEFORE Reading the Post!*** 

 Click Here to Play Jack’s Game:  motherboarddefence

Sometime in your life, you have heard rumors that video games are bad for you. If you are a kid, you’re parents have probably told you that hundreds of times. If you’re a parent, you’ve most likely said it yourself. Well, guess what, the kids were right. It seems that many people, maybe even yourself, believe myths about video games without thinking about possible advantages.

Luckily for gaming enthusiasts, these myths have been shot down by many researchers and scientists.

First off, the games-violence connection is one of the myths that is explained by Henry Jenkins, an MIT professor.  Shooting and fighting games don’t directly make you violent, the violence that occurs would have happened anyway. Shooting games require an enormous amount of sensory ability and brain function. From knowing how much ammo is in the five or so guns that you switch through to remembering advantage points in a map, the game requires so much thought that it helps train your brain to tackle many tasks at once. Over time, sensory abilities increase in general. Reaction time will improve and eventually an ability to isolate important sounds will develop.

Some people may argue that video games aren’t very expressive. “Why waste your time playing video games?” Just take a look at games that exist today. Games like Scribblenauts and Spore not only give you freedom get to a goal however you want, but they let you share your ideas with the world. In Scribblenauts, you get to type anything into the Nintendo D.S. and have them appear in game for use. In Spore, you create a species and help it evolve however you want it to. Most games today allow you to create your own levels and share them with others. Only thing about having all of these features is kids really don’t want to stop playing. This leads to the antisocial “con” of video games.

Some think that video games are socially isolating. The only socially isolating scenario I can think of is spending hours in a closet playing Pac-Man or Galaga. Playing the same games in an arcade can result in the exact opposite effect. People in an arcade can start up a conversation about their records and short-cuts in H2Overdrive (a boat racing game). Even playing single player games at home can become socially interactive by using forums and other conversational tools on the internet to talk with others. Playing online multiplayer games force players to get into their opponents thoughts. Video games allow people around the world to compete with each other for highscores and virual fame. Competitive behavior makes us want to be better than others, so people start to discuss strategies with others to make the competition tougher. Video games are actually pretty high on the list of socially active activities.

Tetris on the Brain; Original photo by daveknapik; modified by Jack

Not only is there evidence against every video game myth out there, but there are also studies that prove that video games are good for you. For example, a study was done in Albuquerque by the Mind Research Network that tested the effects of Tetris on a person’s brain. Simply playing Tetris for 30 minutes a day for three months thickened certain areas of the participant’s cortex and increased brain efficiency. MRIs compared the brains of the girls who played Tetris to the control group that didn’t. These MRIs showed thicker cortex in the areas that scientists believe the brain uses to plan complex and coordinated movement, and in the areas that are believed to be used for multisensory integration. This part of the brain organizes the five senses into one understandable and useful arrangement for the brain. Other MRI scans showed that brain efficiency was increased in areas that are often associated with critical thinking, reasoning, language, and processing. It’s unknown whether or not the brain returns back to its original state after not playing the game for an extended amount of time. Based on other brain studies, we can hypothesize that, “Use it or lose it.” For those who haven’t seen how intense tetris can get, I have included a video below.

If all reaction and planning games help the brain develop thicker cortex and increased efficiency, playing this game daily for an extended period of time should cause your general times for answering the questions to decrease. Even if the game isn’t as effective as Tetris, and short time effects aren’t known, it may still show some results. I just hope you know your division. Being that as a human race, there is still so much about our own brains that we don’t understand; it’s possible that training certain parts of the brain may not help its use in other activities. Studies are being done on whether or not certain effects from video games to the brain can have some real world uses. Daphne Bavelier and her team found that gamers can easily sift through unnecessary visual information. The gained skills can last for months or years. The obvious visual advantages have real world applications, like driving. Playing video games can also stop some of the effects of aging on your vision.

Specific skills are gained from accomplishing certain tasks. The effects of playing games that force you to accomplish multiple tasks at once, like first person shooters, can be completely different than games that isolate the tasks, like puzzle games. The simplest argument for video games is the fact that just using your brain helps it make connections, so playing video games is better for your brain than just sitting around watching a cartoon. Playing complex video games can help in many areas of your life, but even though they are fun, learning a language or playing a sport might have a similar effect.

What were your scores (the change in time, your initial time, and your post-game time) in the game? Based on evidence, should the game and other games in general help your brain make certain connections?

The capacity of the brain to learn and change is known as Plasticity, and it relates a lot to how video games can create and train mental connections. Are there any other activities that change brain Plasticity? If so, what are their effects?  Is there evidence that certain genres of video games are better than other genres at training the brain?

  • http://scienceblogs.com/clock Bora Zivkovic

    This is an excellent post, Jack! I thought you would also be interested in a study, reported here by Ed Yong, that shows promise in using Tetris for treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in our veterans coming back home from war.

  • justin

    Good post Jack I played the video game and i answered the second question .96 seconds faster than the first time.I think that video games help improve certain reflexis due to the fact that you are constantly thinking on your feet. According to the article below video games help improve eye sight over time because you are better at spotting small details.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2943280.stm

  • Rohit

    Great post Jack, I enjoyed playing your game. When I had to solve the equation it turned out that I was slower by .29seconds. I think that the different equation effected how fast I typed the number and it depends on how fast you are at mental math. Someone who is bad at quick mental math will be slower than someone who is quick at mental math. It is also possible to change your brain plasticity. The environment in which a person lives in and the actions of that person, play a role in plasticity. Brain plasticity can change during the first few years of life, brain injury and adulthood.

    http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/

  • victor

    Cool post Jack.I aee and disagree with Jacks post. There are defanitly many vidiogames that are learnatory, such as the scrable vidio games, and other puzzle vidio games that exersize your mind. However on the other side most vidio games influenses bad things, such as killing stealing and other things. Here is a cool link that shows how vidio games do good and bad things for your mind. http://www.worldstart.com/tips/tips.php/3190

  • Michael S

    Great post Jack! This is a very controversial topic that has been debated for many years. My scores on your game were 1.93 seconds before and 1.23 seconds after. This shows a small improvement in reaction time. If this were more a fast paced game (ie: Call of Duty) were there is constant action and suspense, then the reaction time after would be significantly lower. It would show a better result because it keeps your mind thinking about where and if an enemy soldier, in Call of Duty, going to come by or shoot you. This also trains your mind to be accustomed to being on “high alert”, leading to a higher reaction time.
    The military uses video games, known as first person shooters (FPS), to aid in the training of new recruits and training soldiers. They use these games because they train the mind and make it quicker. Also some video games used by the military are high difficulty therefore increasing the challenged and making the person/soldier think out problems more logically.
    In response to one of Jack’s questions (Is there evidence that certain genres of video games are better than other genres at training the brain?), some video games are more beneficial than others. For example, a study was done in 2007 where people were expected to play a maze game and an action based game for the same amount of time. The people that played the action based game showed increased attention and directional abilities whereas the people that played the maze game showed no advantages. “Oregon Trail (for learning history) or Tetris (for enhancing spatial skills), FPS action video games seem to have a unique advantage in improving low-level functions such as spatial selective attention (Feng et al., 2007; Green & Bavelier, 2003) and spatial perceptual resolution (Green & Bavelier, 2007).” This is a quote from: http://meaningfulplay.msu.edu/proceedings2008/mp2008_paper_76.pdf

  • Jack

    Well, the math issue is a problem that I am in the process of solving, and you can try the most recent attempt on my page of the wiki (its the big box that says flash). http://missbakersbiologyclasswiki.wikispaces.com/Jack
    As of now, the only problem is with those who are colorblind, as this test would not work for them. Can anyone think of a different, more effective test?

    Also, in response to Rohit’s time, (and anyone else who may have more time on the second answer) it is very difficult to be certain that short time games have an effect on reaction times, although evidence shows that video games over time can help. It may also be the math element, so I’m working on it…

  • Anna

    Jack, this is a great article. Also, your game was very interesting and fun to play. My answer was .26 seconds faster than the first time. The part of the game where you are trying to not get hit by the bullet type object takes a lot of thinking. You are trying to not get hit, but at the same time your trying to figure out what direction is the best way to move, and also you are keeping your eye on the health bar so you have an idea when you are most likely to die. I agree with Victor not all games are educational, most games today are about violence. Kids aren’t running out to buy the newest Brain Teaser game, they would want to go and buy a graphic violent one. I found a website that talks about a study that was proven, that violent videogames make more aggressive and less caring kids. A professor from Iowa State University has dedicated his life work to analyzing how violent videogames affect children. Top Researches have many pieces of evidence that supports this theory.

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/mar/10030207.html

  • Guy

    Great post Jack. This was the funniest blog comment I did throughout this whole project. That was a really fun game you created. I had no idea a kid my age was capable of creating a game like that. I also found that the game really proved your point about video games improve your concentration. I believe that because for the game you made I had to concentrate really hard to do well during the game. When I died, I was so focused on the game I solved the division problem quicker than the first time. I also learned that therapist have been using this method for years to help children with ADD to concentrate. I found this and much more information on how video games help kids concentrate at http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/798.html.

  • Vincent

    Amazing post Jack. The change between my initial time and my post-game time was 4 seconds! Being a video game fanatic, I was very interested in this post. Video games can be very social now with the internet. Using major gaming systems people can communicate around the world and I love it. Below I put links to three major gaming platform social online delivery service, on these I can talk, text, play, and even see my friends. Since 1990 violent crimes among youth have declined and video game playing among youth has increased, many video games are unrealistic and cannot be recreated in the real world.

    http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/default.htm
    http://us.playstation.com/psn/playstation-store/index.htm
    http://www.nintendo.com/games/wifi

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080514213432.htm

  • CHRISTIAN

    Great post Jack! Your right on about some videogames doing good for your mind,like the jepordy and wheel of fortune videogames,and some games being pretty bad. Like Victor said, they influence killing, games such as grand theft auto, and call of duty. jack, your game is awsome! its a lot of fun and addicting. I had no idea that you created games. Here is a website about mind, and stratagy games and how they can relate to real life.
    http://www.learninginvideogames.com/

  • Michael L.

    Great post Jack! I use to play Spore last year and it is a very strategic game which requires planning and some thought. It can teach in real life how to plan things out. Video games are not the only things that change brain plasticity. Dancing can change the brain, when learning a new dance step the brain will create new neural pathways which tell the body how to perform the new dance. It is the same for any difficult or different physical action. In basketball a player may have a bad form of shooting. When changing the form the brain will change like in dancing to learn the new form to make it more natural. In basketball it is called “muscle memory”.

    http://www.positscience.com/about-the-brain/brain-facts/about-brain-plasticity

  • Geoffrey

    I have played both of your games, and I think that I have found a solution to your problem. Instead of using boxes with colors why not use easily recognizable pictures like cars, or planes? I think everyone would be able to recognize the difference between the two, or however many pictures you choose. It’s awesome to find out that playing games like Call of Duty may help me later in my life.
    http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-brain-plasticity.htm
    This site may help people who do not really understand what brain plasticity is.

  • Lionel

    Great post Jack, i enjoyed playing your game. The best strategy i thought was to continuously go in a circle. A better way to improve your game would be to shoot back at the opponent. Then whoever loses all of their health first loses. This is an interesting article i found that shows how video games could possibly improve your hand-eye coordination just as much as playing sports.

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1445882/do_videogames_improve_handeye_coordination.html?cat=25

  • http://statenislandacademy.org Sean

    This was a very intresting post jack. The change between my times was 4 and a half seconds. I too am very intrested in videogames. I am intrigued now, if maybe videogames could improve my thought process before doing homework. Personally, I believe playing videogames or computergames, are a more productive thing to do in free time. Because you are excercising your brain, and solving problems, instead of T.V. where you are watching people solve problems. This article below inspired my ideas along with Jack’s post.
    http://www.articlealley.com/article_1305447_32.html

  • Justin

    The topic on whether or not video games are bad for you has been a highly debatable topic.There are those who say that video games fry your brain cells. This theory in my opinion is wrong. There are many educational games to help you with academic topics such as Brainage for the Nintendo DS. In the article provided below there is a video game system designed to help people with attention deficit disorder(ADD).It contains a helmet that helps keep track of brain waves. Also non academic video games keep the brain constantly active.

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/games/2005-09-26-video-game-therapy_x.htm

  • Joseph

    Finally someone can tell my parents that they are wrong. I mean they’re right if the statement video games fry your brain means that they are good for you, but I am going to interpret it differently. I have played Jack’s game many times, and not once did I get a slower time on the second question. The last time I played I got the same exact time: 1:46. I agree with Justin. There are many games that are based on education; there are entire websites dedicated to this. One game that is popular is Big Brain Academy. Games like these practice your skills and mathematics and reaction time. With quicker reaction time, you can answer questions quicker, which would be a big help on tests like the SAT, which gives you a certain amount of time for each section. Another reason video games are good for you is because it can create a career opportunity. Children who have a love for video games would want to grow up designing them because it’s their passion. By playing a lot, they know which ones are good and bad. Using this information, they have their own ideas on a story line for a video game. For example, Jack is great at programming and making games. He made a game for Spanish, and a game for this blog. If he wanted to grow up pursuing this career, he could get into colleges like M.I.T, because they are all about computer science and programming.
    http://www.pri.org/science/technology/benefits-of-video-games-1741.html
    This website tells how TETRIS is good for you (which Jack explained) and a study on how surgeons play video games before surgery, they make 40% less mistakes. It just tells how video games are good, and proves myths wrong of how video games are bad for you.

  • Marielle

    Great game Jack, I don’t believe you made this. My time was 1.19 less after playing you game. After alot of studies it has been proven that after playing games like, Tetris your brain works harder. A study in Albuquerque used brain imaging and Tetris to investigate teenage minds. The study was done on teenage girls who played tetris games for 30 minutes each day. MRIs were done on the girls as well as girls who did not play tetris. The girls who played tetris showed signs of greater brain efficiency.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090901082851.htm

  • Alex

    This is a really amazing post Jack! I really enjoyed your concept, and it’s great that you wrote about something you care about and is relevant. My time was 2.1 less after taking the game. I actually hypothesized that my first time would have a slower reaction because I would be unsure. But after I was proven wrong, I did some research and discovered why. According to numerous studies, directly after the game your attention is diverted- which results in a distracted and late answer.
    Here’s a cool article about hand-eye coordination improvement in doctors post-video games:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4685909/

  • owen t

    i though the game was ok because people are normally unsure about math in a game. but saying and doing something that you care about is always a good thing great job for being an up stander i really liked how you include the fast paced action of dodging the bullets before your health runs out and answering a math question. overall great job!

  • http://singimagination.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/great-tedtalk-better-gaming-better-world/ Great TEDTalk: Better Gaming, Better World « Sing Imagination

    [...] Stacy Baker’s student, Jack’s (9th grader) post: Vitamin G: Video Games and You [...]

  • Sheila

    As a ninth grader i think this post was very well written and very well researched. I played the game and was distracted as a result i did very badly…. I wrote my review but deleted it because i thought it wasn’t fair. i went back and played the game again and i thought it was more entertaining and had more of a point the second time. My time had improved according to how many times i played the game. I actually never really like video games, i always thought they were a waste of time. But this post changed my mind. Overall this game and post were very interesting and proved the point the author was trying to get across. Good Job!

  • http://www.brandongreer.net Brandon Greer

    Jack,

    I must say that out of all the posts I’ve read on this blog (and contributed as a student last year), this post takes the cake–by far. I was extremely interested by the topic and enjoyed reading it. Great Job! You are truly talented. I responded to the division problem in half the time the second time around. However, the second division problem was much easier. I must also say that this class makes particularly educated comments. I’m obviously intrigued because I fondly remember Ms. Baker stressing that one point!

    Hey Miss Baker,
    It was this time last year when we were getting ready for Assateague. Time flies! I was right in Durham last week and thought about Science Online! How was it this year? Also, believe it–or not–I’m probably taking AP Bio next year! I hope to hear back from you! If you come to the DC area this summer, let me know. I’ll be interning in Congress again if you want a tour! Best, Brandon

  • Ms Baker

    Brandon! I’m very excited you are taking AP Bio next year. I hope you enjoy the class and feel free to contact me with any questions. Have a great summer! I wish I could visit you and get a tour, but I’m working with fruit flies again at Yale.

    Are you keeping up with the online world? (blogging, twitter, etc.) You should and then try and come to Science Online ’11. I’m sure Bora and everyone else would love to see you again.

  • Julieanne

    thats true. There are learning games but not alot of them. Good post i never really figured games would be good for you.

  • Ali

    Great idea Jack,

    I played the game on a trial of 5 rounds.
    these are my results:
    1. 3.89
    2. 1.73
    3. 1.27
    4. 0.89
    5. 1.13
    I believe that as you progress in a game, the amount of time you spend can improve Hand-Eye coordination when gaming or to doctors, when performing surgery with robotic arms.

  • Zach

    Nice game Jack! I feel that the amount of time that takes the player to solve both equations can revolve around different factors, such as the reaction time from when the equation is displayed, or it can be how one can be at solving simple math problems.
    In the past few years, I have been playing a game (haven’t played it recently) called “Brain Age! Train your Brain in Minutes a Day” released for the Nintendo DS in 2005. It was created by a Japanese neuroscientist named Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. Kawashima believes that if one performs simple activities daily such as solving simple math problems or reading out loud, the player could eventually retain clarity of the brain and protecting the brain from eventual mental effects of aging. In the game, Kawashima theorizes that if a player does badly, his brain age will increase. But what is a brain age? A “brain age” is a theoretical understanding of how well the brain is trained. The best possible age in the game is 20, whether the other higher ages may consist of lower brain training level. The game has a sequel, which contains more exercises. I highly recommend the game to everyone.

    Link: http://www.brainage.com/launch/index.jsp

  • cambin hill

    Thanks Jack, for the great post. Video games are entertaining but sometime lead to bad effective on the mind also. Video games had both the positive and the negative side the thing is how people handle it. And it was a really fun game you created.

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