Video games are, weirdly enough, a bit of a controversial subject. They started off as a fun piece of technology that let us stomp on turtles and play a ridiculously simplified version of ping pong. But it now seems that video games are much more complicated. Some people claim video games make us violent; others say that video games are just another art form that can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways. Regardless of how you feel about video games, it’s impossible to ignore the growing scientific literature on the different ways they affect our brains.
The possibility of addiction
More people play video games now than ever before. Smartphones and approachable game systems like the Nintendo Switch have opened up the playing field to demographics that would normally have never touched a controller. But there is still a group of dedicated, hardcore gamers that play video games non-stop. Based on some studies that have been done recently, it seems like this group of serious gamers is at the risk of becoming addicted to video games. Brain responses in gamers mirror those that we see in addicts, and this has prompted scientists to look further into whether video game addiction is a real thing that we should worry about. It seems that the human brain might think of rewards in video games in the same way that it thinks about all other kinds of addicting rewards.
Decreased prefrontal brain activity
The verdict is still out on whether video games definitively cause violent behavior or not. There are some that believe that this is the case, however, and they have some compelling evidence to back up their theories. Scientists took a look at the brain activity of individuals playing violent video games versus individuals playing non-violent games. What they found was that there was a significant difference in the level of prefrontal brain activity in the two groups. The ones playing violent games had decreased activity in their prefrontal region. This is important because the prefrontal regions of our brains help us control our emotions and actions, lending credence to the idea that violent games may have a connection to violent or unregulated behavior.
Increased contrast sensitivity
There are certainly plenty of theories out there about the negative effects of gaming, but what about the positive side? There are actually plenty of possible benefits that video games can have on our brains. One that is being discussed now is increased contrast sensitivity. Contrast sensitivity is the ability to discern between different shades of grey, and having better contrast sensitivity can help with a variety of vision-based activities (particularly in low light). Because video games are largely a visual medium, gamers have to constantly make decisions based on what they are seeing. This can lead to their contrast sensitivity increasing over time, and that’s definitely a good thing.
Better memory storage
Video games might also have a positive effect on the way that our memory centers work. Studies were done on individuals who played action games, and it was found that they could more easily “store and manipulate” certain memories in their head. It was also found that those who played action games had an easy time thinking of an object and rotating it around mentally. This is generally considered a good marker of intelligence, and that means that these games might be having a positive effect on intelligence - or at least on this one facet of intelligence. In the end, it certainly seems like video games can have a wide array of potential effects on our brains. Games certainly shouldn’t be written off as only a negative thing.