5 Games With Surprising Benefits for Your Brain
Many of us play video games for the sheer enjoyment of it, but increasingly, scientists are discovering that playing them can have surprising benefits for our brains.
From challenging spatial skills, processing speed, focus and memory, games are increasingly seen as a beneficial activity rather than a mindless one. At Peak, our games are aimed at flexing all of these cognitive skills and are set up to let you play even if you can only grab a few minutes. Of course, there are longer games that you could also play. We asked our Lead Game Designer Dave Barley to choose his top 5 games that have been shown to benefit your brain. Here’s his round up, and the benefits of each of them:
- BATTLEFIELD (THE SERIES): While the cognitive benefits of first-person shooter (FPS) games are well documented, the literature normally focuses on the visual perception, attention skills and the fast-paced, second-to-second decision making of high-intensity firefights. The Battlefield series of games however, has always been about more than just rapid visual awareness and precise motor skills. By focusing on team play, large open maps and allowing the player to choose different character classes dependent on the situation in-hand, Battlefield forces the player to think of the bigger-picture, the strategy of the battle and the ebb and flow of its ever-evolving objectives. Every attack has a counter, every defensive measure an opposite to punch through. The rock, scissors, paper design of character classes, vehicles and map types, alongside the usual cognitive demands of firing on moving targets and avoiding the same, means that Battlefield games surely offer some of the most cognitively demanding experiences that gaming can provide.
2. BRAID: Before August 2008 there were platform puzzle games, but now there is Braid. Jonathan Blow’s time-rewinding, rule-breaking take on the genre forced players to think in a totally different way. Manipulating time and space in a physical and meaningful way was not something that had been seen before and it led to some fantastically realized and complex puzzling. Traditional gameplay concepts previously taken for granted were subverted by the core time-bending mechanic, meaning that puzzle ideas that would seem unplayable within the confines of the average game, felt fresh, challenging and exotic here. In order to succeed players would need to plan ahead, visualize the outcomes of their actions and think creatively to solve problems that were novel and sometimes bewildering to those who could not train their minds to ‘unlearn’ what they thought they knew about a how a game should behave.
3. HEARTHSTONE: HEROES OF WARCRAFT: While number-crunching, probability and decision-making skills are perhaps not always simultaneously associated with genre-defining, world-conquering new game franchises, Hearthstone stimulates exactly these skills in a way that few of its players are ever truly aware of. The game is, at its heart, a turn-based card game where players place cards on a board with attack, health and cost values and face them off against each other. While the game mechanics are fairly simple if taken at face-value, the potential outcomes and combinations of gameplay mechanics mean that no two games are ever the same and there can never be one way of playing that ensures success. To achieve victory you must plan ahead to prepare for what cards you have in your deck and what attacking a certain opponent will set in motion. You must consider the mathematics of your ‘mana-curve’ in relation to the cost of the cards in your hand. You must understand the likelihood of your opponent holding certain cards that can counteract your strategies and you must make decisions based on your knowledge of each and every card in the game (850+). The game is undeniably cognitively demanding, yet it continues to be incredibly approachable for new players — this is the beauty of the design.
4. STARCRAFT II: When considering cognitive skills such as mental-agility, multi-tasking and planning there can be no better example of game genre than real-time-strategy (RTS) games and Starcraft II is the grandaddy of them all. Research suggests Starcraft and similar games can improve cognitive flexibility and memory due to their demands on players to make rapid decisions based on multiple sources of information for a sustained period of time. Players must create, organize and command an army against multiple enemies attempting to do the same in a large, real-time and open-plan 2D environment. They manage multiple resources, process information about the opponent’s progression and their own army, all within an ever-evolving situation that requires strategy, planning and fast-thinking to achieve victory. In short this game requires you to make a lot of decisions at break-neck speed and thus promotes fast-thinking in a way that few other games can come close to.
5. LEMMINGS: Video games, most of the games mentioned in this article even, are often associated with violence towards others and a competitiveness that brings about mental stimulation based around the motivation of beating an opponent. Lemmings however, does something different. It promotes ‘prosocial’ actions by imploring its players to save the hapless Lemmings from impending doom. The game may enhance feelings of empathy by imploring you to care about others. Primarily an action-puzzle game, the aim of Lemmings is to guide a group of the titular Lemmings through danger-filled levels to reach a safe exit. The Lemmings can’t think for themselves though and if left alone will plough headlong off a cliff or into a pool of lava without help. Players must plan ahead to predict dangers and act quickly, deciding on the most appropriate tool to help the Lemmings according to the obstacle or danger ahead. Limited resources mean that strategic thinking and fast decisions are needed to succeed, but the possibility that this game may lead to decreased effects of schadenfreude (feeling of glee at other people’s misfortune) and increased empathy are what still makes it interesting 25 years after its initial release.