Video Gaming and the Brain
Video gaming is officially one of the world’s favourite pastimes. In 2021, the global gaming industry pulled in over $159 billion in revenue – beating the revenues generated by movies and music streaming combined. The activity of playing games is, of course, one of the oldest forms of popular entertainment and appeals to both our social instincts and our competitive nature. It’s no surprise, then, that in their digital formats we simply can’t get enough of them.
There is, however, a lot more to video games than pure entertainment. Some games can offer a whole host of brain-boosting benefits, and that’s to say nothing of the psychology behind key design elements of video games.
Curious to find out more? Well, keep on reading.
How Gaming Impacts the Brain
Ever since video gaming truly reached the mainstream, researchers and scientists have been fascinated by the impact of playing video games on the brain. During the console gaming era, video games often got a bad rep, but as these researchers were determined to prove, those assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Gaming can actually improve cognitive abilities such as reasoning and perception, boost memory and facilitate the development of problem-solving skills. Video games can even instill accountability in the developing brain, as the pursuit of in-game goals and objectives triggers the same dopamine releases as achieving real-life aspirations.
Individual gaming genres can also have unique effects on the brain. A recent study into the effect of 3D platformers, for example, concluded that 30 minutes of playing such games leads to an improvement in vital cognitive processes that effectively help to “heal” an ageing brain.
First-person shooter games, such as the immensely popular Call of Duty: Vanguard, may not be to everyone’s tastes, but a 2022 analysis into such games can improve three-dimensional thinking and spatial skills as well as academic courses can.
Even a classic mobile game like Angry Birds can boost mood, facilitates relaxation and keep stress and anxiety at bay. Beyond the enjoyable aspect of playing video games, the process of setting out to achieve goals and objectives, failing and then having to try again builds emotional resilience and determination.
The Psychology of Game Design
Much of the success of gaming is down to its adherence to psychological principles. Everything that you see, hear and interact with during a video game has been carefully designed to cultivate a specific response from you, the gamer.
We all know how important things like soundtracks are for setting a scene, but in the gaming world, audio and visual cues are integrated to encourage or even curb certain types of behaviour. In the popular League of Legends franchise, for example, psychological elements of the game can even reduce toxic behaviour amongst the gaming community.
Mobile game designers, meanwhile, craft gaming apps that integrate design elements according to concepts like self-determination theory to increase both engagement and playing time. There’s even a substantial psychological element behind activities from major gaming brands like annual or bi-annual game sales.
A perfect example of the psychology of game design can be seen in the iGaming world. It’s no accident that today’s online casino slots games incorporate strong visuals and sounds that evoke the traditional casino environment.
Research published by scientists at the University of Alberta has discovered that virtual slot machines featuring visual and audio cues like dollar/pound sign symbols and dropping coins attract the highest number of players. This is largely down to the association with winning that these cues generate in the player – the more a player is reminded of winning, the more attractive the game becomes.
Reaping the Benefits of Gaming
As we’ve established, playing video games is a pretty effective way to keep your brain smart and healthy, however, you don’t need a gaming console or start to learn a complex mindsport like chess or poker to reap similar benefits.
Brain training apps, for example, typically incorporate puzzles and activities to boost cognitive abilities; while even good old fashioned board games (in the digital format, naturally) can help clear the cobwebs away and spark up your grey matter.