Is Gaming Really Good For You? In 2014, consumers spent $22.4 billion on the computer and video game industry. In 2015, the UK games industry was worth £4.2 billion. An estimated 36.4 million people play video and computer games in the UK; that’s 57% of the population. Video games are a huge industry, and with so many teens and young adults playing them, scientists have tried to work out what impact this could be having on brain development.
The gaming enhancement hypothesis is the idea that regularly playing online and computer games improves cognitive function in some way. Remember the saying TV rots your brain? Well, the gaming enhancement hypothesis is the opposite of that. The theory is that gaming requires a certain amount of strategy and lateral thinking, because they present the player with complex cognitive challenges they wouldn’t normally be exposed to. Brain training games, supposedly able to enhance cognitive function, are a whole subset of the industry.
There’s evidence to support this theory as well. A widely-publicised 2007 study found that surgeons who regularly played video games performed better surgery in real life. Multiple studies have found a link between gaming and certain cognitive skills, such as information processing and executive functioning. Skill acquisition in video games is associated with brain volume.
Unfortunately for everyone who’s rushing out to buy themselves the latest console and calling it educational, the latest study from the University of Oxford on the hypothesis claims something different. Published in the journal Peer just a few weeks ago, its titled A large-scale test of the gaming-enhancement hypothesis. Key word: large-scale. Previous studies had very small sample sizes (averaging 32 participants per study) and contained mostly adults, ignoring one of the largest demographic groups: under 18s. Not all of the studies previously published support the hypothesis, so this is not a new finding.
This study does throw up a few questions. Are we merely looking to reassure ourselves that regularly playing video games isn’t turning our brains into mush? Or is the gaming enhancement hypothesis on to something? Whatever the answer, more large-scale studies need to be carried out – especially as the popularity of gaming is only increasing.