While you may play games on your smartphone simply to pass the time, a new study shows that casual gaming can help improve your performance on tasks requiring similar mental processes to those involved in the game. The research was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Adam Chie-Ming Oei and Michael Donald Patterson of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Other studies have established a link between playing action video games and enhanced cognitive and visual abilities. However, according to researchers, this is the first study to compare multiple video games at once, showing that different games improve different skill sets.
“This study, along with many studies from other laboratories, demonstrates that video gaming is not all bad or a waste of time,” Patterson said in an interview with Healthline. “The games we used were not designed to improve cognitive functioning, or to educate. But perhaps in the future, together with game designers, we could improve education and learning by using the techniques of game design in education.”
Different Games, Different Benefits
In this carefully controlled study, five groups of non-gamer participants played one game each on a mobile device, such as a smartphone, for one hour a day, five days a week, for one month. Participants played games like Bejeweled, in which they matched three identical objects, or an agent-based virtual life simulation like The Sims. Others played action games or had to find hidden objects, as in Hidden Expedition.
At the end of the month, researchers found that participants who played the action video game improved their capacity to track multiple objects in a short span of time, while participants who played hidden object, matching, and spatial memory games improved their performance on visual search tests.
But Patterson said these results don’t necessarily mean people should start scheduling daily video game sessions.
“Although we found improvements in laboratory tasks, we are not yet certain that the improvements transfer to real world tasks. Also, I wouldn't recommend taking away time from other tasks like socializing with others and exercising,” he said. “On the other hand, in spare time, playing these types of games is not harmful and may have some benefit.”
This study result also doesn’t mean that children should be encouraged to play video games, Patterson said.
“Too much time playing [video games] could take away from other things they need to do, like studying,” he said. “It's important to balance time between play and serious activities.”
An Exciting Time for Video Games
Despite the disastrous launch of SimCity, video games are still an integral part of our culture, and game releases are highly anticipated events. Several previous studies have investigated the benefits of playing video games—particularly action games—and while they are not for everyone, there's no doubt that video games will continue to inspire researchers and influence our future.
“The thing about video games is that they’re highly motivating and arousing, unlike traditional forms of instruction or training,” said Oei. “Hence, one area of considerable advance would be to design video games to be used in education and vocational training.”
Patterson added, “This is an area that is just being explored, so it's an exciting time to study video games.”
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