Do Games and Gamification really make you more intelligent?
The overall perception of most people still nowadays is that gaming, in general, is a negative activity. Many for some reason still feel that anything to do with games will lead to an unproductive life. And those who play games or interact with game-like environments must be lazy, probably did not do well academically, and most likely apathetic and/or depressed with their lives.
This is a very broad view on something that is undeserving of such negative press. A lot of the negativity does arise from the discord between the business world, in other words, the working lives, versus the entertainment world, or private lives. With the rise of gamification (adding game elements and design to business and learning) there is still a reticence, as the belief that adding anything with the word game in it will lead lowered productivity and a lethargic workforce.
All of these preconceptions are broadly based on spurious studies done on either very small groups or articles about a lone individual who lacked a proper support system and succumbed to an isolated existence where playing a game non-stop was their only recourse. I would class those instances under a question of how society deals with isolation and mental health, rather than the evils of a popular entertainment medium.
Games can, in fact, be Good. Regardless of what is now a diminishing enclave, games are and have always been a part of the human condition. Playing games or engaging in game-like environments to improve your life and can make you smarter.
Playing good, well-designed games will actually improve your brain. These are games with a specific purpose, such as solving puzzles, outsmarting an opponent or effective team working. All of these, and much more, aspects of games allow for neurogenesis;
“Once considered impossible, neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) actually takes place in the brains of gamers. We all know that grey matter is an indicator of intelligence in the brain. A study showed increased grey matter in the brains of gamers. This means you are literally building brain muscle by gaming.” -Source.
The neuroplasticity of brains was also improved with gaming and was seen to improve more when the players or participants were more driven by the goals and more passionate therefore in their desire to play the games and resolve the objectives laid before them.
So, if a game does make you smarter, what is it combatting in the first place? Well, usually what it combats are actually the very things that people say that games cause. Let’s go through what the charges are against games and game-like environments and see what the solutions are to them and how they help you be more intelligent.
What games are supposedly guilty of…
Games, according to certain traditionalists, doom-speakers and other Luddites, are the cause of a great many ailments. Hopefully this one the few occasions you may still come against these false claims, but it’s always useful to know what they are in case you are confronted with them.
The list of charges against Games are:
- A cause of lack of concentration & focus
- Memory loss is increased
- Bad teamwork, communication skills or an increasing lack of social skills
- Problem-solving issues, due to a lack of cognitive reasoning required
- Perception: Accuracy & reflexes are diminished
- Lowered general knowledge
- Lack of Creativity
- High Anxiety – Low Happiness, because that is why you are in the game in first place…
All of the charges with any luck sound preposterous to you. As I’m hoping that the reason you’re reading this and reading my blog – articles, is because you’re a part of the new world where we know that gaming, either in video games or in game-like situations, actually improve all of the things that game supposedly breakdown.
The problem with the Other side is an issue of perception. Gaming is viewed as a stereotyped activity and therefore negative. It’s an escapist medium, so its participants must suffer from anxiety or depression. It creates a lack of self-control, looks at those that play 10+ hours per day. It leads to addiction, why would you add something like that to a business environment. And much of this belief stems from the 19th and 20th century where a clear distinction was made between work and life.
All of that needs to change by offering a view on what the correct use is of games in any situation. And this needs to be showing, using and applying the correct games, elements, and design to the appropriate situations. For example, you would not place casino slot machines in a business environment, as it would not generate the correct kind of engagement, and not intellectual benefit is received from them. Creating an RPG that teaches and is engaging is far more useful.
To give some backing to aid you in changing these views, age and gender differences are not as great as they used to be. The perception for many years was that games were only played by teenage boys who are themselves inherently lazy. In fact, the statistics nowadays show that the gender split for those who game is roughly a 50/50 male female, and the average age is between 31-35.
Another false assumption is that older people don’t play games because games are meant for younger generations and neuroplasticity to have passed at the point. This is untrue, it has been proven that people of any age, but especially older individuals who play strategy-based games or take strategic decisions in game-like environments, are actively combatting degenerative brain diseases through playing.
A good example is the game NeuroRacer, which was tested on 40 or so subjects, aged between 60-85, to see whether cognitive functions, reflexes, and attention spans would improve. The results were amazing as it showed the neuroplasticity of older brains to be greater and after some decent practice, the subjects were as good as someone in their twenties or thirties.
“Researchers at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have created a specialized video game that may help older people boost mental skills like handling multiple tasks at once. Dr. Adam Gazzaley of UCSF and colleagues published their findings in the September 2013 journal Nature.” - Source
So, which aspects of games make you more intelligent? How are these achieved and which areas are directly targeted when you are playing games or place in game-like situations? Let’s go through each intelligence and each game type and see what it helps you improve and how those can be used in an interdisciplinary manner.
What do games make You more intelligent in?
Intelligence is a summation of various parts that make up what perceive as intelligence. The best way to go about this is by improving the constituent parts, or perhaps you have a particular area that you wish to be better in. For those wishing to create game-like situations in your work place to improve any of the aspects of yourself or your colleagues, then study what each game offers its players and how those could be of use to you. Later we’ll discuss the inherent areas associated with them and how you can connect them in the real world.
If you wish to improve your memory or what is measured when testing for IQ’s or get better at problem-solving than playing puzzle and/or platform games is the best choice for you. Examples of such games are Angry Birds or mobile devices, Mario games on consoles or Portal or Fez on the PC. All these games have puzzle elements in them and require lateral thinking to achieve the goals. The added benefit is that many of these games also serve as relaxing and anti-anxiety experiences.
If you’re more into the region wanting to develop long term strategic thinking, logic, reasoning and also work on your EQ than the RPG (role-playing game) genre is a good choice. These include solo games such as the Elder Scrolls series, the Final Fantasy series, but also the online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy online (a two for one in this case) and EVE Online.
Leading from strategic thinking, you may want to improve planning, multitasking, and prioritization for both and long and short term. The RTS (real-time strategy) genre is the best option here. This includes games such as StarCraft 1,2, Age of Empires, Warcraft 3, Total War franchise, and so on.
For those keener on physical improvements such as hand-eye coordination, reflexes, accuracy and split-second decision making, then FPS’s (first-person shooters) are the ones for you. The games of note in these are Doom, Battlefield franchise, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike.
The majority of games are played online and they all do have an aspect of working as a team. To do this effectively you need to practice communication and planning. Co-op games are great for this. Games such as Dungeon Defenders 1,2, Don’t Starve Together and any MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) such as Heroes of the Storm or League Legends, offer opportunities to practice those skills. And these don’t necessarily need to be online either, co-op board games such as Pandemic or Eldritch Horror are good examples of this.
Other specific traits such as focus, concentration, creativity and improving happiness or well-being are actually achieved by the majority of good well-designed games. For focus and concentration try listening to Game soundtracks, as they’ve been specifically designed to keep people engaged for long periods of time. Even as I’m writing this, I’m listening to a game soundtracks playlist on Spotify, and I can attest to the fact that it works. Creativity can be improved through sandbox games like Minecraft, any survival game, even EVE Online (another two for one, creativity and strategic thinking naturally go hand in hand). And improving happiness and well-being is all about increasing your resilience, especially a resilience to failure. Games allow you to fail and learn from it. Which something very useful in the real world.
Interdisciplinary skills from Games to the Real?
Naturally, with all of those great examples, you will need some context as to how to apply them outside of games. Many are base level skills that everyone should really improve, and through that practice become smarter. If you’re inclined to creating game-based or game-like environments to harness and continue practicing those skills, then the following of types of intelligence should hopefully offer than needed context.
Games help improve Spatial Intelligence, as the name suggests it’s about being able to think and work in three dimensions. A neuroscientist from Harvard, known as Howard Gardner, categorized this and many other forms of intelligence. Gamer's, such as those playing an FPS require spatial reasoning, mental image manipulation and have active imaginations to deduce future events.
Next in Howard Gardner’s list is Logical Intelligence. This is the area of reasoning, deductive, inductive thinking and out-of-the-box thinking. All things required in the professional business world. Gamers will have all of these if they are dealing with strategic problems in games like StarCraft or required to come up with new methods when dealing with boss fights or larger game world issues such as EVE Online deep economic market.
Interpersonal Intelligence is also developed in games, as people need to learn how to deal with strangers quickly and efficiently, often requiring quick team-ups to deal with quest objectives, like in World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy.
And finally, Kinaesthetic Intelligence is improved with simulation games, which require players to actively and physically practice certain skills. These are of note for certain professions like Doctors, Dentists, Surgeons, Soldiers, and so on. As it’s easier for them to improve that intelligence in simulation before trying it out in the real world. And as many of the above listed, it's far more successful to have a fully trained individual from the virtual world come into a real-world situation.
Gaming in the real-world
Much of the increased intelligence and improved skills can be used in a variety of endeavors in the future. For those wishing to pursue an academic career, co-op games have prepared you with better and faster communication skills, and all those RTS games have improved problem-solving. All skills needed as a Graduate at a University. Studies have also shown that students in high school perform better academically when playing certain games. Social networking (and games on there) on the other hand have unfortunately had less than optimal effects on their academic performance.
Another benefit in this fast-paced world of ours is that the skills and intelligence can be acquired, increased, improved at a much greater rate and speed. Gamer’s and players in gamified situations are learning quickly than their counter parts who are just in a regular drab situation:
“Research found that gaming boosts the ability to learn a number of tasks more accurately, and possibly puts gamers in an 'expert category' of problem-solving. But the researchers note they are not quite sure if gaming makes people learn skills better - or if people who learn skills better are more likely to become gamers. The research was carried out by scientists at Brown University in Rhode Island.” - Source
Games do in fact make you smarter, and it’s all games really, there is no distinction between Triple-A commercial games or independently made ones, or board games, as long as they are well designed and enjoyable.
The benefit with moving from specific entertainment games to gamified environments with the above knowledge is that you can offer specialized enhancement and skill training that can be instantly applied in the work environment. Have a read through some of the other blogs from æStranger.com if that interests you further.
And as we’ve seen playing games or being exposed to game-like situations/environments actually improves and alters the structure of your brain. Usually in positive ways in done correctly. But we need to warn you though that there can also be negative effects. Not all games are created equally, and some that are not well designed or designed with a sinister purpose can be detrimental. As with anything in life, food, drink, TV, etc… don’t do it in excess. Gaming should also be checked and supervised, either self-supervision or by an external figure. Without good structure and support anything can become negative, and then we’re back at the start of the piece.