The initial findings of a recent joint venture between both casual game publisher and developer PopCap Games and research collective Games for Health to gather, evaluate, and share research on the use of digital games and cognitive health have been released to the public. The full research findings were presented as part of the Serious Games Summit track at the Game Developer's Conference held in San Jose last week.
"We have reviewed a large base of literature and what we've found is that while still in the early stages of scientific understanding, there is growing consensus that defined cognitive exercise can play a critical role in healthy aging. As part of that role, it seems clear that puzzle games, strategy games, and games which aren't as spatially oriented can play a significant role in that effort," said Ben Sawyer, co-founder and director of the Games for Health Project.
An increasingly aging population in many developed countries has spurred growth in the field of cognitive exercise, as exemplified most recently with the Japanese success of games such as Nintendo's Brain Training
. The first of these games, Brain Age
, will debut in the U.S. this year and will join several companies offering mental workout products - currently primarily available in the form of workbooks and flashcards. Advocates of cognitive exercise say it is equally important for people to exercise their minds as well as their bodies.
"We know from basic research that active minds are more often healthy minds, especially as people age," said Ben Sawyer, co-founder and director of the Games for Health Project. "The goal of this effort is to establish a baseline of knowledge... PopCap's support is going to help us accelerate our activity to get a handle on this as a benefit to the entire field of games and games for health."
“Building enjoyable puzzle games is what casual game developers do every day and if we can reach the very large and growing audience of casual games players with more defined and targeted cognitive exercise in this form, the impact could eventually be quite measurable,” claimed Sawyer. “Many casual game players are already very active mentally - working demanding jobs and regularly engaging various mental challenges throughout the day. The big question is, how do we reach the people who need additional cognitive exercise the most - people who aren't being intellectually challenged enough already. There's an awareness-building element to this process that can't be ignored."
Following the initial findings, the Games for Health Project will be moving to further phases of this work over the next two months. This will include interviews with leading researchers, further literature review, and a final assemblage of the knowledgebase.