7 min read

Casual Videogames As Mental Acuity Aid; PopCap Games® and Games For Health Project Announce First Summary Findings on Cognitive Health Benefits of Digital Gameplay

Cooperative Study Sheds Light on Value and Potential Applications of "Casual" Computer- and Videogames for Cognitive Exercise
[This unedited press release is made available courtesy of Game Developer and its partnership with notable game PR-related resource Games Press]

SEATTLE, Wash./Portland, Maine - March 21, 2006 - PopCap Games, the leading developer and publisher of casual games, and The Games for Health Project today released their first summary findings of literature review of research and market development activities associated with the possible use of digital games for maintaining healthy minds. The full research findings are being presented today as part of the Serious Games Summit track at the Game Developer's Conference being held in San Jose, California this 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.

"However, equally important is that the research we've seen while pointing toward this outcome does not yet have a definitive answer regarding how cognitive exercise works physiologically," Sawyer continued. "Nor have we found absolute consensus on what types of games and mental exercises are best, or minimum thresholds. While there is good basic consensus emerging, we're probably a decade from the depth of understanding and widespread consensus we have about cardio-vascular exercise, for example. However, as this awareness and understanding becomes more refined and widespread, and as specific strategies are being formed, videogames are playing and will continue to play an increasing role. What is exciting is that we're really just at the early stage of what clearly can be a vital role played by so-called 'casual games' in the area of cognitive exercise and health."

"While we haven't previously developed casual games with cognitive health as a goal, we look forward to working closely with the Games For Health team to engage the research community to identify specific puzzle- and other problem-solving activities that could comprise all or part of the game-play in future products that we develop," said Jason Kapalka, co-founder and chief creative officer at PopCap Games.

With an increasingly aging population in many developed countries the field of cognitive exercise is growing. Advocates of cognitive exercise say it is equally important for people to exercise their minds as well as their bodies. In Japan, a series of popular brain exercise games for Nintendo's DS platform have been major commercial successes. The first of these games 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.

"The basics of the work presented at the Game Developers Conference today by the Games for Health Team is very promising," Sawyer said. "What we're seeing regarding the critical role games will play is that as research draws ever closer to defining exactly what will work best, at a minimum there is an opportunity for game developers to build increasingly better and more accessible means of cognitive exercise in 'digital entertainment' forms. 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. 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."

Q: Summary Research

Since its launch in January the project has cataloged a wealth of research papers and major media stories covering the state of cognitive exercise. The research has shown that studies of people who maintain healthy cognitive loads (e.g. playing chess, doing crosswords) appear to have lower incidence of dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and other cognitive ailments. Importantly two other risk factors included social activity and traditional physical exercise. "It's not just about working out your mind" said Darius Kazemi, co-lead researcher at Games For Health on the project, "you need to get up and move, and be social as well."

Key summary findings to date include:

  • There is a growing body of consensus based on research that indicates that the mind and memory can be kept healthier and 'sharper' by deliberate mental exercise.
  • While there is evidence from population studies as to a link between mental activity and lower incidence of dementia/Alzhiemer's/senility etc., it is not certain what it is about mental activity that wards off the biophysical issues related to these ailments. There are neuro-regenerative properties of mental exercise being found but whether this is allowing the brain to ward off "brain plaque" or to operate better despite its onset is still to be determined.
  • It is not clearly understood if people who report lower cognitive, social, and physical activity aren't already succumbing to issues of aging in some studies. Further isolations are needed and more longitudinal studies to improve understanding. Interestingly, videogame activity of current generations may start manifest in next-generation studies, but to date there is no major study which identifies and quantifies specific benefits from videogame playing.
  • Intellectual activities seem particularly "protective"; people who use leisure time for mind-challenging hobbies were about two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer's in one study conducted by Chicago's Rush Institute for Healthy Aging. For example, Regular crossword puzzle solving equated to a 47% reduction in the likelihood of developing dementia. Not surprisingly, television watching is not protective and may even be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, and writing and taking part in group discussions seemed to offer no protection against memory-robbing conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
  • There is no absolute measurement that exists for cognitive exercise regimens, as not all activities seem to be equally effective in reducing the risk of dementia and other mentally debilitating ailments in all studies. Subjects who often played board games, read, played an instrument or did crossword puzzles were less likely to develop dementia than people who said they engaged in those activities only rarely.
  • A five-year pushback of Alzhiemer's cases across the world would result in a reduction of incidence of the disease in half.
  • The market is moving forward just on the research to date despite no widespread consensus. It is likely that brain fitness will be a $100 million market (or larger) in the next decade if the research grows, validates, and develops a consensus regimen.

Q: Next Steps

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. A version of the initial presentation is now available on the Web at

Q: About The Games For Health Project

Games for Health is a project produced by The Serious Games Initiative (, a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars effort that applies games and game technologies to a range of public and private policy, leadership, and management issues. The Project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Initiative founded Games for Health to develop a community and best practices platform for games being built for health care applications. To date the project has brought together researchers, medical professionals, and game developers to share information about the impact games and game technologies can have on health care and policy. This includes an effort to catalog the current use of games in health care. For more information about Games for Health, see

Q: About PopCap

PopCap Games ( is the leading provider of casual games in the world. Based in Seattle, Washington, PopCap was founded in 2000 by three friends from the online games industry, and has grown tremendously in the past five years. PopCap's games have been downloaded more than 175 million times, and its flagship title Bejeweled has sold more than 5 million units across all major platforms. PopCap games are available for Web, PC and Mac, videogame consoles, cell-phones, PDAs and other mobile devices, in-flight on leading airlines, and more.

PR Contacts:

PopCap Games:

Garth Chouteau

[email protected]


Games For Health Project:

Beth Bryant

[email protected]


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