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First-Person Shooters Are Oddly Good For The Brain

Hang on, I'm just dramatically improving my brain.

Sitting and playing the nonsense of Black Ops 2, it’s hard to imagine that your brain is improving in any way. Turns out, it’s improving in lots of ways.

Goodness, some positive, intelligent science regarding health and videogames. With cathartic ease, cognative researcher Daphne Bavelier discusses how their research has shown that even hardcore FPS games have positive effects on the brain. In fact, especially hardcore FPS games.

Usually when someone reveals a statistic like Call Of Duty: Black Ops’ having been played for 68,000 man-years (in 2010), it’s because something damning is coming along. But Bavelier asks the question, is this time good for the brain?

Keeping things in sensible balance, recognising that over-playing, binging, being negative, she also observes the positive physical and mental effects of gaming. Eyesight, attention disorders, task-management, all show significant improvement through action gaming.

Clearly the only sensible way to assimilate the information in the video is to take it on board alongside the rigorous science that demonstrates negative effects of gaming. There is certainly a paucity of that, and often when you look into the negative research things tend to slightly fall apart. However, the consensus at the moment, derived from meta-analyses, seems to be that there is a cognitive effect of playing violent games that leads to short-term changes in aggression levels. Incredibly minor changes – certainly not enough to cause a non-violent person to act violently – but changes, and that’s definitely worth our attention.

It becomes a practice of listening to all the well-researched evidence, taking on board both the positives and the negatives, and weighing them in contention. The improved skills listed above don’t represent a broad range, but they remain further good science looking at genuinely positive results. And of course its greater purpose is to see if these positive effects can be used for rehabilitation processes. I love the observation that educational games are like chocolate-coated broccoli, and it’s exciting to see a team trying to rethink the possibilities for how educational/rehabilitative gaming could become significantly more appealing.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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