Video games and brain development: is there a link ?


Increasing scientific evidence suggest that there is a link between video games and brain development. Can video games really help in the development of personal and interpersonal skills ?

Games and brain development

In order to properly answer this question, we will first understand what are “video games” are and how brain works.

What is a video game?

A video game can be defined as a computer system in which players engage in an artificial and playful context, composed of animated images.  There are a multitude of kinds of video games, here are a few examples:

Fighting games: players embody characters in a duel situation, in a fixed and defined spatio-temporal structure.

Platform games: players control a character who evolves in a virtual environment, with reduced choice of actions, in two or three dimensions.

Strategy and management games: the player is responsible for managing a virtual population, building a city or managing the resources of a city or a civilization.

Role-playing and adventure games: players embody one or more characters with high potential in a non-linear and evolving narrative framework.

Puzzle games: the game system consists of solving visual-spatial logic problems, examples: Tetris, The Room, Puzzle Bobble, etc.

Sports games: the player is in control of a vehicle, a character or a sports team in real time.

The field of video games is thus complex and may have an impact on the development of the brain of young people and adults.

How does the brain work?

The brain is made up of over 86 billion nerve cells called neurons. These neurons are interconnected and transmit sensory information through synapses at their ends. 

Subsequently, neurotransmitters (molecules) allow the chemical transfer of nerve impulses from one neuron to another. Neurotransmitters promote the propagation of excitatory nerve impulses or decrease the likelihood of sending inhibitory nerve impulses through the brain.

These connections and nerve impulses propagate from neurons to neurons in the two cerebral hemispheres and the 4 lobes of the brain known as the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe and the temporal lobe.

Considering the different parts of the brain and their importance in our daily actions, it suggests that the different kinds of video games can impact the development and functioning of our brain in several ways. 

The experience of playing video games including online casino can then come to modify the neuronal plasticity of a player by modifying its connections and its structure (it is called neuroplasticity), in particular in the development of cognitive and motor skills, such as the attentional capacity, the speed of execution, the resolution of problems or the psychomotor functioning. 

Video games and the brain of young people

Many studies reported on the negative effects of video games, particularly in relation to aggression and violence. In the populations of children and adolescents, we observe a majority of studies oriented towards “addiction problems” and “game addiction”. 

Several studies nevertheless indicate that beyond a possible disorder related to video games, there would be benefits on cognitive functioning. 

Other several studies in psychology and neuropsychology have focused on the effects of video games on the cognitive functioning of young people, the development of their brain and their cognitive learning. However, a few studies showed positive effects for cognitive functioning and these results were not either confirmed and validated these results. A majority of studies show neutral or mixed results. Not all kinds of video games would have positive impacts on the brain.

Video games and the brain of the elderly

Studies in neuropsychology are increasingly interested in the use of video games for the prevention of cognitive losses in connection with the natural aging of the brain and the development of neurological disorders.

Some studies in neuropsychology have observed that strategy games, such as chess and cognitive tests, are often not stimulating enough to create a real impact on the cognitive functions. Action video games thus seem to be the most cognitively stimulating games among populations aged between 8 and 65 years. They could have beneficial effects on the prevention of cognitive losses linked to brain aging and the presence of neurological disorders. The effects depend on the type of video games being played. Studies also tend to suggest a combination of active video games involving intellectual stimulation and physical exercise.