A study initiated by Queen Mary University of London and University College London indicates that games might actually boost brain power, with those tasked with playing more complex games scoring more highly on “cognitive flexibility” tests.

Cognitive flexibility tests, for what it’s worth, track a person’s ability to switch between tasks and think about multiple ideas at a time to solve problems. That’s assuming I’m understand the research article correctly, at least, which is not a given as it’s nearly 7am.

The test was carried out with three groups. A control group played The Sims 2, to see whether the style of game and the type of play required actually mattered. The other two groups played variants of StarCraft, with one group playing a “half-map” version with one friendly and one enemy base, and one group playing a “full-map” version with two friendly and two enemy bases. Both versions had reactive difficulty to keep the win rate at around 50%, and both disabled minimap alerts so that players had to actually remember and pay attention to everything going on.

The 72 study participants (hilariously, all female, due to a lack of responding males that played games for less than 2 hours a week) were tested, made to play their assigned games for 40 hours over the course of six to eight weeks, and were then tested again.

And the results? Welp, those who played StarCraft scored better at cognitive flexibility tests than those who played The Sims 2, indicating that the game mechanics had a definite impact on the sort of tasks to which the brain became attuned. Those who played the more complex version of StarCraft did even better.

The potential applications of this are actually pretty interesting. According to Queen Mary’s Dr. Brian Glass, “We need to understand now what exactly about these games is leading to these changes, and whether these cognitive boosts are permanent or if they dwindle over time.

“Once we have that understanding, it could become possible to develop clinical interventions for symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or traumatic brain injuries, for example.”

I’m going to stop writing about this now because my own brain is in serious danger of leaking out of my ears, but you can read up on the experiment here.

Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.

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