Playing Video Games Can Build Critical Thinking Skills and Sharpen Your Mind
It’s long been a fight between parents and kids about how boys and girls are “rotting their brains” with video games. Sitting in front of a screen for hours on end seems like mindless activity, but in reality, playing video games can help make you sharper and smarter.
While many studies have shown that too much time in front of the TV or computer screen can be unhealthy, when done in moderation, playing video games is like a Sudoku puzzle or word search in hyper-drive. Working through varying levels of difficulty exercises your brain in the same way that other skill puzzles and activities do.
So what is it about video games that make them better than the mindless, brain-mushing entertainment many make them out to be? How do video games make you smarter?
Develops Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Decision Making Skills
Dr. Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author of Reality is Broken, frequently speaks about the benefits that games can have on brainpower, engagement, and how games can be used to help solve the problems of the world if used responsibly.
On a simpler level, video games can help build problem-solving skills through overcoming obstacles and puzzles and developing strategies to succeed. With critical thinking, players are able to navigate through a certain level or “world” in a game and strategize how to defeat a villain in a way that is not obvious or that has not worked in the past. Many games are like puzzles, and players must develop problem-solving skills that can be utilized later in the game, or even later in a science or logic class, in order to advance and “master” the level.
Engagement and Collaboration
Games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Halo put players into collaborative and complex scenarios, where players have to work together as a team to achieve a common goal. This teaches players how to engage one another in a way that builds alliances and fosters teamwork to advance to the next level of difficulty together.
Many of these games are also very social, with communities and forums that allow players to exchange ideas, information, and tips on how to unlock certain powers or the best way to get past a certain level. This simulates real-world networking, where people with a common interest come together to share ideas and feedback.
With all of the evidence supporting improved problem solving and critical thinking skills from video games, it’s no wonder that studies have also shown that students who play video games tend to be more creative, too.
In the study at Michigan State University, the more video games kids played, the more creative and detailed they were in creative tasks like drawing and creative writing. This could be because playing a video game satisfies some other creative need, or the colorful, fast-moving visuals in video games can stimulate creativity and open minds to vivid ideas.
Learn How to Lose
We live in a world where kids are often shielded from competition. Everyone gets a trophy or ribbon for playing in a game or participating in a race, so frequently there is a disconnect between what it really is to “win” and how it feels to “lose.” Video games teach players how to win and win well, and how to start over and pick themselves up after a defeat. This is also where problem solving comes in. The need to find a way to win after a loss teaches kids how to use a defeat to their advantage.
In their simplest use, video games are a fun activity. Kids are more likely to feel a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment when they master something that they like and are passionate about, and video games are no different. This feeling of accomplishment can be translated into other aspect of a player's life, including academics and other activites they may be involved in.
As with any other activity, video games should be played in moderation. If play time cuts into your sleep, schoolwork, or other extracurricular activities, no amount of brain power gained from beating the most difficult level can help you make up for that lost time.
The fight between parents and kids over video games may never go away, but the next time you power up your game console be sure to remind your parents that you’re powering up your brain, too!