How Do Video Games Enhance Memory

Patrick Lawrence

In 2013, scientists discovered that playing video games actually enhances our working memory.

While games provide a challenge to our working memory, they also add in visual cues that bring our attention to the most important objects on the screen.

Our brain's working memory is the ability to temporarily hold and process information to accomplish an assigned task.

If we study a subject, like math, during math class, we must remember the number of objects that we need to find to solve the problem.

However, if we attempt the same problem in real life, where there are so many different objects to identify, our memory will be unable to remember the number.

But by using video games, we can make use of our brains' ability to remember and learn new information.

In the same way, we can then apply the knowledge to make logical sense of real-life situations.

What is working memory?

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As you may know, to memorize something, our brain has to search for the information and put it into our working memory.

However, our working memory has a limit. Our brain must make a judgment call in terms of what we need to hold in our working memory, as well as the time we want to hold it.

For instance, we often do not have enough time to memorize the multiplication tables.

If we have too much information to memorize, we will get distracted and end up forgetting the information.

If we memorize everything and hold the information in our working memory for a short amount of time, it will fade.

Our working memory is limited, so we must decide what to hold in our working memory and what to forget. The more relevant information we remember, the more our working memory will become efficient.

Video games can help us strengthen our working memory and improve our memory.

While games have many other effects on our memory and other brain functions, such as exercising it, strengthening our working memory is an important one.

It has been shown that participants who played "Civilization V" and "BrĂ¼tal Legend" for a period of 30 minutes in a randomized order improved their working memory compared to participants who played "Sid Meier's Civilization V" and "Sid Meier's Civilization VI."

However, the effect was still not as great as the effect of studying the same information for 20 minutes.

What does the latest research say?

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A 2015 study found that playing 1 hour of a complex strategy game (such as "Civilization V") was as effective as playing 2 hours of a simple action video game (such as "Dota 2") at improving working memory.

However, what made these results interesting is that playing complex strategy games (like "Civilization V") led to an increase in gray matter (a substance that is involved in many brain functions) in the left inferior parietal lobe.

This area has been associated with processes related to visual memory.

Video games are engaging. There is no disputing this fact.

From the first Super Mario to the latest Call of Duty, video games attract the attention of most people. To be sure, there is an element of the video game addict in us all.

With so many video games available, it seems that we must be engaged and continuously involved in them.

After playing video games, we retain more information: the classic delayed response effect.

This happens because:

  • the action mode of the game interrupts a task-performance-learning loop that we all know and love
  • we cannot stop playing the game and thereby forget the instructions, requiring a concerted effort to re-learn the information we've forgotten
  • our brains rely on game-play for exercise
  • new-information that is not consciously thought of as relevant leads to stronger memory consolidation

Can we link this to how video games improve memory?

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As noted above, researchers have suggested that engaging in video games can lead to improved cognitive function.

However, research is lacking to show if this is the case with more complex video games like those we play in serious games.

They were great, but we did not see huge improvements in memory.

As you can see, we first tried some simple video games with no plot. These games didn't have a storyline and required little work.

They allowed us to play and not have to think too much.

Once we discovered they really were good for memory, we tried games that required more interaction: such as those with rich storylines and multiple characters.

With more interactive games like this, we finally started to see noticeable improvements.

It seems that while complex games are effective for memory, they are less so for general intelligence.

We are not the only ones who have noticed the benefits of video games in our performance.

A study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who had fun playing a video game were much more likely to achieve the task at hand.

This research indicates that playing games that make you feel good are a key to achieving a goal.

So next time you are thinking about loading up a game, remember that you are improving your memory.


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