Do Brain Training Video Games Really Work?

Today, the video game industry benefits from an unprecedented power of seduction. While twenty years ago its target audience was made up of children (men) and young men, today they are used by entire families, women and even people over the age of 60.

If the factors that intervened in this expansion of market niches would give for another article apart, there is at least one principle that can be understood as a cause and at the same time as a consequence of this openness to the diversity of audiences. : the response of this market to the concern for physical and psychological well-being, In general.

Brain Training Video Games

This new philosophy can be summed up in: because video games will become an important part of our lives, which will at least serve to improve them. If before playing the video game console was equivalent to ignoring reality, in recent years the wall separating the use of video games and “real life” has collapsed. This way of thinking has led to the emergence of many “mental gym” type video games that offer us the possibility of playing while improving our skills. cognitive processes that are essential for us in our daily lives (such as how quickly we can distinguish between stimuli, working with several variables at once to solve a problem, or our ability to focus on one attentional focus and not distract us).

Brain training, more than a Nintendo brand, has become almost a genre of video game. It is no coincidence that the popularization of brain-training video games coincided with the emergence of the Wii and Nintendo DS video game consoles in the 2000s **, both largely responsible for opening up the market. from video games ** to a much more varied game. profile of potential customers.

The customer is everyone

In 2006, the best-selling Brain Training video game appeared in Europe. Dr. Kawashima through Nintendo DS. You can think of him as the top of the list in the Training series, a franchise created by Nintendo whose central focus was learning and improving cognitive skills. Soon after, the Wiifit series appeared with its own device similar to a ladder used for practicing posture and movement exercises related to yoga, aerobics and other disciplines. Consumer reception of WiFi has also been more than positive.

The attractions of brain training video games as a tool of “mental gymnastics” for our brain are clear: the possibility of creating personalized programs in which each activity works a specific cognitive function, quick access to such activities without need to get away from home and Of course the fun factor. Speak video game development companiesIn addition, this type of product allows them to access a large number of customers with high purchasing power, beyond a hardcore gamer profile which increasingly requires a class of video games that are more aesthetically attractive and more attractive. at higher production costs. However, it begs the question to what extent is it proven that they really work.


The truth is that the efficiency of this type of video game to improve the performance of cognitive functions it is more than questioned. It seems that in general few studies attribute better cognitive performance to the continued use of this type of video game. In cases where a statistically significant trend towards improved cognitive abilities was observed, this was quite modest.

Among the causes that make it difficult to measure possible cognitive improvements, there is the fact that an improvement in performance when solving problems with video games does not necessarily imply an improvement in performance when dealing with the problems we are facing. faced. day by day. It’s the adaptation and the improvement in the face of the difficulty levels posed by the game does not have to be generalizable to other areas of our life: if I become faster in reacting to a shooter that appears after a few barrels of wood, this improvement c maybe it’s because I learned the enemy patterns appearing in the video game, the fact that I recognize hiding places where a shooter is statistically more likely to appear, or just that my adrenaline levels are affected. automatically for the simple act of starting a game.

None of these video game adaptations will help me in other situations in my daily life., And none of them involve an implementation in my brain structures involved in rapid response to stimuli and attentional selection. This happens with both Nintendo’s brain-training video games and the latest Brightness.

It seems that no matter how much we want to save time and stimulate our brains while we play, it’s always true that what happens in video games stays in video games. The improvement in performance that occurs in them is, at best, generalizable to other situations in our life to a very small degree. This is why it is normal that mental gymnastics video games are greeted with skepticism in the scientific community.

However, maintaining a skeptical attitude does not mean getting close to the possible benefits that the use of video games can bring to basic and applied psychology. It should be noted that a large part of the brain training video games that have been tested are not intended for medical use, but for sales in a very wide market. Almost all of them, like Dr. Brain Training himself. Kawashima, they only rely on skillful marketing campaigns when you talk about the many beneficial effects your product can offer us, not in experiments designed specifically for testing. Thus, it is normal that in the studies carried out a posteriori, the results are bad.

In addition, the fact that different video games working different areas of the brain with different intensity makes the comparison between studies chaotic and costs to reach clear conclusions. All of this means that while all that can be said about brain training that has been around so far is that they are selling a lot thanks to the hype, upcoming video games may be. good tools to strengthen higher mental processes. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting it right.

The reasons for optimism

It is worth considering how it is possible that, as it is proven that in our daily reality there are activities that improve the good performance of our neo-cerebral cortex, these activities cannot be transferred to the field of video games. , a virtual environment in which virtually anything imaginable can be done and with an enviable maturity in terms of the technologies it uses. The potential of video games is enormous, and yet they all have one clear limitation, to a greater or lesser extent: as artificial products that they are, they lack chaos. They all have certain designs, certain playable mechanics and not always too varied. It’s very difficult to find a video game that after eight months doesn’t seem repetitive. If we enhance the ability of video games to surprise us by presenting unexpected stimuli and tasks of different types occurring at the same time, it is very possible that our brains will be pushed to the limit and therefore exercised. In this regard, Adam Gazzaley, neurologist at the University of california, Saint Francis has reason to be optimistic.

In 2009, Gazzaley collaborated with the video game development company LucasArts (famous for its video game series Monkey Island, Rogue Squadron or the famous Grim Fandango) in the development of NeuroRacer. This game consisted of driving a vehicle on winding roads, without leaving the track, and at the same time paying attention to a series of icons that appeared on the screen to press the corresponding button each time one of them appears. Over time, moreover, these tasks have become more complicated, following an ascending difficulty curve to bring the player to the limit of his possibilities. The aim of the video game was to improve cognitive abilities in the elderly or to mitigate the decline in it associated with age.

The idea behind the development of this video game is as follows: if even in the elderly the brain has the capacity to change and adapt to the demands of the environment, we present a complex environment in which they have activate different brain functions at the same time, Emulating what happens in everyday life. It will be this exercise of assisting in several tasks at the same time that will generate more and better neural connections to the brain and therefore improve its condition, and not the successive presentation of the same type of problems.

To test the effect of this video game on the brain, Gazzaley divided a group of 180 participants aged 60 to 85 into three groups. Those in one group would play the video game three times a week for a month, those in the second would play the same number of hours in a simplified version of the video game in which they would control the vehicle or press buttons on the see icon. corresponding, but not both tasks at the same time, and those in the third group would not play the video game. The results of standardized tests to measure working memory and attentional management showed significant improvement in these processes.

In addition, these results tended to be maintained over time, at least up to 6 months after the experience without playing NeuroRacer. On the other hand, the bioelectrical activity recordings of the participants obtained by electroencephalogram (EEG) after their passage through the the experience tended to be like that of a 20 year old. There was also variation in measures of activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the primary neural mediator in the sequencing of orderly, goal-oriented actions, decision-making, and selective attention, between other.

Since then, Gazzaley has continued to work on similar projects. Project: Evo, A NeuroRacer-based video game that uses other cognitive functions that were not worked on in its predecessor (in addition to those already worked on in the 2009 video game) can bring even more benefits. In Body Brain Trainer, Gazzaley uses a camera Xbox Kinect recognize movements and pose exercises in which physical exercise is linked to mental processes, following the philosophy of embodied cognition.

However, none of the experiments performed by Gazzaley offer full guarantees yet, as this requires a sample with many more participants and shorter experimentation periods. It will be years before we can have true brain training video games that have the backing of science, and for now large investments in video games seem to be a favorite in the profitable entertainment market. However, and without harming the potential of the old “Matamarcians” in the field of neuropsychology, one could say that the benefits that video games bring us as simple entertainment or as an additional form of culture they are already reason enough to take advantage of it.

Leave a Comment