No Game, No Gain: How Playing Video Games Makes You Smarter

Mar 15, 2021 13 Min Read
video games
Video games train your brain for the challenges you face in real life.

People associate video games with laziness and escapism. Parents often worry that video games will make their children less intelligent. Couples have even broken up when one of them has chosen to spend all of their free time with a joystick when in fact (when used properly) video games can make us not only smarter but also happier.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Reading Shakespeare and solving algebra problems are praiseworthy activities. But if books and video games had to compete, the latter would come out the winner. With all due respect to the classics, video games have more in common with our current reality. They simulate life’s challenges better than we might expect.

The Benefits of Playing Video Games

Brian Sutton-Smith was the first person to see games as a resource for development. The scientist investigated the psychological aspects of playing games throughout his entire life. He became famous in the middle of the 20th century for studying how entertainment affects children and adults.

Sutton-Smith learned that when people play games, they experience strong positive emotions and become more self-confident. A depressed person, on the other hand, is incredibly pessimistic. This especially concerns their talents and opportunities. However, when children play games, they never question their ability to do it correctly. Adults can learn important lessons by observing how children play.

This article lists the mental and physical benefits gained by playing video games. The advantages are so numerous that it makes you wonder why colleges don’t use them for tutoring. Consider the following:

  • You become more sensitive to visual contrast.
  • You improve your multitasking skills.
  • You learn to switch between conflicting tasks with fewer errors.
  • Your job-related skills (attention, eye-hand coordination, working memory, and decision-making) are enhanced.
  • You learn to quickly distinguish a specific target among a field of distractors.
  • You strengthen your ability to keep track of several moving objects.
  • You learn to be less impulsive.
  • Video games reduce mental decline in older people.
  • Amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’ (a disease when one eye loses its function, usually during childhood) is successfully treated.
  • Playing video games can treat dyslexia, a condition derived from insufficient visual attention.
  • Video games boost motivation.

Neuroscience research has proven that interactive games make our brains ‘thirstier’ for a reward, and this engagement persists in real life. A perfect asset, isn’t it?

Games are also able to influence your emotional health. As we mentioned above, Brian Sutton-Smith was the first person to consider playing games as a treatment for depression. Although he did his research long before the massive popularity of video games, he hit the mark. Traditionally, video games were thought to take the player out of reality, thereby enhancing depression. Now, however, some games are specifically designed to treat depression.

Video Games & Cognitive Functions

All games provide an opportunity to learn. When you start playing, the first level you encounter is usually simple, making it easy to get your bearings. Then, you might begin to look for action and develop new skills and strategies. With each level, the tasks grow more complicated and require more effort and attention. This scheme applies to the vast majority of video games. Here are the cognitive functions you strengthen as a result:

  • Logic. All games are based on cause-and-effect relationships. As a simple example, an RPG (role-playing-game) character can recover their health by eating a plant. More advanced levels require complicated logical calculation.
  • Memory. To succeed in the game, you need to memorise rules, locations, tasks, and the empirical conclusions described above. The amount of data is enormous, comparable to taking on several new projects at work or school at once.
  • Concentration. Messages, advertisements, and social media make it almost impossible to concentrate on your studies. Video games, however, usually don’t include these annoyances. They can help you engage in your task without distraction.
  • Strategic thinking. In games, as in real life, resources are limited, and needs are endless. Playing video games teaches you how to use your resources wisely.
  • Fast decision-making. Sometimes, seconds of hesitation can cost you another hour of playtime. To play well, you must learn to make rapid-fire decisions under pressure. Games help you gain confidence and try out risky decisions.
  • Multitasking. During a game, you need to watch out for enemies while keeping an eye on your character’s life level and movements. Driving and piloting simulators are very good at training you how to multitask.
  • Hand-eye coordination. While you play, your hands move the joystick or keyboard, and your eyes watch the screen. Your hands have to respond to both visual and audible signals. So the better your coordination, the higher your score.
  • Language skills. The rules, dialogues, and storylines of games are usually already written. To follow the plot, you have to read, listen, or both, making it the perfect way to improve your foreign language knowledge.

Video Games & Creativity

It has been proven that gaming can positively influence not only cognitive abilities but also creative thinking. Most of the games require some level of creativity from their players. In some of them, it is necessary to create stories or characters. Others encourage and reward creative strategies. Here are the aspects of creativity that gaming can boost.

  • Figurative thinking. A good video game is like a good novel. It has a plot, characters, setting, and symbolism. Playing these games can enhance your imagination and story-telling skills.
  • Imagination. Your imagination helps you “live” in the gaming world. You use it to complete your character’s story, filling in the unspecified details.
  • Visual-spatial ability. This list of the largest video game worlds makes you wonder how someone could learn how to navigate around all of those locations. But, many players do, and the memorisation skills they acquire while doing so help in their real life, too.
  • Risk-taking. In video games, it is usually not a big deal if you fail at something. You can often start again from your last saved point. In reality, we often overestimate the negative consequences of failure. These games teach us the value of taking risks.

Video Games & Emotions

Research has found that video games enhance emotional intelligence. Although the effect is short-term, the cognitive skills you employ to help regulate your emotions persist long afterward. In other words, playing video games helps you learn strategies for understanding your emotions and those of other people as well.

  • Self-confidence. When a gamer passes a level, she becomes more confident, thanks to the knowledge and experience she has gained. This mimics real life, where completing a task can also raise your self-esteem.
  • Stress resistance. For many quests, time is limited. In RPG and action games, the atmosphere is often tense and adverse. Video games teach you how to cope under pressure, for example, when time is running out, and everyone seems to be against you.
  • Ability to cope with failures. No gamer throws a computer out of their window because they failed a level. Instead, he tries and tries again to succeed. Unfortunately, we often forget to do this in real life. Video games are a good reminder of the value of persistence.
  • Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-regulation, self-awareness, motivation, social skills, and empathy. Video games train all these aspects to various extents. The characters in the storylines often have complicated backgrounds that simulate real experiences. Players must empathise with characters in order to understand their motivations and actions.

Before making a judgment, it is a good idea to examine all sides of a situation. Any substance or activity can be beneficial in moderation and harmful in excess. For example, snake poison is used as a medicine, and a glass of wine can improve your cardiovascular health. However, if you drink more than three liters of water in less than two hours, you can become very sick.


The same is true for video games. As a hobby, they can have a beneficial impact on your life. But when they absorb all of your time and energy, they can become addictive.

People who suffer from depression may self-medicate using video games. For that reason, many assume that gaming causes depression. Playing to escape reality is problematic if someone has mental health issues.

However, games are increasingly used for learning purposes. They offer an enjoyable way to grasp complicated ideas. Below, you can find detailed information on which games are the most efficient for educational purposes.

Improving Your Cognitive Performance

The educational benefits of video games have been widely discussed above. Still, action and adventure games are the most effective at training your brain’s abilities. You become the protagonist and must empathise with other characters. Your brain transitions those skills into real life even after you finish playing the game.

How Do Games Help?

  • They teach you to learn. Learning methods are universal, so play video games if you want to excel in your studies, no matter which subject.
  • They enhance your memory and focus. Playing video games also enhances your hand-eye coordination, which has many real-life applications.
  • They improve your brain functioning and IQ. Games increase the gray matter in your brain, making gamers smarter.
  • They increase your cognitive flexibility. They force you to analyse situations critically and find appropriate solutions.

Which Games Help?

Action games

Researchers have found that action games teach us to cope with the emotions of anger and fear. Shooter games improve your accuracy, attention, and multitasking skills. You are put into a situation that your brain perceives as a “fight or flight” framework. It is hard to find similar circumstances outside the digital world.

Our suggestions: Half-Life 2, Portal 2

Driving and piloting games

Racing games are colorful simulations of driving a car. They enhance your driving abilities, but that’s not the main point. You need to watch for other vehicles, weather conditions, fuel level, speed, and other indicators. Keeping track of all of this information trains your brain to manage conflicting and unconnected sources of information.

Our suggestions: F1 2017, Inertial Drift

Puzzles and quests

Mysteries and puzzles force your brain to work hard. They require spatial reasoning, problem-solving, short-term memory, and attention to detail. This genre slows down the natural aging process of brain cells.

Our suggestions: World of Goo, The Witness

Real-time strategies (RTS)

Video games based on strategy development enhance your brain’s flexibility. As the name suggests, you need to use strategic thinking to defeat an enemy or accomplish a task. These games train you to think ahead, prioritise your needs, and define your actions. Consider custom game development to create unique gaming experiences that challenge and engage players in strategic thinking.

Our suggestions: Company of Heroes, Crusader Kings III

Want to Learn More?

Game designing has made a list of 10 games that strengthen your brain skills. They are not traditional video games, like action or RPG genres. These brain boosters were designed to train a specific skill that can be used in many other ways.

As an alternative, look through this Business Insider list of brain-trainers. These games encourage you to think creatively while solving real-life situations. They are as engaging as other video games, but their positive impact on your brain’s functioning is much greater.

Boosting Your Creativity

Creativity allows you to come up with new ideas for old problems. Video games offer an engaging way to train your brain to excel at creative thinking.

How Do Games Help?

  • The habit of creativity. People are not born either creative or not. This skill, like drawing or playing the piano, can be developed with practice. Video games train your mind to find new solutions to common problems.
  • Creation of ideas. Games create an ideal atmosphere for free experimentation. You have nothing to lose while playing, except your time. In the process, you may learn that the best outcome comes from the least obvious action.
  • Management of ideas. In a complicated gaming world, the rules can be so numerous that memorising them takes a great deal of effort. You often need to write them down or use memory techniques.
  • Gamification of daunting tasks. The video game industry grew so fast that experts from other spheres wondered about the reasons for its incredible popularity. The features they discovered are now used to make dull activities more engaging by a process called gamification.

Which Games Help?

Sandbox games

This genre places minimal limitations on the player. Also called free-roaming or open-world games, they allow you to develop your virtual world at will. The most creative players even manage to create a new game inside their sandbox game. This is the best genre to practice your creativity through trial and error.

Our suggestions: Terraria, Minecraft

Puzzle games

This is the only genre that focuses on resolving puzzles. It amplifies your problem-solving skills, including sequence solving, logic, and pattern recognition. These games help you develop patience, which is essential to any creative activity.

Our suggestions: Scribblenauts

Simulation games

Simulation games recreate real-world situations (while possibly adding some fantastic elements). The only limit in this genre is the extent of your creativity. You are provided with limited materials and space, and what you create out of it depends on you.

Our suggestions: SimCity

Want to Learn More?

This list of video games will boost your creativity. All of them refer to one of the above genres. Certainly, playing on the computer day and night will not make you into a creative guru, but it can be a perfect supplement to your principal activity.

Another selection of creative games  can be found in this video. The authors selected the top-ten video games that enhance creativity, highlighting the fact that such games were designed to provide a creative experience.

Developing Your Management Skills

Management skills are numerous and can differ depending on the sphere of their application. However, two of the universal abilities are strategic thinking (i.e., planning, resource management, and design) and soft skills (i.e., emotional intelligence, time-management, and teamwork). The strategy genre is the best way to develop these abilities.

How Do Games Help?

  • Resource management. Video games teach you how to allocate resources wisely. Using potions, money, clothes, and other limited-use items bring about specific consequences. You must decide when and how to use the limited resources your character possesses.
  • Hoarding necessary items. It is often better to hide away something valuable until it becomes indispensable. Some games don’t automatically organise your character’s possessions. This forces you to arrange your resources neatly to remember what you have.
  • Too good to use. Some players keep the most valuable resources until the end of the game. However, if they had used them earlier, they might have progressed more quickly and smoothly. Gaming can teach important lessons about how and when to use valuable items.
  • Problems of choice. A good game is intuitively clear. It does not require long introductory scenes and instructions. This efficiency teaches business managers that providing too much information to their subordinates can worsen their results. Too many possible variants make it more difficult to choose an action.

Which Games Help?

Strategy games

These require the player to manipulate large numbers of objects, characters, or data. You can achieve the objectives only by intelligent strategic-planning. These games develop logical reasoning, time management, and organisational skills.

Simulation games

Simulators recreate real-world activities, which makes them the most efficient at training management skills. In these games, you can run a farm, a restaurant, a factory, etc. They are simplified versions of real businesses, but the idea is very similar.

Sports games

In these games, the player controls an athlete or a team and tries to defeat their opponent. Sports games can make you more tolerant of frustration and more productive in stressful conditions. They help accelerate your decision-making abilities, too.

Puzzle games

Puzzles develop logical reasoning and organisational skills. They require you to be attentive throughout the entire gaming process. You have to anticipate what could happen next and plan your next actions accordingly.

Want to Learn More?

This list of the best management games includes the latest strategies and simulators of 2020, as well as some of the all-time classics. The article features a video review of twenty games to show you what is available in this genre.

Some games can teach you project management, which is a specific domain of general management that requires extensive fieldwork. You can nail down your experience with gaming practice.

Playing video games helps you become more creative, quick-thinking, and emotionally intelligent. Have your cognitive or emotional abilities benefitted from gaming? Which game was the most helpful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Reposted with permission of

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