Can Games Make You Smarter?

Depending on who you ask, gamers might be considered brain boxes or people will claim that games rot the brain. Often people have strong opinions but mostly it falls down to hearsay or old wives’ tales. So what are the facts, can games really make you smarter? We’re going to take a look at the effects it can have on brain size, as well as how it can teach a variety of facts and skills whilst also remaining fun.

How Games Change The Brain

It’s been scientifically proven that games can change the make-up of your brain. The brain reacts to your day to day life and is amazing at adapting to new circumstances, so it’s unsurprising that playing games, particularly for large amounts of time, can literally change how much grey matter exists in certain areas of the brain, sometimes for the better, other times for the worse.

Doctor looking at brain scans.
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Depending on the games you play, it can ‘train’ areas of the brain. Playing fast-paced action games can increase your reaction times, but doing it at the expense of other things may cause the memory areas of the brain to reduce in size as they aren’t used much. Likewise, a slow management game might help with problem-solving but may slow you down physically, like watching quiz shows on TV. The good thing is, because of how active and involved playing games is compared to other media, you can use it to positively improve your brain by playing a large variety of games.

How Games Can Teach Facts

Whilst not true for every game, some games can be incredibly informative, without sacrificing gameplay. This can be an especially useful way of teaching kids. When I was young, I learned more about history and mythology from playing games than history classes at school. Games like Age Of Mythology and Civilisation include in-game encyclopedias which, as well as teaching the game mechanics, give you historical context as well. Despite not enjoying history at school, the games have gone on to spark a life-long fascination with the topic and learning it has become one of my favorite things to do.

There are also more education-focused games that can make you smarter, such as Human Resource Machine or while True: learn() which teach programming through game mechanics. Games like these will often focus on the educational aspect first and foremost but will take the time to build a fun and engaging game around it. When done well these kinds of games are great at teaching people, especially kids, without them even realizing that they are learning.

How Games Can Teach Skills

Games can also teach soft skills, such as money management and planning through strategy and simulation games like Cities: Skylines where you need to effectively plan out multiple steps ahead, in an increasingly complicated game. This is very similar to Chess, long thought of as a game for the intellectual. Some games have a very limited playstyle, which you need to work out and master, whereas others have so many moving parts that it becomes a case of managing them all to maximize your returns.

Chess - a game often seen as being for smarter people.
Photo by Recal Media from Pexels

Games are also great for teaching creativity and really allowing the player to get imaginative within the game’s ruleset. The most obvious example would be the crazy popular game Minecraft which allows you to create everything from basic buildings using blocks to incredibly complex systems using the equivalent of wires in the game, Redstone. There are countless other games that let you build and create in totally different styles, environments, and settings to really get those creative juices flowing.

So Can Games Make You Smarter?

Ultimately, it depends on how you use them, but yes, they can be an incredibly powerful tool for learning in a way that is interesting and unobtrusive. It allows people to learn and train their brains in a way that isn’t seen as hard work, but instead seen as relaxation time, which is incredibly useful, especially when it comes to kids. But it is important to have a healthy relationship to games, play a large variety of genres and to make sure it is used alongside other tools so as your diet and exercise to keep your brain and body healthy.