One minute we’re being told that all video games are good for your brain, then the next we’re being told that some aren’t. Which is it?
The latest study into our favorite hobby was conducted by the University of Montreal. 100 people were asked to play a “violent shooter” such as Killzone, Call of Duty and Borderlands 2 for 90 hours. Nothing out of the ordinary for a gamer in college.
They were then given Mario games to play for the same amount of time.
Alarmingly, the study found that those who habitually played action games had fewer neurons in their hippocampus. The hippocampus (apart from sounding like a rejected Pokemon) is a key memory center in the brain, which affects spatial awareness and memory. This damage to the brain can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Following sessions with Mario, the same study found that gamers playing non-violent games brains actually developed more essential gray matter – nerve cell bodies.
The reasoning behind this evidence is that playing video games stimulates a habit-forming brain region called the caudate nucleus at the expense of the hippocampus. As the caudate nucleus is used more, such as when navigating through a map in a team deathmatch, the more the hippocampus loses cells and shrinks.
Brain scans in the new study showed that the gamers who relied on the caudate nucleus while playing action orientated games for 90 hours suffered a measurable loss of hippocampus gray matter. The hippocampi of all participants was increased following their 90 hours with 3D Mario games.
So, is it time to put down the guns and start chasing those magic mushrooms? Maybe not, according to British expert Professor Andrew Przybylski from Oxford University.
Professor Przybylski said, “the hypotheses tested do not relate to harm and the paper does not provide evidence that 90 hours of play, the ‘treatment’, leads to harm.”
He concluded that “the interpretation of harm, although attention-grabbing, was not peer-reviewed and appears to have been introduced afterward. This framing is a worrying over-reach that could mislead readers. Extrapolating from small-scale and noisy studies like these is extremely problematic.”
The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. The UK Daily Mail has covered the study in more detail.
As a gamer, it’s slightly alarming to see a direct correlation between the time of games I personally enjoy and brain diseases but it seems like anything enjoyable in life has negative side effects. Bacon causes cancer, tomato sauce causes heart disease and Call of Duty causes Alzheimer’s disease.
I’m not a doctor but I’m not convinced by these findings and, even if I was, I’m still going to be jumping on Grand Theft Auto tonight.