Contrary to the traditional belief that gaming is merely an addictive source of entertainment and diversion, recent research has proven that gaming has numerous benefits, and key among them is the development of cognitive skills in both children and adults. Just as physical exercise helps improve and strengthen your muscles, cognitive games help activate your brain with constant stimulation, thus improving the brain's performance.
Here are 13 of the top cognitive benefits of playing video games.
When an adult or child plays a video game, they are not merely staring at the monitor inertly. The action on the screen provides a lot of mental stimulation, and they need to coordinate visual, audial, and physical activities to play. A study conducted in 2016 found that this improvement in visuomotor coordination and control can improve driving skills, such as lane-keeping and responsiveness.¹
Video games involve certain rules. This means that players need to think carefully before making any move to ensure that they stay within the required rules of that particular game. Players must make split-second decisions that determine whether or not they advance to the next level. Many games also include puzzle elements or quests that require algorithmic levels of execution to complete.
In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) published news on a study detailing the benefits of playing video games. The press release notes that researchers found improvement in areas such as spatial reasoning and problem-solving. The more adolescents reported playing strategy games, in particular, the better their grades were the following year.² ³
Playing your favorite video game may require both visual and audial memory. The player must read or listen to instructions that might only be provided at the start. Hence, the need to remember them throughout the entire game. Mastery of the keys on your keyboard is also necessary to move your characters in the game. These factors can help to improve your memory.² ³
Video games — especially action games — have proven capable of capturing the player's attention for the entire period of the game. This heightened focus is due to the player's need to achieve particular game objectives to reach the next level. Researchers suggest that an improved ability to allocate attention can help people to filter out unnecessary information and adapt to unpredictable situations.³
Gaming is beneficial not only to adults and teenagers but to children as well. Many modern educational institutions incorporate video games as a teaching methodology. This helps these children improve their academic skills by providing video games aimed at enhancing students’ cognitive and creative skills.
While gaming, the brain receives multiple stimulations, both visual and audial. According to research, video game players frequently process these stimuli faster than others. These stimuli ensure that the brain is continuously working to interpret them.
An action game, for example, may require you to be very observant. You need to be able to move your joystick or keys while looking at the various features on your screen, such as energy levels, oncoming adversaries, remaining ammunition, available time, and other factors, all of which are vital to winning. Multitasking ensures that the player can observe and react accordingly to all requirements of that particular game.
A 2013 study in Applied Ergonomics found that action video games improved people’s ability to multitask in environments with a high workload without sacrificing the quality of their performance.⁴
Online gaming enables many players to engage in a particular game simultaneously. As such, there is constant communication among players, resulting in the development of meaningful relationships. Socializing in games can help players meet new friends while strengthening bonds with old ones.
Certain games can take kids back to different periods in time and immerse them in history. The Assassin's Creed franchise is a perfect example. This open-world action-adventure line by Ubisoft has transported millions of young minds to the time of ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the American Revolution, to name a few settings. Some studies have shown significant benefits when utilizing video games as a medium when teaching students.⁵
Many Computer Science majors at top schools report that they first developed a passion for coding and Computer Science after becoming obsessed with how computer games actually worked. In fact, many coding classes and programming languages for beginners, such as Scratch, introduce coding concepts in the form of simple coding games.
Games appear to promote positive self-esteem, whether through the cooperative mechanics of large-scale multiplayer gaming or through satisfying single-player action. Several studies point toward self-reported and observed increases in self-worth and wellness directly correlated to gameplay.
In cooperation with game makers Nintendo and Electronic Arts, a recent study out of Oxford used players’ motivation levels as markers for well-being. They also applied the Scale of Positive and Negative Experience (SPANE) as an additional subjective measure. In nearly every case for over 500 participants, there was a noticeable increase in well-being, extrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation.
The Oxford study used two games — Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Plants Vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville — that are rated E for everyone. That means their content is suitable for children, and they each have somewhat cartoonish art designs. This child-friendly aspect may create an environment where positive outcomes are more likely, but another study published in the journal European Psychologist took a different approach.
This study deliberately frustrated participants with increasingly difficult, deceptively simple equations until their stress levels were elevated. It then had them play one of three games:
A fourth group played no games to act as a control.
The study showed that exposure to violent video games significantly predicted reduced stress and depression following a frustrating task.
Of course, even though computer games can be beneficial, playing them in moderation is also necessary. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. In this case, playing video games excessively can negate whatever positive social effects moderate game-playing might ordinarily bring.
Parents should watch for signs that their children are developing asocial behavior (not to be confused with antisocial behavior) and retreating too much into their gaming world. Negative behavior changes could be a sign of video game addiction. If you think your child might benefit from therapy, it's easier than ever to explore your options with providers like BetterHelp, which operates a recommendable website dedicated exclusively to teen counseling.
It is also important to pick a suitable game as not all of them provide the same cognitive benefits or are similarly age-appropriate. For instance, younger children should not be exposed to violent games.
 Li, L., Chen, R., & Chen, J. (2016). Playing Action Video Games Improves Visuomotor Control. Psychological Science, 27(8), 1092–1108. Retrieved February 27, 2023 from, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797616650300.
 American Psychological Association. (2013). Video Games Play May Provide Learning, Health, Social Benefits, Review Finds. APA. Retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/11/video-games.
 Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. (2014). The Benefits of Playing Video Games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78. Retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-a0034857.pdf.
 Chiappe, D., Conger, M., Liao, J., Caldwell, J. L., & Vu, K. P. (2013). Improving multi-tasking ability through action videogames. Applied ergonomics, 44(2), 278-284. Retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22981314/.
 Clark, D. B., Tanner-Smith, E. E., & Killingsworth, S. S. (2016). Digital Games, Design, and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 79-122. Retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0034654315582065.