I’ve written at lengths about scientific research about the benefits of playing video games for mental health and developing social skills (here, here, and here). Welp, now there’s more proof that gaming is good for the brain, especially for the elderly.
A Canadian study published by from Université de Montréal shows that playing Super Mario 64, and other 3D platform games like it, can actually help prevent and improve Alzheimer’s disease in older folks at risk.
This latest study was inspired by a pair of other studies in 2014. In each, researchers had 20-somethings play Mario 64 over a period of several weeks. To their surprise, the young adults’ hippocampus showed an increase in gray matter.
Your hippocampus is a C-shaped structure located smack-dab in the center of your brain and is responsible for short and long-term memory. Gray matter is the tissue that makes up the hippocampus. Without getting to bio-nerdy on you, gray matter is good and means you’re probably means your memory is strong. When gray matter deteriorates it causes impairment to your memory – lose too much and neurological disorders could be the result – including Alzheimer’s.
The scientists found that playing 3D platformer games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, increased the subjects’ gray matter, which controls a lot of our sensory perception – seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
And here’s something really wacky – another control group played the piano instead of Mario and they didn’t see any improvement!
Playing Mario is better for your brain than the piano! But why?
Their answer – because 3D games require the player to create a mental map of the levels. That mental mapping (and remembering the map) stimulates the brain to create new neural cells.
But the research paper also points out that it probably isn’t just a benefit from video games, it’s learning new to adapt to new environments in general. When it comes to the brain, the old saying “use it or lose it” turns out to be true. Lucky for us, games count as using your brain.
SO if you’re still young, remember to keep on gaming – it’s looking more and more like the fountain of youth.