Science Says Playing Video Games Can Make You Smarter

Close-up shot of a white Xbox game controller with red, green, blue and yellow buttons.

Flickr user Tom Small

Take a second and list all of the stereotypes you can think of relating to video games. You probably came up with some like gamers are lazy and anti-social or gamers are bad at school. We’ve all heard the negative stigma associated with digital gameplay—true or untrue—but what about the positives? How can video games be good for you? Let’s take a look at some research that not only indicates that gaming can make you smarter, but also bust a few stereotypes.

With the rise of video games in modern culture, researchers and psychologists have taken close looks at the impact gaming can have on people in a multitude of situations. Numerous experiments have been done in recent years, many of which draw conclusions that gaming can increase brain function, problem-solving skills, spatial reasoning, memory, attention span, strategic planning, and even social skills among others.

But “video game” is a broad term. With so many different types of games, researchers have focused their studies to see how different genres affect players. Let’s take a look at the benefits of various game types.

Puzzle and Platformers

Improves: Brain function, IQ

These brainteaser games give your mind a workout. Puzzle games like Brain Age or Angry Birds—which use problem-solving, memory, spatial reasoning, and attention to detail — can boost brain function and IQ, as well as slow down the brain’s aging process. But some games don’t make it quite so obvious that players are flexing those skills. The Legend of Zelda and Mario Bros. franchises are both well-known for challenging puzzles that you’re required to figure out in order to advance to the next area or unlock some special items. Additionally, the platforming aspects of some games can also improve motor skills and reaction time.

Role-Playing Games (RPGs)

Improves: Problem-solving, strategy, logic, reasoning

Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, and Final Fantasy are just a few famous franchises that are RPGs—games in which the player assumes the role of a character. Typically, RPGs focus on player-driven choices, dialogue options, and the consequences of player actions. In essence, RPGs are much more customizable than other games. That leads to unique experiences and no two games being quite the same. Though many cognitive elements are utilized while playing these games, the most prevalent ones are problem-solving, strategy, and reasoning. Socially, players can exercise their empathy and ethics. These games present morally difficult choices with lingering consequences to players. These are skills you can take back to the “real world.”

Real Time Strategy (RTS):

Improves: Planning, Multitasking, Prioritization

Close-up shot of a gray Sony Playstation game controller.

Flickr user Jeff Nelson

Sometimes you have to think on your feet. That’s a useful lifelong skill that can be developed and exercised in RTS games. As the name suggests, these games use strategic planning in order to accomplish a task, defeat an enemy, or work with other players (known as a co-op) to win. Games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, or World of Warcraft all challenge a player to think ahead, think smart, and think together (if it’s co-op). And since it’s in real-time, things can go wrong. While players increase their multitasking ability and prioritizing skills, they also learn to adapt to changing situations.

Others Game Types

There are countless other genres in the gaming sphere, each of which has its own benefits. For example, researchers are looking into how playing horror and action games can help players control emotions like anger and fear in their everyday lives.

Although there is some research suggesting there are negative effects to playing violent video games, even games like Call of Duty or Halo have been linked to improved vision (to the point of preventing or curing cataracts!) and building on multitasking, attention, and accuracy.

Co-op games can improve teamwork, communication skills, and planning/strategic abilities.

Video Games in the Classroom

How can players harness their gaming skills and apply them to schoolwork? Well, if your memory is sharper thanks to picking out patterns while treasure-hunting in Uncharted, put it to work memorizing word definitions. If your attention to detail has been boosted by solving crimes in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, you can work to see how small pieces can have large effects on the whole in chemistry or biology. Odds are, most of the gaming effects will be subconscious. But in the long run, they can show in your grades.

Quest to Learn Middle School

In fact, with all the research done linking video games to being positive for academics, some people are going as far as rearranging the traditional school set-up in favor of a game-based approach. At New York’s Quest to Learn middle school, often just called Quest, specialized games are brought into the classroom in order to teach students varying lessons while keeping them engaged. In addition to the digital learning style, Quest switched up the grading scale. They swapped out the typical As, Bs, and Cs, with titles like expert, apprentice, and novice. With tests known as Boss Battles, kids are more focused and eager to learn. Students at the game-style school have actually outperformed their traditional-school peers in English and Math scores.

Minecraft as Part of the Classroom

Close-up shot of a Blue Nintendo N64 Controller.

Flickr user Michael Huang

Even at more standard schools across the country, teachers are implementing gaming in their lesson plans. Minecraft is a particular favorite among educators, who say that the game teaches young students reading skills, the importance of cooperation, how to problem solve, and stretches their critical thinking.

Video Games Can Help Psychologically

Additionally, video games can be a great help to those who have a more difficult time in school. Therapists can use games to help students with ADHD, depression, or anxiety manage their symptoms and perform better in the classroom.

With all the benefits we’ve seen, we still ought to mention the negatives that can come with gaming. As with any activity, don’t spend too much time on it rather than studying. Then, it can be detrimental to both your school and social life. Strike the right balance between play and work. Then, video games can have positive effects on academics and everyday life.

So go out and save galaxies, slay dragons, and capture digital flags—you’re learning a lot more than you think.

Bonus tip: Want to boost your focus while studying? Listen to video game soundtracks; they’re designed to keep you engaged. (I’ve listened to the Skyrim soundtrack while writing and researching this piece—I highly recommend it!)

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23 thoughts on “Science Says Playing Video Games Can Make You Smarter”

  1. Peter Cabral says:

    My name is Peter Cabral, I’m a high school student at a Big Picture Learning school in Canada. As a gamer myself I find that this article is quite accurate. I’m doing fairly well in school myself and have even done whole presentations myself based on why video games are good for you. It’s really nice to see a website taking a more realistic non hostile look into video games and their benefits. I’ve credited most of my success in school to video games, I’m a huge tech guy and I hope to make them myself one day. I just wanted to say my thanks for writing this article, and I hope it gains mass amount of fame for accuracy.

    1. Logan Wright says:


  2. Tim says:

    I really like all the different angles you guys cover when you’re talking about how video games help our brains… Whereas most articles just state “video games are good”. Nice to see a more detailed article out there!

  3. simon says:

    people do mistreat games and don’t even give the games there side of the story

  4. kii says:

    I love this article it covers a lot of ground showing what video games can really do for you.

  5. Jazz Singh says:

    Very good article

  6. Dee Aaron says:

    You bring up many valid reasons why gaming has a place in developing certain skills and intelligence, but like anything else, it has its place. Depending on the game. I agree though that Mind Craft is awesome. Especially when you are watching your 6-year-old in action. Talk about unrestricted creativity!

    1. Kali Slaymaker says:

      Dee, we agree! When used correctly, it can be very beneficial!

  7. Aaron Dee says:

    There’s no question video games are great for learning. My only issue is the level of distraction it can cause when you have to choose between playing a game and studying. lol

    1. Allison Wignall says:

      Agreed, Aaron! Students need to make sure they strike a healthy balance between study and play.

      1. Noah Z. says:

        Since you are the author I was wondering when did you wright this article was in 2012 or 2015?

        1. Allison Wignall says:

          Hi, Noah! This was written and published in 2015.

          1. Francisco says:

            What day was it publish. I need it so i could cite the page.

          2. Allison Wignall says:

            Hi Francisco! This article was published on August 25th, 2015

  8. Shamino Ranger says:

    I’m 100% certain that my own gaming history helped me academically.

    As a kid, (pre-internet), I spent hours drawing maps of game worlds, trying to optimise inventory loads, searching every corner of the world for secrets, looking for clever exploits, testing different build strategies, writing out dialogue trees, and so on.

    All translated into real skills that I use regularly today as an engineer. I no longer have time to play games, but I don’t regret a second “lost” to gaming in the past.

    Now I probably already had a predisposition for becoming an engineer and that drove the way in which I engaged with games, but the point is that games provided me with an opportunity to apply and develop a nascent set of useful skills in an environment with otherwise limited opportunities to do so.

  9. This IS Great!!
    I like it

  10. It is good to hear that video games can be good for me. I love playing them and my kids do too. The games also keep them somewhat behaved on road trips as well. Anyway, I think you are right that the skills we can learn in games are good for us in real life. We just have to make sure we get a chance to practice them in real life.

    1. Juan says:

      yep i agree!

  11. Joe says:

    The fact that a School runs like a video-game was the greatest thing I ever heard.
    Thank you for Making this Article I really appreciate it.

  12. Thanks a lot for posting this. Wish my mother also understood the benefits of playing video games. She is of the opinion that video games do more harm than good to a child. I will show this article to my mom tonight and let’s see what she says.

    1. Isaac Winter says:

      Did this article help change the way she thinks about video games?

  13. Alaina says:

    have a good day!!!!!

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