If you're Playing Games, you're Already Training your Brain
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Our goal at Total Eclipse is to offer our players unique, memorable experiences through games that are fun and engaging. If at the same time, we can contribute in other ways as well, we feel we made the difference we want in the world. It took us a year to release A Clockwork Brain, one of our most important projects so far, which is a collection of puzzles that brings together the benefits of both gaming and brain training in an effort to complement the brain’s natural ability of neuroplasticity.
Brain Training and Neuroplasticity
Brain training is heavily built around the premises of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s capacity to make changes in neural pathways and synapses by pruning and re-routing how they are connected. Although this sounds quite straightforward, it actually works in such complex ways that it took scientists many years to finally agree that the brain, just like other parts in our body, never stops evolving. Neuroplasticity has been found to set off with changes in our behavior, the environment, through neural processes, or following bodily injury.
Brain Training applications
Brain training applications are able to trigger neuroplasticity in the brain by stimulating neural processes, sometimes simply by causing habitual changes in the behavior of their users. They are able to do this by taking the trainee through collections of mental exercises that stress his/her memory, attention, and mental agility. These mental exercises usually have to do with comparing, calculating, recalling data, challenging perception of space and form, or other various mental abilities.
However, for neuroplasticity to have a noticeable outcome, it needs to be in effect over long periods of time. What else is really interesting, is that the brain needs to be deliberately engaged with the activity to maximize the “workout’s” benefits. This means that not only does the activity need to satisfy certain criteria (like actually stimulating the brain), but it also has to attract the trainee’s interest and intention to be better at it.
How does gaming fit into all this?
Games are made to be entertaining. They are platforms where the most mundane of tasks can be contextualized in ways that can resonate with the players. No one likes to weed gardens in real life. Give them a farm full of weeds they need to cultivate, a few coins or hidden rewards under the weeds, and you got yourself a devoted farmer and a success story on the making.
In addition to that, a game’s ease to produce varying (and in some cases adaptive) complexity, is actually the best way to balance the difficulty of the mental tasks involved. Used properly, this is a great way to make sure that the brain is constantly challenged and thus finds reasons to adapt.
Finally, games are also amazingly engaging. Storylines and elaborate mechanics can make up limitless combinations that can lead interested gamers to thousands of hours of replayability. That in effect means longer periods of “training,” which in turn gives neuroplasticity the necessary time to produce results in the parts of the brain involved.
Case in point, simply controlling a coin-collecting plumber has been proven to increase gray matter in the brain. Most games today are far more complex and require a multitude of skills to master. They can and will offer far more chances and ways for your brain to iterate and adapt.
So, don’t close the door to activities and games that don’t necessarily come packed with a science team. As Dr. Doraiswamy, director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, once said “[e]ach person has to personalize for themselves what they find fun and challenging and what they can stick with.” In other words, if you find yourself glued on a game that you find super entertaining and filled with brain teasers that challenge you, you’re in luck!
Disclaimer: The original version of this post was originally published in Total Eclipse's blog. Yannis works as the Community and Marketing Communications Manager for Total Eclipse.