Video Games Make You Smarter

Do Video Games Make You Smarter?

Any parent would argue that reading books is a far more useful hobby than playing video games. After all, reading comprehension goes a long way throughout school, college, and even into pretty much any field of work. However, people often overlook the benefits of video games and the skills that they help is develop. Beyond video games, technology is often frowned upon and the media and Internet are portrayed in a bad light in terms of education and seen detrimental to human intelligence. I'd like to argue quite the opposite, and feel that video games and the internet help us beyond traditional forms of media, and are in fact making us smarter.

The Limitations of Reading

I'm not saying reading isn't useful, in fact I only wish I had read more in my childhood and developed my skills better in retaining textual information. However, reading has clear limits, there's only so much you can get out of it. Granted there are various types of books and encyclopedia's that can teach you things beyond your wildest dreams, but at the end of the day the only skill you're training is your ability to read and the learning is only taking place at a visual level. Johnson even mentions that there is only one part of the brain that gets activated by reading, and it is otherwise a passive activity.

Reading is passive and books tell you what's going to happen, whereas in games like the Sims you construct your own narrative. Because of this active participation, games actually teach you how to react in real life situations and most importantly involve your brain and make you think outside the box, whereas in reading everything is told to you and you have to accept things the way they are.

Can Video Games Make You Smarter?

The Benefits of Video Games

Video games, on the other hand, stimulate various parts of the brain. There are games like Tetris, whose "elemental shapes activate modules in our visual system that execute low-level forms of pattern recognition-sensing, parallel and perpendicular lines for instance." Then there are other games that involve exploring, problem-solving, and quick reflexes that "[promote] manual dexterity or visual memory." Not only can games train certain skills, but they also hold educational value and can teach people things in an interactive way, such as when Johnson takes about his nephew who within"...an hour of playing SimCity [learned] that high tax rates in industrial areas can stifle development."

Since videogames are interactive, the learning is better retained as well, since it stimulates not just visual senses but also hearing and touch. Often times, especially in problem-solving situations, our brains participate actively in gaming scenarios and even "when you put the game down and move back into the real world, you may find yourself mentally working through the problem you've been wrestling with."

Has Internet and Technology Made Us Smarter?

Granted gaming shows evidence for all of these benefits, but many still have concerned about the negatives associated with playing video games. It's widely believed that those who play video games tend to lack basic social skills or have trouble focusing on tasks without getting distracted. Like anything, moderation is obviously a key and a person who spends all day play video games will have obvious setbacks in other aspects of their life. The same can be said about someone who consistently spends their days reading books as well. Interestingly enough though, Johnson mentions a study that shows that "the gaming population turned out to be consistently more social, more confident, and more comfortable solving problems creatively. They also showed no evidence of reduced attention spans compared with non-gamers."

The reduced attention span claim inevitably goes back to a wider culprit, essentially the media, television, internet, or pop culture in general. With all of this technology available and things going on around us, we are more connected to the world than ever, however, at the same time it is argued that we are more disconnected than ever. On our computers, while doing homework we listen to music, browse the web, go on Facebook, etc... Basically, we hop from one place to another, and then onto the next. Because of our ability to do this, we have become accustomed to having short attention spans.

Someone in What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains is quoted as saying, "I now have almost completely lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print." It seems that before the internet became a household thing, people were a lot more focused on books and encyclopedias for not only research but even entertainment or communication purposes. Letters were well thought out and written to people with purpose, as opposed to simple text messages that have so much slang in them now that people pre-2000 would think it was a different language.

But really, is all this skimming and going from one thing to another that bad? If anything, skimming has trained us to narrow down key facts and find what we are looking for, and then move on to the next thing. For example, if we were looking through a textbook for certain information, we would have to read through the entire page, or even chapter, to fully understand the concept. Textbooks always have a lot of fluff in them, and one point can be dispersed across several pages. Not only that, but if you're doing research on multiple sources, it can take hours looking through different books until you find the right information, not to mention carrying all of those books is a hassle too.

With computers, people can literally log-in for a few minutes "to check their email, follow a story in the news, research a topic of interest, or do some shopping." It's easy to find exactly what you are looking for, so it isn't too farfetched to say that the quality of the research itself would be better because of the internet. The internet is making things more efficient, as one person in the book states that "at first [he] found it impossible to edit anything on-screen. [He'd] print out a document, mark it up with a pencil, and type revisions back into the digital version." However, the more people get used to doing things digitally, the faster the process becomes and it's easy to send things across the world as well.

Obviously, technology is making things better and does have the ability to make us smarter, but many people, including Carr, question that we aren't using it for the right reasons and it's actually making us dumber. As Carr mentions in the book, there are certain measures of intelligence that video games and the internet are not helping us with. For instance, someone who is already a genius and is naturally gifted isn't necessarily getting any smarter because of these things. Nevertheless, the general population is certainly gaining from it. Even Facebook, people link music and interesting articles from all over the world, things that we otherwise would never have seen. Not only is it making us more aware of global cultures but we are also learning about events and staying connected to the rest of the world, whereas local newspapers usually only cover major global events. Also, with Facebook and the internet we can choose to read things that are relevant to our interests, rather than traditionally reading the local newspaper and reading things that aren't relevant to us in the least.

With Wikipedia, you can literally look up information on anything, no matter how obscure a topic it may be, and if it's not on there, Google is sure to help. Now, people often question the validity of Wikipedia, but over the years it's been increasingly monitored and does take measures to ensure quality information, and deletes anything that isn't properly cited. Back in the day, if I was interested in a certain topic, I'd have to ask someone and be exposed to their bias and limited by their own knowledge about the topic. If I wanted to do any further research, I'd have to go to the library. With Wikipedia and Google, we are actually more inclined to look things up because it's so easy. As such, we tend to be generally well-rounded and know things beyond our field of study or area of work. It's safe to say that "there is absolutely no question that modern search engines and cross-referenced websites have powerfully enabled research and communication efficiencies."

So while we may be using the internet, video games, and technology for the "wrong" reasons, as in things that may be detrimental to our learning and intelligence, they are still helping is ways that we probably don't even realize. After all, who'd have thought that video games were better for us than books? I think that while traditional media is certainly helpful in its own right, people need to open up to newer possibilities and understand that learning doesn't have to be a boring, secluded experience, and can actually happen on many different levels.

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