Canadian researchers have found playing 3D-platform games involving logic and puzzles can build the hippocampus, the part of the brain which controls memory (not surprising gun-based games have the reverse effect).
Typically, the decline of brain matter in this area is linked with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Two previous studies had shown the games increased grey matter in participants in their twenties so the researchers wanted to see whether they would work for older people.
They divided participants aged between 55 and 75 into three separate groups who were instructed to play the Nintendo game Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five times a week; take piano lessons (for the first time in their life) for the same amount of time; or do nothing over a six month period.
Before-and-after MRI scans and cognitive performance tests showed the gamers had increased grey matter in the hippocampus and the cerebellum, which affects motor control and balance, while their short-term memory also improved.
The piano players also benefitted, but didn’t have any gains in the hippocampus, while the passive control group actually showed signs of atrophy.
Exploring new worlds
Why would the games have this effect?
The researchers say 3D platform games are good because they ask people to explore and memorise a new environment, which activates the hippocampus.
Compare this to first-person shooter games – where players take part in gun and weapons-based combat – which have actually been proven to lower grey matter.
So challenge the grandkids to a round of Super Mario.
But even if you don’t want to pick up the controller, the scientists say that simply learning something new can make a big difference to your brain health as you age. Welcome news.