The late film critic Roger Ebert famously declared that video games could never be art, much to the outrage of die-hard gamers everywhere. While the artistic value of classics like "Portal" or "Doom" continues to be at matter of debate, another group of skeptics about the value of video games -- namely medical researchers -- are starting to come around to the idea that becoming engrossed in the virtual world of a video game may have value beyond pure fun.
Recent research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science has found evidence that playing certain video games can be like exercise for the brain. Studies from the past decade have found that individuals who frequently play action games like first-person shooters outperform non-gamers on a variety of perceptual and cognitive measures — visual acuity, decision making, object tracking, and task switching to name a few. Even players of casual video games, such as "Bejeweled Blitz" or "Candy Crush Saga," report memory improvements and quicker response time as a result.
Now, researchers have discovered that playing 3-D video games — those that immerse the player in a three-dimensional world with a more true-to-life, first-person perspective — may boost memory and stimulate the brain.
A new study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, trained college students with either a simple 2-D game ("Angry Birds") or an intricate 3-D game ("Super Mario 3-D World"). The subjects had little to no experience with video games before the experiment, and were instructed to play for a half-hour per day for two weeks. After the training period, the groups took memory tests designed to activate the brain's hippocampus, which is highly involved in the formation of new memories and becomes stimulated when navigating an unfamiliar environment.