Violent video games might be harmful to brains, study says

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Hard core gamers have brain changes.

In recent years, there's been mounting evidence that certain types of video games - particularly first-person shooters known as "action" video games - are actually good for the developing brain, boosting abilities in visual attention, short-term memory, and decision-making.

In the second and third part of the study, 42 and 21 participants, respectively, had to play 90 hours of either an action video game (Call of Duty or Battlefield), a video game platform (Super Mario 64), or an action-role playing game (Dead Island). These participants were then asked to play 3D puzzle solving games that require more challenging thought and spatial awareness which resulted in an increase in grey matter, strengthening the hippocampus. Researchers claim that playing first person shooters will activate the "autopilot" portion of the brain, allowing the hippocampus to diminish in size which - over time - can lead to memory loss, depression, and schizophrenia.

The test was carried out across 100 people using Call of Duty, Killzone and Borderlands 2 as the "action video games" and a few 3D platformers from the Super Mario series as a non-action standard. It was found that habitual action video game players had significantly less grey matter in their hippocampus and used response strategies at a higher rate.

A new study in Canada from the University of Montreal believes it may have found a link between first person shooters and brain damage.

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As is, "players can easily choose to navigate with a response-route-following strategy without relying on the relationships between landmarks, fundamental to the spatial strategy", the researchers wrote.

To establish which participants were spatial versus response, West and his team asked them each to virtually run through maze on their computer. Response learners ignored the landmarks and concentrated instead on remembering a series of right and left turns in a sequence from their starting position. More grey matter in the hippocampus means a healthier brain, all round.

"But what we now understand is the overuse of that caudate nucleus system will result in inhibition of the hippocampal memory system, which will lead to underuse, and underuse will lead to cell death or atrophy".

He suggests that in-game Global Positioning System and way finding routes overlaid on the display of many games prod players in the right direction, without them having to employ spatial strategies such as remembering the relationship between different landmarks. Each participant played for a total of 90 hours. According to West, action games designed without Global Positioning System or way finding routes might better encourage spatial learning because these would encourage hippocampus-dependent navigation.

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