For most of our lives, we’ve been told that video games are bad for us. They keep us inside and in a sedentary position staring at a screen for hours at a time. Some parents even go so far as to tell their kids that playing too many video games will make them brain dead. But the more science analyzes video games, the more we begin to see that most of that is entirely untrue.
In fact, several scientific studies are now starting to show that playing video games can be helpful on several fronts. Video games can help to improve hand-eye coordination and reaction time, in addition to improving a person’s memory and problem-solving abilities. In short, playing video games can actually make you smarter.
It sounds crazy when you first hear it, but it makes sense scientifically. Video games present challenges, reward accomplishments, and force high levels of concentration. Instead of making you brain-dead, they actually exercise the mind, much like reading a book, playing a musical instrument, or solving a puzzle.
Of course, not all video games are created equal. There are strategy games, sports games, role-playing games, puzzle games, first-person shooter games, and more. Each genre of video games can help to develop different skills and enhance intelligence in unique ways as a result of providing distinct cognitive challenges in order to master the game.
The bottom line is that contrary to what you may have been told in the past, video games are not entirely bad for you, and they will most certainly not rot your brain. In fact, your brain can benefit greatly from playing video games. Here are nine PC games that may make you more intelligent.
Minecraft is a wildly popular game for both young children and adults, as well as everyone in between. It’s lacking in high-end graphics compared to other video game and is akin to playing with Legos on a computer. But that doesn’t prevent Minecraft from being as enjoyable as it is educational.
Essentially, players are tasked with building armor, weaponry, and anything else they may need to protect themselves from an impending alien attack. As a player, you have complete control over everything that happens and the freedom to build and explore your own civilization. Ultimately, the goal is to survive, but putting the game in creative mode allows your imagination to run wild without having to worry about anything else.
Regarding improving intelligence, the limitless creativity in Minecraft is second to none. Players, particularly young kids, have the freedom to create anything they want, which can be quite empowering. They are free to think creatively, while also thinking strategically to solve a problem. Minecraft is not just a one-player game, so it can also teach teamwork and collaboration.
On a slightly deeper level, Minecraft can also teach players a great deal about city planning and what it takes to build a civilization. It’s also not hard to see how Minecraft can help enhance the spatial reasoning skills of a young player. Ultimately, a game like this not only sparks great imagination, but it can also prepare young players for understanding social studies and geography as they get older.
Studies that have explored the possibility of video games boosting intelligence have looked specifically at Starcraft, making it one of the most important games in debunking many of the long-held beliefs about video games. On the surface, it’s a game about a bunch of different alien species fighting for power and control. But it’s so much more than that.
Success in the game depends on a player’s ability to manage resources, stay organized, and make smart tactical decisions with regard when and how to attack an enemy and when to give up and retreat. Some have gone so far as to compare Starcraft to Chess in terms of the amount of strategy involved and how taxing it can be on the mind.
Of course, a brain that’s under stress and being taxed is a brain that’s working hard and developing new skills. University studies tested students who don’t typically play video games but who began to play to play Starcraft and found that their cognitive flexibility was better than similar students who had begun playing The Sims, which is believed to be a more cerebral game.
Strategy-based games like Starcraft force players to analyze information and make snap decisions. This can then translate to other areas of life with regard to the decision-making process and the ability to learn from previous mistakes. The studies performed on strategy games like Starcraft have helped to back this up.
On top of that, Starcraft can also teach players a great deal about morality and heroism. The game features complex characters like Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan, some of who may toe the line between good and evil at times. The story is well thought out and not always black and white, and so in addition to improving cognitive function, it gives players an elaborate storyline to follow.
3. Kerbal Space Program
Kerbal Space Program is a video game that’s specifically designed to be a teaching tool. Like many other games in the simulation genre, it’s meant to mimic real world situations, forcing players to think and act as if they are experiencing them in real life. Many of them force players to manage resources, analyze information, and make impactful decisions.
In the case of KSP, players are tasked with assembling a spaceship capable of successfully launching into space. The game applies actual concepts of physics, and so a player’s understanding of these concepts has a profound influence on their success. There is also a Sandbox mode that allows players to learn and experiment on their own.
The game is designed primarily for high school students, and when playing it for the first time, most will be challenged to fulfill the missions. This forces them to view tutorials and consult others for help. They are then forced to apply what they learned to succeed within the scope of the game.
KSP is a great way to keep math, physics, and engineering students engaged in the subject matter. But it also has benefits that go beyond the science of it all. The game is challenging and can teach students about the importance of trial and error. It also teaches them to be more detail-oriented, as small differences in their rocket can make a difference between success and failure.
4. Portal Series
Describing Portal to someone who has never played the game before may prove difficult. But we can say without hesitation that it’s a wonderfully intricate game that is fun to play and it definitely challenges the brain in a constructive way. Suffice it to say the player is trapped in a terrible laboratory and needs to escape using only their mind and their “portal” gun.
Both games in the Portal series have become quite popular and proven to be effective at killing off boredom. However, because the premise of the game is essentially a puzzle, it forces the player to think logically and creatively. There are multiple ways out of the lab and several ways to use the portal gun, but players still have to carefully plan their escape.
The nature of the game forces players to think several steps into the future in order to solve the problem. Players think that they’re being entertained by the game, but in reality, they are actually improving their cognitive skills. There’s even research that shows Portal is potentially more effective at improving cognitive skills that activities specifically designed to improve brain development.
A university study had half its subjects spent eight hours playing Portal 2 while the other half spent eight hours playing Lumosity, which is a brain-training game. After those eight hours, the Portal 2 players showed far more improvement in cognitive skills testing. It was a short study but did show that Portal had a profound impact in helping the brain to learn and grow.
5. Trine Series
The Trine series of games is not only one of the more fun and underrated video games out there, but it’s also wonderfully educational. The game itself takes you to a magical land that’s straight out of a fairytale or a child’s wild imagination. But traversing the game’s challenges takes critical thinking in order to solve the puzzle that is your journey.
The premise of Trine involves three characters, a thief, a knight, and a wizard. The three are on a journey together and all possess different tricks and skills that will be important along the way. The key to the game is knowing how and in what situations to utilize the tools of each character. Many challenges will present themselves, and players are tasked with figuring out what character’s abilities will help them overcome it.
Not all of the puzzles are particularly difficult, but they are tough enough to make players think critically without realizing they are actually doing a brain exercise. As a result, the game promotes critical and at times, outside-the-box, thinking, inadvertently helping players develop these skills.
One final aspect of the game that often gets overlooked is the ability as part of a team of three, with each person controlling a specific character for the duration of the journey. Like other video games that encourage multiple players at once, this encourages collaboration and teamwork, two important skills to learn with regard to solving puzzles.
6. Civilization Series
Civilization is one of the most epic and recognizable video game series ever. The first game in the series came out in 1991, and ever since it challenged players with the task of building an empire out of nothing. Players believe they are playing God and on a quest for world domination, but they are actually exercising their brain through logic, reasoning, and planning.
The first educational benefit of Civilization is rather obvious. The game follows the history of mankind, from the very beginning all the way to the space age. They build settlements and turn them into empires; they research technologies and use them to advance societies; they also deal with diplomacy and warfare with other civilizations.
If nothing else, players will learn more about the history of mankind and perhaps gain an appreciation for how difficult a journey it was to reach this point in time. But the game is so complex and so encompassing that it’s impossible for players not to exercise their brains and develop important skills along the way.
Civilization is essentially one giant puzzle with a number of ways to reach the finish line. Traversing the game’s many intricacies sound reasoning and decision-making based on past experiences. It can enhance memory, critical thinking, and reasoning. In a way, Civilization is the ultimate video game for developing critical thinking skills, as it’s essentially re-living all the major moments in human history.
7. Total War Series
The Total War series of video games is similar to other brands of strategic and war-based games. However, each new game in the series focuses on a different time period or aspect of history, making it come alive for players, at least in the form of a video game.
The settings of the various games in the Total War series include ancient Rome, feudal Japan, and medieval Europe, while others include such important historical figures as Attila the Hun and Napoleon. If nothing else, the games offer an introduction to some of the more noteworthy moments in world history, helping to jumpstart a player’s interest in history.
Beyond that, the Total War series forces players to engage in strategic maneuvers in order to wage war on enemies and come away victorious within the parameters of the game. Players are forced to think critically and make important decisions based on information they know about their own army as well as the armies of their opponents.
On the surface, the Total War series appears to be just another violent video game about warfare. But Total War actually does a great job of emphasizing the cerebral side of war. It shows how those in charge are forced to think through decisions, teaching players to do the same in the process.
The Total War series helps to reinforce that video games that center on war are essentially puzzles that are simply more entertaining to players. Between that and the subtle history lessons that come with each version of the game, Total War is actually one of the best video games out there in terms of educating and enhancing intelligence.
8. Call of Duty Series
Call of Duty and similar first-person shooter games can do wonders for a player’s motor skills, and there are multiple studies to back it up. The game itself entices players with futuristic scenes of war and combat, including the use of weapons that are pure fantasy at the moment. However, there are a number of cognitive benefits to playing Call of Duty for hours on end, which many gamers do.
A study by the University of Toronto found that Call of Duty players excelled at learning new sensorimotor skills better than non-gamers. Sensorimotor skills combine vision with motor movement, such as riding a bike. The study found that Call of Duty players are better capable of learning the intricacies of a new sensorimotor skill.
Playing Call of Duty forces quick reactions amidst a lot of moving parts, enabling the brain to make faster connections between what it sees on the screen and the proper reaction. In turn, gamers are much faster to learn new skills that involve reacting properly to what they see, as shown by the study.
The game also forces players to constantly take into account a variety of factors, such as where they are in the game, how fast they’re moving, what type of ammunition they’re currently using, and where they’re pointing their weapon. Players have to take all of these factors into account and react on the controller, forcing the brain to make quick interpretations and think at a faster rate.
9. XCOM Series
The XCOM series makes players the last hope for defending Earth from a band of attacking extra-terrestrials, and along the way, they learn how to think rationally and strategically. Much of the game is logistics in terms of commanding a base and the research and development of technologies that help protect Earth from the invasion.
However, the game is bound to improve decision-making, especially in the wake of a worst-case scenario. XCOM gives players an intelligent enemy, forcing them to prove they are smarter. Players have to make tactical decisions that take into account the strength of their army, the weakness of the aliens, and various environmental factors that could swing the pendulum in their favor.
Odds are players will never have to transfer these skills to an actual alien invasion. However, like similar types of video games, the strategy involved in XCOM forces players to think differently and change their tactics if one idea doesn’t work. By doing so, the reasoning and cognitive skills of players can become much improved.