Remember back in the days when our parents told us that video games make you stupid? Well, today we have new scientific data to rebut this claim. And it could pave a way to end the suffering of the older generation from a disease we still don’t know much about.
According to a Canadian study, certain 3D computer games may help seniors stay mentally fit. To be precise: the team of scientists had elderly people play ‘Super Mario 64’ and found an increase in the so-called gray matter in certain areas of the brain. A decrease in gray matter (Substantia grisea) has a share in diseases that affect older-aged people, such as Alzheimer’s.
Super Mario or piano
33 people were divided into three groups with the first asked to play ‘Super Mario 64’ over a period of six months, as stated in scientific journal PLOS ONE*. None of the participants have played ‘Super Mario 64’ or any 3D computer game before, but now they were issued the task of playing it, up to 5 days a week for half an hour each, to collect the golden stars. Some of the players enjoyed the game so much that they were finished way before their deadline, and even started playing ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ next.
A second group were tasked with practicing the piano regularly over half a year on PC. Like the ‘Super Mario 64’ players, these participants also had no previous experience, but they got to learn something new. The third test group received no tasks at all. The researchers around Greg West from the University of Montreal initially recorded the mass of gray matter in three areas of the brain and carried out a memory test.
Mario players won Gray matter
Gray matter is composed primarily of nerve cell bodies, white matter, however, mainly from pathways. More gray matter in certain brain areas is associated with higher intelligence. Only the participants who played Super Mario grew new gray matter in the hippocampus over the half year. This improved the short-term memory of the subjects.
The hippocampus is a brain region where new impressions are stored as memories. In addition, spatial information is assembled in such a way that a kind of inner map results. The researchers assume that the Mario players created such inner maps. Degradation in the hippocampus is considered to be involved in dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In the comparison group, which did not learn anything new, the amount of gray matter decreased in all tested brain areas. “The good news is that if we learn something new, we can reverse those effects and increase the volume again, and games like ‘Super Mario 64’, which activate the hippocampus, seem to have potential,” said co-author Sylvie Belleville.
So there you have it! Playing 3D games can do wonders in the fight against Alzheimer’s. And if you happen to have a member of your family living with this terrible and frightening disease, you might want to share this great news.
*Source: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187779 – “Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adult”
Founder of Nintendoretrolove.com and Nintendo geek since 1991