Are Video Games Good for Your Health?

The New York Times runs a magazine piece on “Brain training games,” reporting that they “have become big business, with Americans spending an estimated $1.3 billion a year on them. They are also a source of controversy. Industry observers warn that snake-oil salesmen abound, and nearly all neuroscientists agree there’s very little evidence yet that these games counter the mental deficits that come with getting older.”

The piece reports on Adam Gazzaley, Professor of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry and Director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF, who is “something of an outlier. His work commands respect from even the harshest critics. He spent five years designing and testing the sort of game play I had just experienced, and he found that it does indeed appear to prompt older brains to perform like ones decades younger. (“Game changer,” the cover of Nature magazine declared when it published his findings last year.) Now Project: Evo is on its own twisty path — the Boston company that is developing it, Akili, which Gazzaley advises, is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the game. If it gets that government stamp, it might become a sort of cognitive Lipitor or Viagra, a game that your doctor can prescribe for your aging mind.”

But the question of whether video games can help the brain is controversial. The piece adds: “This month, an international group of 30 scientists — including Lindenberger — became so fed up that they issued ‘The Consensus on the Brain Training Industry From the Scientific Community,‘ a withering statement denouncing the hype by both companies and media. ‘Claims promoting brain games,’ they wrote, ‘are frequently exaggerated and at times outright misleading.’”

 

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