How can games make us smarter?

Dan Hurley’s “Can You Make Yourself Smarter” in the NY Times delves into the use of games for increased cognitive benefits,

Psychologists have long regarded intelligence as coming in two flavors: crystallized intelligence, the treasure trove of stored-up information and how-to knowledge (the sort of thing tested on “Jeopardy!” or put to use when you ride a bicycle); and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence grows as you age; fluid intelligence has long been known to peak in early adulthood, around college age, and then to decline gradually. And unlike physical conditioning, which can transform 98-pound weaklings into hunks, fluid intelligence has always been considered impervious to training.

The article focuses on fluid intelligence and various games produced by psychologists and neuroscientists. The main point might seem obvious to gamers: practice makes perfect. Aspects like pattern recognition, perceptual speed, visual tracking and multi-tasking can increase depending on the game at hand and how long you work at it.

However, the article also opens up discussion on the evolution of educational games. Mario Teaches Typing or Sesame Street 1 2 3 are now relics that contrast games like  Brain Age or the focal point in Hurley’s article, a game in which fourth graders memorize the movement patterns of black cats in haunted houses.

The problem is that not everyone is eager to learn. Hurley notes,

In Chicago Heights, the magic was definitely not happening for one boy staring blankly at the black cats in the Mac Lab. Sipping from a juice box he held in one hand, jabbing at a computer key over and over with the other, he periodically sneaked a peak at his instructor, a look of abject boredom on his freckled face.

The article opens up a lot of interesting considerations for educational games in terms of incentive and variety. Just as much as video games are developing as an important form of art and culture, they too can be molded in unique ways for education – and it does not just have to be about improving I.Q. or math skills.

[via NY Times]