Video games and brain development: is it possible?

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We will address a topic that is increasingly beginning to be studied in the scientific literature of several fields of study: the link between video games and brain development. So, can video games really help in the development of personal and interpersonal skills and competencies?

Let’s discover games and development

In order to answer this question, we will first understand what “video games” are and how brain development works.

This is of course an overview of these terms, because we would need an article of more than 100 pages to properly define these concepts in detail. I invite you to read scientific articles, dissertations and theses on these topics to learn more.


What is a video game?

A video game can be defined as a computer system in which players engage in an artificial and playful context, consisting of moving images forming a narrative frame, through interfaces and defined by rules that lead to a quantifiable result (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004; Juul 2011). The classic model of the game according to Juul (2011) is composed of six necessary and sufficient characteristics for a system to be considered a video game.

1. A game is a formal rules-based system,

2. having quantifiable variables and results,

3. where different values are assigned to different results,

4. where the player exerts an effort to influence the results,

5. where the player is emotionally impacted by these results and,

6. where the consequences of this activity are optional and negotiable.


Video game genres

We thus observe a definition that encompasses a playful system framed by rules, in which the player or players are emotionally invested and engaged in the evolution of the game. Nowadays, there are a multitude of genres of video games, here are some examples:

Fighting games: players play as characters in a duel situation, in a fixed and defined spatio-temporal structure, ex: Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Mortal Combat, Marvel vs Capcom…

• Platform games: players control a character who evolves in a virtual universe, usually linear, with reduced choices of actions, in two or three dimensions, example: Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Prince of Persia …

Strategy and management games: the player is responsible for managing a virtual population, building a city or managing the resources of a city or civilization, example: Age of Empires, Simcity, Frozenheim, Stardey Valley…

Role-playing and adventure games: players play as one or more characters with high potential in a non-linear and evolving narrative, as well as complex actions, for example: Dragon Quest, Dark Souls, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Assasin’s Creed Valhalla…

Puzzle games: the game system consists of solving problems of visuo-spatial logic, examples: Tetris, The Room, Puzzle Bobble…

Racing and sports games: the player is at the controls of a vehicle, a character or a sports team in real time, example: Need For Speed, Fifa, Kart Racing, Sega Rally Championship …

First Person Shooter (FPS): the game system is in subjective vision, centered on exploration and combat generally with firearms, examples: Doom, Call of Duty, Battlefield, GoldenEye, Counter-Strike …

The Massively Multiplayer Online Role Player Game (MMORPG): the player embodies a character who progresses in a virtual world of fantasy inspiration, science fiction or adventure superheroes. The player interacts with the environment and other players in virtual communities, examples: World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, Guild Wars, Dofus…

The field of video games is thus both complex and captivating in the possibilities that they can have on the development of the brain of young people and adults.


How does the brain work?

The brain is made up of more than 86 billion nerve cells called neurons. These neurons are interconnected with each other and transmit sensory information through the synapses at their ends.

Subsequently, neurotransmitters (molecules) allow the chemical transfer of nerve impulses from one neuron to another. Neurotransmitters help promote the spread of nerve impulses (excitators) or decrease the likelihood of nerve impulses (inhibitors) being sent through the brain.

These connections and nerve impulses spread from neurons to neurons in both cerebral hemispheres and the 4 lobes of the brain. We then distinguish the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe and the temporal lobe, not to mention our famous cerebellum.


The different parts of the brain

1) The frontal lobe is at the front of our brain (forehead). This lobe modulates our emotions, our personality, but is above all responsible for our organization, our planning and our working memory. The frontal lobe is itself divided into parts; the posterior part manages voluntary movements and the left part manages the transformation of our thoughts into words.

2) The parietal lobe is above our brain (top). This lobe is responsible for our sensory perceptions. Previous regions manage language comprehension, including making sense of our memories and our spoken or written language.

3) The occipital lobe is at the back of our brain (near the neck). This lobe is activated when decoding visual information, including the perception of color, shapes and movements. The visual cortex manages the recognition and identification of stored images.

4) The temporal lobe is on the sides of the brain (near the ears). This lobe is responsible for distinguishing the intensity of the tones of sounds, the formation and remembrance of memories. The upper part helps in understanding the meaning of words. The right part manages the visual memory and the left part the verbal memory.

5) The Cerebellum is a part inside the brain, near the occipital lobe. This part manages the information received from other areas involved in the coordination, accuracy and fluidity of movements.



Considering the different parts of the brain and their importance in our daily actions, we understand that the different genres of video games, discussed above, can impact the development and functioning of our brain in several ways.

Brain development could also be called neuronal plasticity; this ability of the nervous system to reshape its connections and structure according to the environment and its experiences throughout our lives (Mohamed and Gibb, 2010).

The experience of playing video games can then modify a player’s neural plasticity, especially in the development of cognitive and motor skills, such as attentional ability, speed of execution, problem solving or psychomotor functioning.

In the second part of this article, we will explore the results of different scientific studies on the impact of different genres of video games on neuronal plasticity and the development of cognitive and psychomotor learning.

The second part of the article is available here:

Video games and brain development: how is this possible?

Elsa Brais-Dussault, psychologist/ LudiPsy

About Elsa Brais-Dussault, psychologue

Psychologue et passionnée de jeux! Les jeux vidéo, les jeux de société, les jeux de rôles et les GN... J'ai fondé la plateforme LudiPsy: santé mentale et ludification pour mettre de l'avant l'intégration de la ludification dans la pratique en santé mentale.

View all posts by Elsa Brais-Dussault, psychologue