The Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games

Updated 2023

Video games are often considered a form of entertainment, but they can also have incredible educational and academic benefits! Here are some of the many cognitive benefits of playing video games.

Over the years, video games have gotten a lot more advanced. Technology now allows game developers to explore many complex themes and topics that simply would not have been possible before!

For example, many people are familiar with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, a fully-fledged experience that teaches players how to operate and fly real aircrafts. These types of games can provide students with real-world experiences with STEM principles, geography, cultural exploration, and more!

Do video games improve hand-eye coordination?

Video games that require real-time movement rely on fast reflexes. Whether using a controller, keyboard and mouse, or your finger on a touch screen, these movements can help develop accurate hand-eye coordination.

In addition, some video games (like exercise and dance titles) also provide excellent physical health benefits as well. Modern studies show that video games do in fact increase hand-eye coordination, and exercise games can be a great way to combine the best of both worlds!

What are some other benefits of video games?

  • Organizational skills. Many popular games (like RPGs, or role-playing games) require players to manage inventory, sort through skill sets, keep track of turns and character levels – the list goes on! Going back to the days of Dungeons and Dragons, some games can be extremely engrossing and help teach multitasking and time management. Learning how to prioritize your resources to accomplish a goal is a useful skill in all areas – academics and beyond!
  • Decision-making and strategizing. Strategy games require players to plan out their moves, predict their opponent’s thoughts, weigh the risks and rewards of a situation, and form educated guesses about what their next action should be. The cognitive benefits of strategy games like chess are already well-documented, and video games are no different! All these processes help to build executive functioning abilities – and the practice received from these types of games continues well after the game is over!
  • Memorization. Move-based games require button or control combinations that must be memorized, practiced, and executed successfully. Want to do the super jump? Well, you have to tap the “A” button twice while also holding “up.” See what we mean? Actions like this not only contribute to the hand-eye coordination benefits discussed above but also help with training the muscle memory involved in performing complex actions repeatedly.
  • New interests. Many video games have historical or fantasy settings that are highly informative and can help to spark a deeper interest in these topics. For instance, a video game about knights and dragons may inspire a student to become interested in the medieval ages. Or, a game like Flight Simulator may inspire an interest in aviation! Video games can give us an opportunity to learn about new worlds, technologies, cultures, and beliefs.

What about the educational benefits of playing video games?

Many games are highly educational and can inspire kids to pursue further interests and skill sets well beyond the game’s scope. For example, city-building games are a fascinating look into urban development and resource management. Space exploration games delve into fields of rocketry, physics, and interplanetary travel. House builders and “sims” rely on concepts of space planning, interior design, and architecture. Farm simulators introduce concepts of sustainability in agriculture.

With so many types of video games out there, there’s something for everyone – and there’s no limit to what you can learn!

Video games teach math, too!

Many games involve the usage of statistics, requiring players to understand values and numbers. Sports games in particular are a great example of this – when building your team, an athlete’s averages, and statistics become important factors. Shot percentages, batting averages, and goals per game are all based on number crunching. These games can be excellent examples of the real-life applications of math!

What should parents keep in mind?

Gaming addiction is, unfortunately, a very real thing. Although video games can provide many of the cognitive and educational benefits discussed above, it’s important to set a time limit for your child’s gaming sessions. Video games can become addictive, and there comes a point where too much game time can have adverse effects.

In studies examining children who had become addicted to video games, results showed that as kids cut down their game time, their grades improved. Video games can have educational benefits, but like any recreational activity – it’s important not to overdo it.

Furthermore, too much screen time is shown to affect sleeping patterns. Make sure to keep an eye on the amount of time your kids are spending playing video games. Moderation is key! Encourage your kids to take breaks during gaming sessions to reduce eye strain.

Make sure the games you buy for your children are age appropriate.

Younger children may not be comfortable with games requiring high levels of dexterity or fast hand-eye coordination. In addition, ensure that the games your kids play do not contain content inappropriate for their age range.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, will have a rating clearly displayed on a video game’s packaging or purchase page. In general, games for kids should fall under these categories:

  • E (Everyone): Acceptable for all ages.
  • E10+ (Everyone Age 10+): Acceptable for kids over the age of 10.
  • T (Teen): Content suited for ages 13 and up.

For more information about ratings, check out the ESRB Ratings Guide.

What types of games are educational?

Not all games have educational benefits, so it’s important to research the titles you plan on buying for your kids prior to purchasing them! Here are some fun educational games to check out:

  • Cities: Skylines – Urban planning, city development, and money management
  • Minecraft – Block building that encourages creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Kerbal Space Program – Space travel, flight simulation, physics
  • Super Mario Maker – Level design with endless creative options, hand-eye coordination
  • Civilization (series) – Historical simulator incorporating politics, resource management, and strategic growth
  • Sports games (Madden, FIFA, etc.) – Encourages real-life physical activity, strategic planning, and working with statistics
  • The Sims – Explore careers and develop both architectural and interior design skills when building your own houses
  • Pokémon – Encourages team building, working with numbers, and strategic planning – also requires a large amount of reading (games are text only without voice-overs)

Not all screen time is a bad thing!

Students rely on technology a lot these days, and many parents are understandably concerned about the increase in “screen time.” As you can see, there are many benefits of playing video games to be had by kids. The best thing parents can do is to encourage their kids to make the most out of their screen time, while also setting healthy boundaries – and educational video games are a great place to start!

Learn more about making your child’s screen time productive and beneficial.