Video Games and Brain Development

Recently, Scott Bauer of the Associated Press (July 27, 2005) released an article entitled: Blind Teen Amazes With Video-Game Skills.

In it, Bauer writes of super video game whiz, Brice Mellen. Brice is super proficient in games such as Mortal Kombat and others. The only difference between Brice and his peers is that Brice is blind. The following excerpt is from the article and is an exceptional example of neuroplasticity or Brice’s ability (his brain’s ability) to compensate for his loss of sight.

And as he easily dispatched foes who took him on recently at a Lincoln gaming center, the affable and smiling Mellen remained humble.

“I can’t say that I’m a superpro,” he said, working the controller like an extension of his body. “I can be beat.”

Those bold enough to challenge him weren’t so lucky. One by one, while playing “Soul Caliber 2,” their video characters were decapitated, eviscerated and gutted without mercy by Mellen’s on-screen alter ego.

“I’m getting bored,” Mellen said in jest as he won game after game.

Blind since birth when his optic nerve didn’t connect because of Leber’s disease, Mellen honed his video game skills over the years through patient and not-so-patient playing, memorizing key joystick operations and moves in certain games, asking lots of questions and paying particular attention to audio cues. He worked his way up from games such as “Space Invaders” and “Asteroid,” onto the modern combat games.

“I guess I don’t know how I do it, really,” Mellen said, as he continued playing while facing away from the screen. “It’s beyond me.”

Mellen knows this much: He started playing at home when he was about 7.”

Brice has learned how to control play through adaptation. He can play with his back to the screen and use finely tuned listening skills to calculate distance and position. Applying this with exquisitely tuned kinesthetic skills on the joystick, and he has a powerful combination that few can beat.

His mastery is a mystery; however, it is a true example of the human brain’s ability to adapt when given the correct stimulation and learning environment. It remains unfortunate, at the time of this blog, that science has yet to catch up or tap into the immense innate capacity of the human brain.

When I developed Play Attention, I was acutely aware that cognitive training/development through video game usage was an incredibly motivating discipline. The intrinsic interest in computer video gaming provides a tremendous teaching environment.

Off-the-shelf commercial video games provide little cognitive improvement, if any according to recent research. They do teach the user to identify screen objects quickly and accurately. They may quite likely decrease one’s ability to control sustained attention, impulsivity, and aggression as well.

Thus, it is imperative to provide specific goals for game play. Play Attention teaches and increases specific cognitive skills typically deficit in persons with attention problems. I systematically structure the teaching/learning process to produce cognitive and behavioral changes. This, of course, does not happen in off-the-shelf games where violence is the objective. It is important to remember that our brains are ALWAYS affected by what we input into them.

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