RESEARCHERS PUT SOME RATS in plain cages,
each one alone. Then they put some rats in bigger cages with
other rats and toys to play with. The ones in the enriched
environment grew smarter (they learned mazes faster). And
when the researchers cut open their brains, they found that the
rats in the enriched environment had bigger and heavier brains
because they had more dendrites (connections between brain cells).
Mental ability for rats as well
as people doesnt depend on the number of brain cells,
but on the number of connections between those brain cells. And
the stimulation of play increases the number of connections.
To refine their understanding, researchers
then put some rats in an enriched environment and some other
rats in a position so they could watch the rats in the
enriched environment. What they found is revealing: The ones
who watched didnt get any smarter and their brains grew
Preliminary studies on people are finding
the same thing: Something about playing games increases brain
power. But watching people play games doesnt do
And playing games usually gets you face
to face with people, talking to them. We are social creatures,
and we are healthier and happier when we have enough enjoyable
social contact. Passive entertainment like television doesnt
encourage much interaction. The television programmers and the
people who design the commercials dont want you to turn
away from your TV and talk to your spouse. You might miss a commercial.
So they try to keep it as lively and appealing as possible. The
end result is people can be together for hours on
end without talking to each other. This doesnt satisfy
our need for sociability.
So...playing games can increase the connections
between brains cells and between people.
But we all know games are a waste of time.
The problem is, we do waste our time. We watch TV and
movies. We waste hours. Apparently we have a need to waste
time, or at least to spend time doing something other than working,
even when our work is enjoyable.
Since passive entertainment like watching
TV doesnt seem to enrich our minds and playing games does,
heres the bottom line: Games are a better waste of time
than TV or movies.
Here are two tips for replacing some of
your TV time with games:
1. Mix it up. Different games require
different skills. Your partners will be good at some, lousy at
others. Mix it up and you wont win or lose all the time
and youll get better in areas in which you are now weak.
2. Play games you think are fun.
The games that are likely to do you the most good are the ones
you think are fun. If chess isnt fun for you, regardless
of its stature in the gleaming world of the sophisticated set,
dont start there. Be guided by one criterion: Fun.
YOU DON'T NEED to find games that stretch
your mind. You dont need to make a game do
you some good. As long as youre having fun, it is
doing you some good. The benefit is in the fun. If youre
concentrating too hard on trying to do something good for yourself,
it wont be as much fun, so it wont be as good for
So relax and enjoy yourself. Replace some
of your TV time with game playing, and youll be better
Replace some of your TV time
with game playing.