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 World of WarCraft  can boost brain function in elderly players, suggests study
World of WarCraft can boost brain function in elderly players, suggests study
February 22, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

February 22, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Serious, Design

With games like Brain Age or Big Brain Academy already on the market, there's no shortage of games that aim to help players refine their mental abilities. It turns out, however, that games like World of Warcraft can serve a similar purpose.

A new study from North Carolina State University has found that the Blizzard-developed MMO can help elderly players increase their spatial awareness, improve their memory, and better focus their attention.

The study examined and tested the cognitive abilities of a group of participants aged 60 to 77, and divided them into two groups. One group served as the unaltered control, while the other group played World of Warcraft for roughly 14 hours over the course of two weeks.

After re-testing the participants, the researchers discovered that the group playing World of Warcraft showed a much greater increase in cognitive functioning. In particular, those that scored relatively low on their baseline test showed marked improvement after they spent time playing the game.

“The people who needed it most -- those who performed the worst on the initial testing -- saw the most improvement,” said associate professor Dr. Jason Allaire.

This isn't the first time researchers have turned to a Blizzard product for cognitive study. In late 2011, a group of researchers at Simon Fraser University examined StarCraft II replay data to learn more about how the brain handles complex, simultaneous tasks.

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Jack Nilssen
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If your healer's fallen asleep during the raid, now you know why.

Keith Burgun
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Why don't you create a few more test groups:

Test Group 0 plays nothing

Test Group 1 plays World of WarCraft

Test Group 2 plays Eurogames and abstracts such as Through the Desert, Arimaa, Puerto Rico and Blokus.

Test Group 2 is going to improve way faster, because those games require constant difficult decisions, whereas WoW has a lot of grinding, standing around and talking/waiting, and performing dumb no-brainer actions such as fetch quests.

The point is this: *ANY* game that forces people to make decisions at all is going to make the player a little smarter. But some games do it more than others, and World of WarCraft is nowhere *near* the top of that list.

David Smith
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You're assuming it's decision making that is causing the cognitive gains. There are other factors to consider such as reading (quest text), hand-eye coordination and visually/aurally stimulating environments.

Keith Burgun
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>You're assuming it's decision making that is causing the cognitive gains.

Right, well, decision making - the process of increasing one's skill at making ambiguous, difficult, meaningful decisions which you can not take back - is the thing which is unique to games.

Jack Lee
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I think David has a point. I would imagine it's more "engagement" than pure decision-making that increases the cognitive function (of course, I'm no psychological researcher, so I'm mostly conjecturing here). While decision-making surely would have a positive impact on brain function, dismissing the other parts of the equation out of hand seems premature at best.

That said, are there other (video) games that would probably do this better than WoW? Surely. But do remember that they have to be games that are comprehensible and simple enough for people who are in need of cognitive function increases to understand and participate in. Dumping hardcore German-style strategy on them might be too much.

Fred Marcoux
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results after only 14hrs of playing over 2 weeks? I don't know but it feels too low to actually be quantifiable and have a direct impact on cognitive skills.

I mean with the hours I've put in, i should be extremely focused....

David Gonzales
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I'm assuming its the games interaction and how engaging it is, its probably just kick starting the brain in the elderly, since you have to wonder what stimulation of this world do the elderly get? watching TV? and not very entertaining tv either i assume most watch soap operas and stuff, from my theory is world of warcraft is a very stunning game when it comes to sucking you into their world, my idea is when you get into a game like that your more focused to explore, read, learn, adapt to the in game lifestyle of fighting monsters doing fetch quests, leveling up, interacting with other players, deciding on how to spend your skill points, money, everything to make you stronger, this isn't the kind of stimulation that elderly people get everyday so while normal old people end up sitting around at the tv with not much to do i assume your mind tends to decay in lack of stimulation and excitement.

Jason Long
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So they're saying that being constantly trolled by bigots improves brain activity? Maybe it's the rise in blood pressure from all the flaming.