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'Super Mario World 3D' via Nintendo
'Super Mario World 3D' via Nintendo

3D Video Games May Improve Memory

'Super Mario World 3D' via Nintendo
'Super Mario World 3D' via Nintendo

In addition to increased visual realism, modern video games may also bestow upon its consumers certain cognitive perks. As a recent article published in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests, 3D video games may improve participants’ memory in a way their boring old 2D games don’t.

Neurobiologists Craig Stark and Dane Clemenson at the University of California Irvine undertook their study with a cadre of undergraduates. The participants were chosen specifically for their unfamiliarity with video games, to ensure a blank slate with no experience bias. The novice gamers were then divided into two experimental groups, each assigned to play a commercially available 2D or 3D game: Angry Birds or Super Mario 3D World.

The students received two weeks of “training” in their respective games, playing half an hour a day for two consecutive weeks (and presumably earned the easiest research participation points of their academic careers). Before and after their two weeks of intense mandatory video game time, participants in both video game groups and a control group (who were not required to undertake any tasks over the two-week period) were given a visual memory task. The 3D gamers showed a significant improvement in performance on that task after their brief period of time with Super Mario; neither of the other groups did.

The object-recognition memory test administered to the students, during which they were shown a set of objects before later being asked to distinguish those same objects from unfamiliar or similar but slightly altered objects, required use of the hippocampus—the region of the brain most associated with learning and memory. A comparison of pre- and post-video game scores for the 3D group showed an impressive increase in memory performance: about 12 percent across the group. That figure is not only statistically significant, but also coincides with what researchers have estimated to be the amount of memory loss humans naturally experience between the ages of 45 and 70.

More surprising than the difference between the gamers and the non-gamers is the lack of memory benefits Angry Birds seemed to bestow on the 2D video game group, although Clemenson’s previous research with rodents provides a clue as to why that may be. Just as rodents encouraged to physically explore new environments demonstrated increased neuron growth, players immersed in a three-dimensional world with richer detail and more complex visual-spatial stimuli may experience the same boost. Although the environment is artificial, 3D video games seem to provide an adequate substitute for real-world exploring, which may be more challenging for some people than it is for rats in a controlled lab setting. Stark also suggests that the sort of video games developed principally for entertainment purposes may even have a certain advantage over the popular, but generally unscientific, “brain training” games marketed specifically as memory aids: “It’s quite possible that by explicitly avoiding a narrow focus on a single … cognitive domain and by more closely paralleling natural experience, immersive video games may be better suited to provide enriching experiences that translate into functional gains.”

Despite the encouraging results of their study, Stark and Clemenson are hesitant to heap too much praise on video games as a cure for memory loss. There is a marked difference in improving the memory capabilities of college students in their intellectual primes, and slowing—or even reversing—the mental aging process those students are likely to experience thirty years on. In the meantime, however, it looks like there might be not be much harm in exchanging that crossword puzzle for a controller once and a while.

[h/t PopSci]

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Cahoots Malone
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Revisit Your Favorite '90s Screensaver With This Free Game
Cahoots Malone
Cahoots Malone

In the '90s, a significant amount of computing power was devoted to generating endless brick mazes on Windows 95. The screensaver has since become iconic, and now nostalgic Microsoft fans can relive it in a whole new way. As Motherboard reports, the animation has been re-imagined into a video game called Screensaver Subterfuge.

Instead of watching passively as your computer weaves through the maze, you’re leading the journey this time around. You play as a kid hacker who’s been charged with retrieving sensitive data hidden in the screensaver of Windows 95 before devious infomancers can get to it first. The gameplay is pretty simple: Use the arrow keys to navigate the halls and press Q and click the mouse to change their design. Finding a giant smiley face takes you to level two, and finding the briefcase icon ends the game. There are also lots of giant rats in this version of the screensaver.

Screensaver Subterfuge was designed by Cahoots Malone as part of the PROCJAM 2017 generative software showcase. You can download it for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux from his website, or if playing a game sounds like too much work, you can always watch videos of the old screensaver on a loop.

[h/t Motherboard]

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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iStock

Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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