Neuropsychologist - on the benefits and hidden threats of computer games
Neuropsychologist - on the benefits and hidden threats of computer games

Computer games have a bad reputation. They are believed to negatively affect children and adults, forming unhealthy addictions. We talked with a professional neuropsychologist and found out how dangerous computer games are, whether they can be useful and how not to become hostage to virtual worlds.

Neuropsychologist - on the benefits and hidden threats of computer games
Neuropsychologist - on the benefits and hidden threats of computer games

There is a prejudice that computer games are extremely harmful. What are their benefits and harms from the point of view of clinical psychology and neuropsychology?

A computer game is an imitation of a certain activity, be it racing, aircraft control, strategies, quests. All this exists in real life, but in games it is simplified or exaggerated in order to arouse interest.

It is important to consider two aspects of games. First, the game is fun. And what gives pleasure requires a person to repeat this action - this is how addiction is formed. Second: the activity itself, which is imitated in the game. It can be useful because it is the training of certain skills.

What is the positive impact of, for example, vehicle simulation games? What brain functions do they develop?

Screenshot from the game Need For Speed: Carbon
Screenshot from the game Need For Speed: Carbon

Driving games are all about interacting with space, and this is something that modern children really lack.

70% of the children I see on diagnostics have a deficit in the function of assessing space.

Visual-spatial functions include orientation "right-left", "top-bottom", comparison of sizes, assessment of the location of elements in space. Children who were taught to read early almost always have difficulty with it. Reading activates neural networks in the left hemisphere of the brain, but it does not activate the right hemisphere, which, up to 8 years of age, is leading for the normal development of a child in most brain functions.

When one hemisphere works, the other slows down. Learning to read from 3-4 years of age without the simultaneous development of constructive-spatial functions can lead to mirror-like writing of letters and numbers, difficulties arise with the assessment of lengths. Such children very often see squares as rectangles, poorly remember the location of objects in space.

School requires good reading for the first grade, it does not need developed spatial functions, so parents neglect their development.

If a child is taught to read, it is necessary at the same time to let them play such games so that they can orient themselves in space, react to changes in the environment, understand that somewhere they need to turn to the right, somewhere - to the left, somewhere - to stop. All this is transferred to real life, so there is benefit.

Do quests and strategies help your child's development?

I advise the children I work with to play quests: this is necessary for the development of programming, regulation and control of activities. In neuropsychology, this is distinguished as a special regulatory function of the brain, consisting of three parts.

Programming - the ability to draw up a program of actions before the start of their implementation. Farther - regulation … In the process of executing the program, you need to check the concept, check if there are any deviations. And finally control - the result obtained must be checked for compliance with the program.

The regulatory function is above all other brain functions and is very important. People with undeveloped regulatory function show a decrease in all indicators when diagnosed. In children, this function is formed from 6–7 years old, the peak of development falls on average at 12–14 years old.

Games that require the implementation of rules (strategies, quests), a certain program in which you need to find out something, follow instructions, help to develop regulation and control. It is important that this happens in a play situation: the child is interested, the learning proceeds not from under the stick, but at an involuntary level.

Are games that are simpler, requiring simple actions, where you need to hit a ball or place pictures, are they also useful?

Such games are used in the development of electronic interactive simulators of cognitive abilities.

True, most of it was done without taking into account psychological laws, but in any case, the game, where you need to react to something and make decisions quickly, develops attention and the lower levels of voluntary regulation and control.

What about shooters? There, too, a quick response is required

Screenshot from the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Screenshot from the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

There are positive aspects to shooting games. This is orientation in space: there is almost always movement along the corridor, you need to remember where you have been, where you have not been, where to go. Attention and reaction develops.

The negative moment is the load on the energy-consuming system of attention. You need to constantly be on alert, this is pressure on the subcortical structures of the brain, which provide energy balance. Such training is only beneficial in certain amounts. Excessive energy loss leads to a waste of neurotransmitters that bind neurons. Cases when children played for several days in a row and died are just about that.

Such a game is pleasant to a person, he does not seem to get tired of it, although at the objective level he gets tired of it. At a certain moment, a collapse occurs, when a person feels good, and the body works with its last bit of strength. If you control such games in time, then they can be useful.

You have raised an important issue regarding time constraints. How much time can a child devote to games?

Everything is individual. There are children with certain difficulties, congenital and acquired, who get tired quickly. There should be more restrictions for them. I think that active games with constant concentration of attention can be played no more than an hour a day, in case of pathologies - no more than half an hour. But it is advisable to consult a psychologist.

For games where you can stop and think, like quests, such severe restrictions are not needed. If this does not interfere with daily activities, study, then this can be done for several hours a day.

And now about the adults. They love to play Dota, Counter-Strike, World of Tanks. It is clear that there is a relaxation effect, but is there any benefit?


In my practice, there have been cases when adults admitted that they were playing games because of the stress in everyday life.

It's better to look for productive ways to deal with stress and not just play games. As one of the ways - why not? There is nothing clearly wrong with that. It’s bad if this is the only way to relax.

As far as the benefits for the brain are concerned, here it is necessary to remember that the plasticity of the brain decreases with age. By the age of 7-8, the number of synapses in children becomes equal to the number of synapses in adults, and nerve cells differ little from nerve cells in adults. Then the plasticity of the brain falls at 12-14 years old and after 17-18 years, although some processes develop further.

It is difficult to achieve significant changes in brain activity in adulthood; without the help of a neuropsychologist or psychophysiologist, it is almost impossible to do it correctly. But the psychological effect can be, it all depends on the problem being solved.

Games can keep the brain active, but not alter it.

Driving is known to prolong mental alertness in older people. Recently, there was a study that showed that people who drove in old age performed better on cognitive tests.

With games, apparently, the same situation. There are studies showing that specially designed video games stimulate the development of working memory and attention in older adults. It is not yet possible to measure it in dynamics from an early age, because games appeared relatively recently and those who played them did not reach old age. The available research is usually done on people who have not played before.

How is gambling addiction formed? And what games are better for adults to play?

If the game is used as a way to relax, then it is about getting positive emotions that need to be controlled. A person can choose when to do it and manage the dose of positive emotions. Any physiological system strives for positive reinforcement, so a person without external control and sufficient volitional control will play more and more and strive to become addicted.

It is useful for adults to play games that have a cognitive function, for example, educational quests with encyclopedic information. Although it would be wrong to name specific genres: the whole point is in the psychological mechanisms and functions of the brain that respond to the game, and not in the genre itself.

Many people are worried about games with scenes of violence and cruelty. This allegedly provokes teenage violence. Are they really that bad? Is there anything more dangerous in games than violent scenes?


Yes, there has been talk that violent games provoke crime, but research has denied this. The overwhelming majority of children and adolescents perfectly distinguish between play and life situations.

Moreover, a certain aggression, which could be realized in life, finds a way out in a game situation, which reduces aggressive behavior.

Worse in games is another - the illusion of reversibility of consequences.

Most games can be saved and rolled back. In life, this is obviously not the case, and such a play habit reduces the adequacy of behavior and leads to rash actions.

Violent scenes in games can arouse additional interest, but in most cases this is limited to searching the Internet for information about methods of murder, torture, but this is more a cognitive situation than a desire for violence.

Some literary works and films provoke aggression much more.

For example, the phenomenon of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther is known, which caused a wave of suicides in Europe, because many wanted to be like the main character. Here the line between suicide in real life and suicide in a work of art is blurred.

In a game, this border is usually not erased, everything is deliberately artificial, it takes place within the framework of the screen that a person sees in front of him, and extremely rarely mixes with real life. If it is mixed, then this happens in people who, before the games, experienced difficulties with the perception of reality, had delusional constructions associated with the existence of alternative realities.


  • Computer games help children develop spatial skills, regulation and control, and attention.
  • A child can play active games for no more than an hour a day.
  • Gaming is a good way to deal with stress as long as you avoid addiction.
  • Computer games help adults keep their brains active.
  • It is useful to play games with cognitive elements: quests, strategies, educational games.
  • Computer games can reduce the adequacy of behavior, which can lead to rash actions. But they do not cause violence and aggression by themselves.

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