Brain Activity and Gaming

During the time I was working at Origin, I bought and sold computer games at an alarming rate. This wasn’t because I spent endless hours playing games, but because the part of the games I most enjoyed was learning how to play. Once I had the mechanics of a game pretty well figured out, playing it through to the end had little appeal unless it had a particularly strong story I wanted to see the end of. I discussed this with a couple of my coworkers, and they confessed to the same thing — games held their attention only as long as it took to figure out new play mechanics, to sort through novel techniques, etc.

Thus, it was with considerable interest that I read this paragraph from Roger Ebert’s review of Silent Hill, the movie based on the video game of the same name:

Dr. Shlain made the most interesting comment on the panel. He said they took some four and five year-olds and gave them video games and asked them to figure out how to play them without instructions. Then they watched their brain activity with real-time monitors. “At first, when they were figuring out the games,” he said, “the whole brain lit up. But by the time they knew how to play the games, the brain went dark, except for one little point.”

Apparently in many cases, the meta-game of figuring out how a game works is a much more mentally engaging activity than the game itself. I would guess that the results — the “one little point” — would be different depending on the game, but I at least now have some empirical support for my short attention span.