IQ2 debate: Will video games make us smarter?

Playing video games
Lobssang Dolkal, center, plays video games with his friends. Instead of watching traditional Tibetan dances, the boys opted for a computer version of "cops and robbers."
Nikki Tundel for MPR News

Some people say video games teach valuable skills and improve problem-solving ability. Others say the multi-billion dollar gaming industry desensitizes its users to violence and encourages anti-social behavior.

In this Intelligence Squared debate, experts discussed the topic with the motion: "Video games will make us smarter."

For: Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Geneva, and co-founding adviser for Akili Interactive. Asi Burak, chairman of Games for Change and CEO of Power Play.

Against: Elias Aboujaoude, director at Stanford University OCD and Impulse Control Disorders Clinics, author of the book "Virtually You." Walter R. Boot, director at Florida State University Attention and Training Lab.

Opening statement: For the motion

In 2007 Asi Burak helped produce a video game called "Peacemaker" that simulated the conflict in the Middle East. The game was intended to help teach the player empathy, but what most players left with was information.

Many of the players said that they learned more about the Middle East in two hours of playing the game than they had in two years of watching the news, Burak said.

So while not all video games are going to be tackling big topics like "Peacemaker" did, it's a fine example of how video games can be used as tools for educating the masses.

"And we're talking about 21st century skills, things like entrepreneurship, collaboration, problem-solving, system-thinking. Games are great in fostering some of those skills," Burak said.

Opening statement: Against the motion

What makes video games more dangerous than other forms of entertainment, like television or movies, is their ability to talk back to you, Elias Aboujaoude said.

"They reward you. They punish you ... they're easier to confuse with life itself and easier to get lost in and hooked on than some older technologies, perhaps," he said.

And addiction to video games can act in many ways like a substance addiction, with players needing to play more of the same game to achieve the same kind of mental effect. Some gamers may even feel withdrawal, Aboujaoude said.

Video games and the internet have also normalized a rejection of complexity, with users wanting information condensed, not taking the time to read whole articles and engaging in discourse 140 characters at a time.

"The activities that we are not spending time on as we spend hours upon hours playing video games, and ask yourself whether these activities are not also important for our intelligence and for being well-rounded, well-grounded human beings," Aboujaoude said.

To listen to the debate, click the audio player above.

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