Feb. 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM ET
According to a new study from Department of Psychology at North Carolina State University's Gains Through Gaming laboratory, it has been discovered that the popular massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft can potentially help some older adults with cognitive functions.
As Venture Beat reports, Dr. Anne Collins McLaughlin, assistant professor of psychology at the university and co-director of the lab, explains:
"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits – it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations."
Two areas that saw improvement, among those who scored poorly in tests prior, was focus and spatial ability. The study promised of a group of 60 to 77-year olds who played "World of Warcraft" at home for approximately 14 hours, and over the course of 2 weeks. Their cognitive abilities were then tested a group that didn't play "WoW."
Test score comparisons indicate that the gaming group saw a much greater increase in cognitive functioning, though the overall effect varied depending on each person's baseline score. Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at the university and who also co-directs Gains Through Gaming, states:
"The people who needed it most – those who performed the worst on the initial testing – saw the most improvement."
Venture Beat also points out how the test showed no change for participants when it came to sharpening memory. The entire study, entitled "Individual differences in response to cognitive training: Using a multi-modal, attentionally demanding game-based intervention for older adults" can be acquired here.
In recent years, casual gaming advocates have championed their virtues, especially in connection with the elderly. It has been argued that they need them the most-primarily games that encourage physical movement, like the activities offered in "Wii Sports," or ones that sharpen the mind via problem solving, as in "Brain Age," both areas that the older adults need the most help with according to most experts.
So it is amusing to discover that a game that is mostly associated with a hardcore audience, one that has traditionally shunned casual offerings, has been cited in such a study and proven to be beneficial for such an unexpected demographic.
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot, and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.