Believe it or not, just recently, the FDA approved of the first-ever video game to be prescribed as treatment. The game was shown to improve attention and function and was designed to help children with ADHD. To make the finding even more robust, the game was backed by data from five clinical studies, including a prospective, randomized controlled trial. Incredible!
This is huge news. In a time where digital content consumption is constantly being touted as detrimental to our mental well-being, hearing that some of it (when used correctly) can be used to help us. It’ll be exciting to see where it will lead, as I’m sure it will cause the gaming world to push for more games helping people.
I’m no researcher in this space, but I do have my fair share of hours practiced in the realm of video games and how they can be used to improve cognition, specifically…memory.
There was a documentary about the 2007 World Memory Championships that recently resurfaced (watch here). It reminded me of how far we’ve come in the world of memory sports, in terms of technology. Back then, there were no online “games” to play that could help you train. Most competitors had to draft their own physical sheets of memorization data and practice with those. Some even planned as best they could and got their practice at the actual competitions themselves (imagine Usain Bolt not being able to practice on a track because they didn’t exist and only being able to truly train at the Olympics––ridiculous).
Since then, numerous online platforms have been developed to help memory athletes. It’s no surprise that the rate at which memory records are being broken has increased dramatically over the last ten years. Related? I think so. Competitors have more opportunities to train (at home, on the go, you name it), and the software allows for incredibly quick feedback and analysis of performance. It makes total sense that this would rapidly improve the collective memories of memory athletes.
But it doesn’t stop there. With more and more complex video games being developed (and by complex I mean, the worlds in which these games exist and the extent to which a player can explore them), video games can be used in a way that would allow anyone to enhance their memory, not just memory athletes.
The famous Memory Palace Technique allows for a person to mentally navigate a familiar space in their mind while imagining associative imagery for information they want to memorize, along the way (in short, thinking of a place and imagining the things you want to memorize there). This technique is by far, the most effective memory technique of them all and is the primary technique used by memory athletes to accomplish incredible feats of memory. The traditional use is with real palaces, or places, like your home, office, gym, whatever. But what if you used a virtual place? Like the map of a video game?
Whether you’re exploring Princess Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64, or roaming the streets of Los Santos in GTA V, or even parachuting down into Fortnite’s Battle Royale Island––all of those (and any of the like) can be used as memory palaces. The beauty of it is that they aren’t even real––they don’t take up any actual physical space (other than the cartridge or CD they come installed on). On top of that, some of them are immensely vast. Take a game like Mario 64 (can you tell how old I am?). There’s a main exploration area (the castle and castle grounds), rife with halls, rooms, secret areas, you name it. But then think of all the levels within the castle. Each level then houses its own world that can be then made into its own new memory palace. The sheer potential for storing information in games like these is unfathomable.
Another great example is Animal Crossing. The most recent release for the Nintendo Switch has become a bit of craze during quarantine and is a perfect example of a game one could use as a memory palace (spoiler, I already did: Video Game Memory Palace). Why? Because it’s completely modular. YOU get to build it into whatever you want. YOU get to build the seemingly infinite memory palace locations into your own, personalized (and dare I say, memorable) gaming experience. It’s really mind-bending when you think of the potential there.
So, where’s the limit? Essentially, a memory palace is a bunch of locations visited in your imagination in the form of a memorable path. Those locations can be as granular as you want––an entire room, a corner of a room, an object within the room, a corner of an object within the room, etc. So the limit to how many locations you may have in any particular memory palace is up to you (a good way to think about it is: the more locations you have, the more hard drive space you have for memorizing things). With countless games, spanning over countless levels and maps, with more and more games being developed and released every year, and with technology improvements allowing for bigger and more complex games, I really don’t see any limit.
Obviously, games are meant to be played as the game they were designed to be. As of yet, none have been designed as a dedicated memory palace. But, I’m hoping people realize the side-potential many these games have for helping us remember things better. And when they do, the next time they get yelled at for playing too many video games, they’ll just reply, “I’m not playing video games, I’m memorizing!”
About the author:
Nelson Dellis is a 4x USA Memory Champion and one of the leading memory experts in the world. Nelson is also a mountaineer, published author, and public speaker. Dedicated to teaching and helping others, Nelson strives to teach the world how to remember.
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