Short answer: we don’t know yet, but Gabe Zichermann posed the hypothesis while giving a TED talk on the benefits of letting kids play certain video games (and incorporating fun and co-operative gaming principles into classroom learning). Full disclosure: he has a good reason to support this idea:
Zichermann himself is the man behind the fascinating notion of Gamification, where companies have realised they can make more money and be more productive if they bring game-like systems of challenges and rewards into the workplace. Things like “zombie lunchtimes” and “let’s bomb Yugoslavia” away-days. [PCGamer]
The TED talk is below, but it’s 16 minutes and (since we’re all probably gamers here) we know how insane it is to sit still watching one non-interactive thing for sixteen whole minutes. Madness. So I’ll summarize some of the interesting points in Zichermann’s talk because we don’t expect you to sit in one place watching an educational speech for sixteen consecutive minutes like some kind of savage.
Since the 1990s, Zichermann says, crystalline intelligence has been stable or slightly decreasing while fluid intelligence (which aids in problem solving) has been increasing at a progressively faster rate. This rise in fluid intelligence may be part of the cause behind the Flynn Effect, the observation that average IQ scores worldwide have been slowly increasing for decades. In the U.S., for example, average IQ has been rising 0.36 points per year, despite what those waffle iron riots* on Black Friday might lead you to believe. Since most IQ tests measure both crystalline and fluid intelligence, a relatively stable crystalline intelligence coupled with rising fluid intelligence could explain the rising IQ scores.
Zichermann’s claim is that video games might explain this increase in fluid intelligence. He points out five things people can do to increase their fluid intelligence: seek novelty, challenge themselves, think creatively, do things the hard way, and network. He also points out, “These are five things that occur in very successful video games.” It’s an interesting idea, and all the excuse we need to chalk up our gaming time as study time. We’re very dedicated learners.
* Totally awesome band name.