Do Games Affect Memory?

At our booth this year in New York Toy Fair, we were showcasing one of our new games, 5 Stones, which is actually an ancient game from 4,000 years ago. I was intrigued by the response we had when people walked by and saw the game. Many individuals called out that they loved the game and played all the time as kids. What made game play so memorable? Was the visual memory triggered? Does game play offer increased memory? Is there a correlation between game play, memory and retrieval?

Memory refers to the processes that are used to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information. There are three major processes involved in memory: encoding, storage, and retrieval.

In order to form new memories, information must be changed into a usable form, which occurs through the process known as encoding. Once information has been successfully encoded, it must be stored in memory for later use. Much of this stored memory lies outside of our awareness most of the time, except when we actually need to use it. The retrieval process allows us to bring stored memories into conscious awareness.

One way of thinking about memory organization is known as the semantic network model. This model suggests that certain triggers activate associated memories. A memory of a specific place might activate memories about related things that have occurred in that location or time. For example, thinking about a game might trigger memories of playing and socializing with peers.

Emotion can have a powerful impact on memory. Numerous studies have shown that the most vivid autobiographical memories tend to be of emotional events, which are likely to be recalled more often and with more clarity and detail than neutral events.

Recall is linked with emotion. If pain, joy, excitement, or any other strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during this event produce strong connections with each other. When this event is remembered or recalled in the future, the neurons will more easily and speedily make the same connections. The strength and longevity of memories is directly related to the amount of emotion felt during the event of their creation. Game play often creates emotions so this could cause better clarity in these memories.

Many factors influence which moments from our past are remembered best, and the affect experienced during an event is an important contributor. Events of emotional significance are more likely to be recalled vividly than mundane experiences, and neurobiological research has confirmed that the occurrence of affective responses can increase the likelihood that an event is stored in memory (LaBar & Cabeza, 2006; McGaugh, 2004).

These studies suggest that the skills and knowledge we learn playing games may be an effective way to increase our memory and to create positive memorable moments.

I leave you with this to think about: Life is a journey of collecting memories.

We all agree that life is too short. Sooo… fill life with wonderful memories… Play board games!


About Reisa Schwartzman

Reisa Schwartzman is president of Griddly Games, and the designer of Oversight, an abstract stategy game. Griddly Games creates award-winning party and board games that deliver innovative, engaging fun that brings people together while encouraging social interaction, learning, strategy and challenges that anyone (the entire grid of people) can enjoy. To discover more about Griddly Games, visit www.griddlygames.com.

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