How Super Mario Odyssey can boost your mood and memory

Playing video games is often seen as a waste of time or a harmful addiction. But what if some games could actually improve your mental health and cognitive abilities? A new study from Germany suggests that playing the 3D platform game Super Mario Odyssey can reduce depression symptoms by nearly 50% and enhance visuo-spatial memory functions.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, compared the effects of playing Super Mario Odyssey on a Nintendo Switch console with the effects of a cognitive training program (CogPack) and usual treatments for depression, such as medication and psychotherapy. The study involved 46 individuals diagnosed with depression who reported infrequent video game play in their leisure time. These participants were randomly divided into three groups: one playing Super Mario Odyssey, one using the CogPack program, and one receiving standard clinical treatment.

The researchers measured the participants’ depression symptoms, training motivation, and visuo-spatial memory functions before and after the six-week intervention. Visuo-spatial memory is the ability to remember the location and arrangement of objects in space, and it relies on a brain region called the hippocampus.

How Super Mario Odyssey can boost your mood and memory
How Super Mario Odyssey can boost your mood and memory

The results showed that playing Super Mario Odyssey resulted in a more significant reduction in depression symptoms compared to the other two groups. The 3D video game group also exhibited higher levels of training motivation, which means they were more engaged and interested in the game. Moreover, the 3D video game group showed improvements in visuo-spatial memory functions, while the other two groups did not.

The role of the hippocampus

The researchers explained that playing Super Mario Odyssey requires participants to navigate within 3D environments while relying on processes that depend on the hippocampus. In this way, it could potentially influence performance on hippocampally-mediated memory tasks, such as visuo-spatial memory.

The hippocampus is also known to play a critical role in spatial memory and the ability to recollect past events and experiences. Previous studies have shown that the hippocampus is affected by depression, and that reduced hippocampal volume is associated with worse memory performance and higher risk of dementia.

The researchers suggested that playing 3D video games could stimulate the hippocampus and reverse some of the negative effects of depression on this brain structure. They also proposed that playing 3D video games could increase the subjective well-being of individuals with depression, as they experience positive emotions, such as joy, curiosity, and satisfaction, while playing.

The drawbacks of action video games

However, not all video games have the same impact on the brain and mental health. The researchers warned that playing action video games, such as first-person shooter games, could have the opposite effect of playing 3D video games. Action video games often rely on a different brain structure, called the caudate nucleus, which helps us to form habits and respond to stimuli.

A previous study by Montreal researchers found that playing action video games causes some users to lose grey matter in the hippocampus, which could increase the risk of depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders. The study also found that playing 3D platform games, such as Super Mario 64, could help restore some of the grey matter lost in the hippocampus from playing shooter video games.

The implications for mental health

The study from Germany is the first to provide conclusive evidence that playing 3D video games can have a positive impact on the brain and mental health of individuals with depression. The study also highlights the importance of choosing the right type of video game for different purposes and goals.

The researchers recommended that playing 3D video games could be used as a complementary treatment for depression, along with medication and psychotherapy. They also suggested that playing 3D video games could be a preventive measure to protect the hippocampus and prevent cognitive decline and dementia.

However, the researchers also cautioned that playing video games should not replace other healthy activities, such as physical exercise, social interaction, and sleep. They also advised that playing video games should be done in moderation, and that excessive or compulsive gaming could have negative consequences for mental health and well-being.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *