11 Fun Games That Make You Smarter, Too

"Life is more fun if you play games," said Roald Dahl. (See also: 5 Economy Based Games That Make You Think)

And there's even better news: Those same games can also make you smarter. Here are 11 games that exercise different mental skills.

1. Super Mario Brothers

Good news fans of the lovable Italian plumber! A neurological research study has found that playing Super Mario Brothers for at least 30 minutes a day for two months improves neural plasticity — the ability of the brain to change and grow.

Guiding Mario and Luigi through the different levels augments the gray matter in your brain that is essential for "spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance." The researchers concluded that the right dose of Super Mario Brothers adventures can help those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disease.

2. Scrabble

If you are competitive at playing Scrabble, you can brag to your friends that you have some mad language skills!

A study comparing competitive Scrabble players against a test group of novice players found that Scrabble experts are more adept at vertical fluency and semantic deemphasis. The first skill allows you to handle words presented in a vertical fashion, and the second one improves your ability to handle word responses. These two skills combined lead to better word recognition in adults. Unfortunately, the researchers don't believe that these same skills can be obtained through Scrabble's digital counterpart, Words With Friends. So drop the smartphone and pick up the board game.

3. FitBrains

If the world-famous Rosetta Stone invests $12 million in a suite of brain training apps, you ought to give these apps a try. And boy, does the brain training app developer, FitBrains, have a pitch. They claim that by using its apps for 15 minutes a day, five days a week, you can improve your memory and concentration, and ward off mental diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. FitBrains includes memory, visual, focus, speed, logic, and language games, all accessible through its site or its smartphone apps.

4. Chess

There is strong evidence of the mental benefits of playing chess on a regular basis across all age groups.

This is why chess is part of school curricula in close to 30 countries, including Russia, Iceland, and Venezuela.

5. Mahjong

While chess is considered one of the ultimate tests of intelligence in the Western world, Mahjong is its counterpart in the Eastern world. With high popularity in Eastern and South Eastern Asia, mahjong is played with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols. Adults with mild-to-moderate symptoms of dementia may improve their cognitive functions by playing the game.

However, various studies point out that the health benefits of mahjong extend beyond seniors with dementia. Mahjong improves social skills, memory, and even math skills.

6. Tetris

If you are still suspicious that playing video games can make you smarter, then here is one game that will cast away your doubts. Through the use of brain-activity tracking technologies, researchers found that adolescent girls showed improved brain activity after three months of Tetris practice. The girls age 12 to 15 practiced Tetris 1.5 hours per week during the three-month period. During and after a Tetris session, your brain experiences significant activity that leads to greater brain efficiency. On top of improving your noggin, playing Tetris may help you fight off cravings and become part of your weight management or habit reduction plan.

7. Monopoly

This is my favorite board game, so I was thrilled to read comments about the game from renowned board game designer Philip Orbanes. He is a global authority on Monopoly and has judged U.S. and World Monopoly Championships for over 30 years. (Watch him judge the final game of the 2009 Monopoly Championship, which gathered national champions from Russia, Norway, New Zealand, and the U.S.) He strongly believes that Monopoly provides real life financial lessons.

Orbanes points out that Monopoly can:

  • Provide kids their first important lessons in the art of negotiations in a safe environment;
  • Teach players of any age an understanding of the concept of diversification;
  • Offer practical training in managing money;
  • Help to exercise arithmetic and statistical skills without feeling like homework.

Turns out that Monopoly is serious business!

8. Lumosity

This is an alternative to FitBrains. If you have seen one of Lumosity's ads on TV and decided to visit its site to check out what neuroplasticity is all about, you're not alone. The site has over 60 million subscribers, spending a bit over 11 minutes on the site per session.

Lumosity provides 40 games that are designed to increase memory, attention, processing speed, mental flexibility, and problem solving skills. For example, the Waiter Game jogs your ability to remember names and RainDrops works your problem solving. Could you search free alternatives to all 40 games on your own? Sure, but Lumosity already did the work for you and can provide you personalized reports and suggestions on what to work next.

9. LittleBigPlanet

If Lumosity sounds too grown-up for the taste of your inner child, then give LittleBigPlanet a try. This game requires such high levels of critical thinking and creativity that a New York public school added LittleBigPlanet to its curricula.

There are many versions of LittleBigPlanet but the one that has been lauded the most for its skills development benefits is LittleBigPlanet 2. Given the availability of an in-game level editor to make custom levels, many have noted how it provides players a basic introduction into computing or game design. This opportunity to design and test your own game levels could be a great investment. After all, the video game design industry offers annual salaries ranging between $37,000 and $200,000.

10. Charades

The classic family living room game is a great way to give your brain a workout. Trying to decode and to communicate only through gestures recruits a series of areas of the brain that are necessary for simulation and mentalization. While the benefits of charades are best enjoyed when actively trying to guess the charades, there are also marginal benefits when merely observing. Having to role play and present information without talking trains charade players to make sense out of new information more efficiently. Also, performing role plays facilitates your ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes.

11. The Professor Layton Series

Last but not least is the popular saga for the Nintendo DS game platform. While the game is known for its beautiful animation sequences, it is downright addictive due to its smartly designed brain busters. Up to 75% of players of indicate that the mental challenge is their most preferred aspect of the game. This motivator is more than double than any other included in the survey. The variety of logic challenges keeps you engaged and, if you find them too easy, you can increase the difficulty level. Before settling on a specific game to buy, you can test drive a few of the puzzles, such as the ones from the Arzan Legacy series.

What is your favorite game that helps you become smarter? Please share in comments!

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