Can we use games such as video games to improve mental performance?
In general, scientific studies find that while practising something will make you good at it, getting good at one activity doesn't make you better at other activities. For example, if you play a lot of chess, you will get better at playing chess, but there is not good evidence that playing chess will make you better at other activities like, say, playing bridge or computer programming (See this interesting article in Scientific American on "The Expert Mind" : http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind ).
That means that if we do find scientific evidence that playing some game improves general intelligence, it is a very exciting finding for us. The Mind Hacks and Mind Performance Hacks books both describe evidence that playing first person video games improves certain general mental processes, namely the "attentional blink" and "subitizing". This is a fast moving area of research and every now and then researchers are making new findings suggesting ways that game playing can improve intelligence.
Recently, researchers have presented evidence that practicing a particular demanding mental task (called "Dual n-back") increases general intelligence - probably through increasing the capacity of working memory (i.e. the number of things we can hold in our head at one time while thinking). That holds the promise of a way of increasing general intelligence and problem solving ability.
The dual n-back task is pretty intense, and it's probably fairer to describe it as an "intense brain workout" than a "game". An interesting twist on the n-back idea is the 3d dual n-back speed run at cognitivefun.net, which is an attempt at implementing something close to the dual n-back task in the study, but made into a much more compelling computer game format.
For iPhone/iPod Touch users, check out the "IQ Boost" application, which is a reasonably faithful implementation of the original task.
See WorkingMemoryTraining for further scientific background
For facebook users, check out the "Who has the biggest brain" application.
Here are some open questions for development:
Apparently, this online game implements the n-back task: http://cognitivefun.net/test/5
Thanks Ron - this looks like exactly what I was after. ThufirHawat.