The importance of “play” is well known to boardgamers, but it has now become the subject of a recent report from the BBC. The article discusses how play is usually associated with children and is important in their development. Prof. Sam Wass, a child psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of East London, explains that there are more links between different neurons in a young child’s brain than there are in an adult one, and as a result their brains are “messier”.
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Prof. Wass explains that play helps tidy children tidy up their brains by making connections between which haven’t necessarily been made before. Through the process of repetition, this helps to strengthen the connections between these different brain areas. Further, he argues that as well as the neurological benefits of play, it helps young children to learn about the world around them by experimenting. While the importance of play is understood for children, the article asks whether there is a specific age at which we feel it is odd for people to spend their free time playing a game.
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Play is known to help teenagers define themselves as people and to discover a sense of identity, but also has benefits for older people. The report gives the example of people from different religious and political backgrounds playing Backgammon together in Jerusalem and suggests that a more playful workplace can lead to “reduced absenteeism, greater commitment, more creativity, better team building and general happiness.”
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Further, Dr. Drew Altschul, a psychologist (University of Edinburgh), suggests playing games can help preserve brain function with people who play games later in life showing a less steep decline overall in their thinking skills, and effect not seen for those who spend their spare time reading and writing or playing music. Dr. Carrie Ryan (UCL), suggests it’s not only intellectual play that is of benefit to older people, even playing simple games like Bingo can help those with severe physical and cognitive deterioration like dementia who are enlivened by the experience.
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In conclusion, the article confirms what most board gamers already know—games really are good for you, and we should all spend more time playing them.