Researchers at North Carolina State University have determined that playing WoW boosts cognitive functioning for older adults.
This was particularly true for individuals who scored poorly on cognitive ability tests before trying the game.
"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits - it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," explained Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State and co-author of a paper on the study.
"We found there were improvements, but it depended on each participant's baseline cognitive functioning level."
According to McLaughlin, researchers from NC State's Gains Through Gaming laboratory first tested the cognitive functioning of study participants, aged 60-77, to set a baseline.
The researchers subsequently analyzed a wide range of cognitive abilities, including spatial ability, memory and how well participants could focus their attention.
An "experimental" group of study participants then played WoW on their home computers for approximately 14 hours over the course of two weeks, before being re-tested. A "control" group of study participants did not play WoW, but was also re-tested after two weeks.
Comparing the cognitive functioning test scores of participants in the experimental and control groups, the researchers found the group that played WoW experienced a much greater increase in cognitive functioning, though the effect did vary according to each participant's baseline score.
"Among participants who scored well on baseline cognitive functioning tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW – they were already doing great... But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests," McLaughlin added.