Recently, Someone Much Smarter Than Me explained the concept of neuroplasticity, where the brain is capable of creating new neurons that enable us to learn things. New experiences trigger the creation of these neural pathways as well. You can actually grow brain cells!
(Disclaimer: I was the kid who lit incense in high school biology, fought against dissecting a frog and avoided all science classes since then.)
There are massive implications to this neuroplasticity thing, as the internet has taught me. But in that conversation, we were chatting about how this applies to people with depression. With a lot of practice, you can apparently rewire your brain to be less depressed.
It was once thought that humans were born with just so many brain cells and they die off as you age. But it seems that adding challenges, travel and learning to your life prompts the brain to create the neural pathways needed to process these experiences. Your thinking pattern changes to accommodate. Happy memories are created to replace, or maybe live alongside, the negative.
This makes me think of muscle memory. It’s said that the body remembers how to do different movements like exercises. I recently missed my dance class for a few weeks and didn’t practice at home. Last week, in my first visit back, I started out a little rusty but I remembered the moves and was soon in step with the instructor. I have been attending her classes for a couple of years so those neural pathways were well established. In today’s class, I was doing fine until a bad, nagging thought impeded my concentration. My movements showed that I wasn’t 100% there anymore.
My theory is that games are another way to create novelties that would cause the brain to create more neural pathways. No matter how many times you play a game, no two challenges will be identical. There will be variations based on who you’re playing with and, literally, the roll of the dice.
Just like life.