Games demand full engagement – and when our brains are fully engaged, amazing things start to happen.

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1. Games help break bad habits
1. Games help break bad habits

Bad habits form around rewards; nobody craves a pack of cigarettes or a tub of ice cream because they hate the way nicotine or sugar makes them feel. But while your local pharmacy offers a whole suite of products designed to curb physical cravings, staving off mental cravings is often on you. One proven solution: play a game.

A 2014 study conducted jointly by Brown University, the American Cancer Society and Stony Brook University found that smokers deprived of nicotine could reduce their cravings simply by playing two-player games or solving puzzles with their romantic partners.

Why does this work? According to MRI scans of the participating couples’ brains, cooperative play and puzzle solving activated the exact same reward centers as nicotine does. Many games – especially the casual variety you are likely to find in your app store of choice – are designed to offer persistent rewards for completing challenges (think of the satisfying visual and sound effects when you obliterate a row of tiles in Candy Crush). So, the next time you feel a craving: reward yourself with a game first.

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