The following research was done in collaboration with Jason Dunford.
This semester, we have been tasked with routinely playing Scrabble in order to help our learning and writing ability. However, after reading Jonathan Kay’s “Scrabble is a Lousy Game,” I was left wondering if board games, especially such linear and predictable ones, could truly help train the mind and provide health benefits to those that played them. I myself am a very avid fan of board games, and I wanted to know if playing them was only for entertainment, or if they could provide actual benefits. Thus, using “Scrabble is a Lousy Game” to jumpstart my research, I began my dive into the very scarce amount of research there is on the topic. What I did find seemed to point to board games being able to both accelerate learning in the healthy and also to help the processes of those less fortunate.
There seems to be a drought of board game research in recent years. Instead, the vast amount of research put into video games is flooding the topic of gaming. This made finding decent articles hard, and usable articles most difficult. However, the research that has been done provides some promising results. The bibliography that I have created includes Kay’s criticism of Scrabble, the birthplace of my question, along with three other research articles that help to answer if board games truly provide health benefits. Two of these research articles focus on the benefits that linear board games can give to preschoolers trying to learn mathematics. The other article delves into the cognitive effects that the game Mahjong can have on patients with dementia.
Indeed, research seems to suggest that board games can in fact give beneficial health effects to those that play them. Perhaps the Scrabble sessions that we have had in class have provided me with more than just easy one-hundred’s. It is good to know that such a fun hobby of mine does actually help me mentally, and can act as more than just a past time. I hope that research into this topic continues to be done so that a larger amount of people can learn of the benefits of board games.
Cavanagh , Sean. “Playing Games in Classroom Helping Pupils Grasp Math .” University at Buffalo , University at Buffalo , 29 Apr. 2008,
In “Playing Games in Classroom Helping Pupils Grasp Math,” Cavanagh summarizes the research of Siegler and Ramani. Cavanagh explains that Siegler and Ramani had the pupils play the board games four times, for fifteen to twenty minutes, over a two-week period. Cavanagh expands, saying “Many children from poor families have limited exposure to board games and simple math-related activities at home. Spending even a small amount of time on fun, basic board games could spark an early interest in math and produce an academic payoff later, some researchers say” (pg. 2). He also discusses “Number Worlds,” a program created by Sharon Griffin that uses specifically selected board and card games to promote math understanding in young children.
This source can be used to better understand and summarize Siegler and Ramani’s article, as well as to gleam new information related to the study and its findings. Researchers can use this information to further the discovery of the health benefits of board games. Teachers can use the information to use programs such as “Number Worlds” and the board game designed by Siegler and Ramani to further the knowledge and understanding of their students.
Cheng, Sheung‐Tak, et al. “An Exploratory Study of the Effect of Mahjong on the Cognitive Functioning of Persons with Dementia.” The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, Wiley-Blackwell, 15 June 2006,
“An Exploratory Study of the Effect of Mahjong on the Cognitive Functioning of Persons with Dementia” attempts to focus on research that was conducted on 62 older people, average age of about 84), that had been tested previously diagnosed with dementia according to standards upheld by the DSM-IV. A group of researches, Sheung-Tak Cheng, Alfred C. M. Chan, and Edwin C. S. Yu, selected people at random to either play Mahjong two or four times a week for a sixteen week period. During the sixteen week period, researchers continuously kept testing the mental capabilities of the subjects, trying to determine associations with the number of times played and any sort of effects it had on the people. After the period had ended, the group had finally conducted their last assessments, giving a generally positive reaction to the effects that playing Mahjong had on cognitive ability across all measures. The study concludes that Mahjong has little drawbacks to institutions but huge gain to patients, and, therefore, should be implemented as a viable treatment option for dementia.
Many psychologists and psychological institutions can use this research to further their own advancements in the world of psychological sciences. Using this information, many psychologists can attempt to better help their patients as well as provide them with knowledge and an enjoyable activity. As well as this, psychological institutions can attempt to initiate programs in which newer treatment options like this can be implemented at almost no cost with much benefit to the patients.
Kay, Jonathan. Review. “Scrabble is a Lousy Game.” The Wall Street Journal, 6-7 Oct. 2018, p. 5.
“Scrabble is a Lousy Game” speaks of Jonathan Kay’s suspicions of the benefits of the popular word game Scrabble and how he believes that it doesn’t help people to memorize words or learn to associate them with anything. In this, he states, “The only reason people play it [Scrabble], I suspect, is blind habit” (para. 3). Kay begins to present that Scrabble treats worlds less like words and more like something to be memorized and regurgitated when pressed. This is why, he believes, Scrabble doesn’t seem to have many positive effects on actual learning and word usage. He admits, however, that Scrabble players have very keen minds and have shown to be very spatially intelligent while also pondering why the avid players seem to enjoy the game so much. Then, he begins to discuss the viability of playing other board games in opposition to Scrabble, including other word games that combine the application of luck and skill, which, as Kay states, is imperative to typical game balancing.
Using this, board game fanatics can educate themselves and question the effectiveness of the games that they play. And, while Scrabble can prove to be a fun game to play with friends, its positive health effects upon an individual deserve to come into question. Therefore, as a way to appease the audience of avid Scrabble players, Kay also introduces the readers to two other similar word games that he believes provides a good balance in gaming and good experiences for a table of casual party gamers.
Siegler, Robert S., and Geetha B. Ramani. “Playing Linear Number Board Games—But Not Circular Ones—Improves Low-Income Preschoolers’ Numerical Understanding.” Carnegie Mellon University, American Psychological Association, 2009,
“Playing Linear Number Board Games—But Not Circular Ones—Improves Low-Income Preschoolers’ Numerical Understanding” details Siegler and Ramani’s experiments in using board games to help preschoolers from less fortunate households to understand math. According to them, “Among the most serious educational challenges facing the United States is the large discrepancy in academic performance between children from different economic backgrounds. Children from impoverished backgrounds achieve at a much lower level than other students throughout the course of schooling” (para. 1). They believe that the nature of linear board games can help children to develop an understanding of linear number lines that are used in the understanding of mathematics all the way up to adulthood. Siegler and Ramani developed an activity very similar to chutes and ladders. They had 124 different students from impoverished backgrounds move pieces around numbered squares. They conclude that “an increasing body of literature indicating that efforts to improve the numerical understanding of preschoolers from low-income backgrounds can yield large, broad, and rapid improvements. The benefits of playing the linear number board game extend to a variety of aspects of early numerical understanding: knowledge of numerical magnitudes, counting, numeral identification, and arithmetic. All of these are foundational skills that contribute to later mathematics learning” (pg. 13).
Using this information, school teachers can implement linear board games to help children from less fortunate backgrounds understand mathematics and keep up with their more fortunate peers. Teachers can change their curriculum to include board games as a fun way to expand their student’s understanding and ability to learn. Researchers can use the results of this study to kickstart more research into the benefits of board games in both students and in the populus in general.