The majority of gamers like simple, point-and-shoot games that rely more on reaction times than cognitive processing. But these individuals are missing a trick.

A playing cube and two chips on a board game

Games that get you to think are often much more enjoyable long-term than those that don’t. 

Why is this? It comes down to the satisfaction you get from solving problems (and the fact that it can help you in your work life). 

Think about the last time you figured something out. How did it feel? Was it on par with fragging monsters in Doom: Eternal, or did it give you something extra? 

If you are like most people, it probably made your gaming experience even more gratifying. For a moment, you felt like nothing could stop you. And that’s essentially what gaming is all about: reward. 

Of course, the last time you played a puzzle-solving game, you found it hard. That might be why you didn’t go back. When gaming, you want to do something you can pick up and benefit from immediately, not a game that hurts your brain everytime you play it and makes you feel the opposite of relaxed. 

The trick here is to get over this initial hump. Yes, some games are hard (that’s the point of them). But once you get into the swing of them, you soon discover that they offer a level of intrigue and interest you can’t get from hack-and-slash RPGs. The mechanics simply don’t exist. 

The best games are those that combine puzzles with stunning graphics and immersive worlds. Baldur’s Gate, Divinity: Original Sin, and the X-Com series do this fantastically well. You have to think carefully before making decisions, forcing you to rely on what Daniel Kahnemann calls “system 2 thinking.” These slower processes force you to consider games in more depth, making you think. 

At first, this approach can be a problem. But after a while, you will get used to it. Eventually, you’ll come to enjoy these games and want to play more of them. But how do you become ridiculously good, like those people who can solve a crossword puzzle in five minutes? Let’s take a look. 

Vary The Type Of Game You Play

The first step is to vary the types of thinking games you play. Mastering one doesn’t necessarily mean you will gain transferable skills you can apply to another. 

For instance, practice games that include spatial awareness, verbal reasoning, number-related problems, and logic. Mix and match as many skills as you can to build a repertoire of knowledge and techniques you can bring into other games. 

Embrace The Difficulty

It’s also a good idea to embrace the difficulty. The whole point of these games is to be hard and to make you think. 

As you move through games, celebrate your victories. Don’t try to get on the leaderboard from day one. Be happy with the progress you make, even if it seems slow at first. Getting better requires understanding why solutions work and how you might apply them again in the future. 

Set Goals

You can also try setting goals when trying to get good at puzzle-solving games. Having an idea in your mind of the standard you’d like to achieve gives you motivation to get there. 

Goals can also act as milestones on your journey to gaming greatness. You can look back and see how far you’ve come while predicting how much further you need to go, based on your trajectory. 

Have Fun

Another tip for getting good at puzzle-solving games is to have fun. You want it to feel like a hobby, not just some awful chore. 

If you are forcing yourself to engage in gaming sessions, take a step back and ask why that is the case. Look at your motivations and assess them. Figure out what is causing you to procrastinate or spend time away from the games. 

Practice Memory Skills

Once you’ve run through the basics, the next step is to practice your memory skills. Getting better at recalling information can help in many puzzle games that rely on working cognition. 

You could practice your memory by: 

  • Using memory-training apps, like Lumosity
  • Practicing using mnemonic memory devices (such as making anagrams from lists of important information or relating a memorable image to every word you have to remember)
  • Using memory palaces

Memory is not the only skill you need, but it is something you can train with the proper approach. Unlike basic intelligence, it appears far more malleable to interventions, enabling you to boost its function and enhance how it operates over time. Once you can recall information more easily, you may find puzzle games more enjoyable. 

Analyze Your Weaknesses

Another technique is to analyze your weaknesses and find out where they are going wrong. You might think you are taking the right approach, but later discover that another is far superior. 

For instance, you could find someone who is excellent at the puzzle game you want to play and get them to tell you what you are doing wrong. Their expert insight could help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. 

Once you know where you are struggling, you can focus on practicing those areas. Don’t do the things you are already good at: that won’t help you improve the way you want. 

Develop Logic And Reasoning Skills

You should also develop contextual logic and reasoning skills by playing diverse games requiring you to think carefully to solve problems. Choose a range of games to build skills in different areas. Focus on making what you learn as “transferable” as you can so you can use your knowledge in new puzzle games. 

Start with things like logic puzzles, mazes, Sudoku, and chess. Keep practicing various games to improve your thinking and planning.

If you were feeling particularly motivated, you could also choose activities outside of gaming to enhance your cognition. For example, you might take a course in logic or get interested in mathematical problem-solving. Seeing how others deal with problems can be an excellent way to fuel your passion and drive. 

Pay Attention To Visual Details

While playing these puzzle games, paying attention to visual details is another tactic you can use to get better. Often, it is the small observations that enable you to plot a course to victory. Taking advantage of all the tools and rules can give you that slight edge you need to win. 

Brush Up Your Vocabulary

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You might also want to brush up on your vocabulary to get better at these problem-solving games. Many are language-based, which makes it all the more critical to understand the subtle differences in meaning between words. 

Many people believe that playing Scrabble enhances vocabulary, and it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t teach you when and how to use these words like writing and speaking do.

Therefore, aside from playing games, it is a good idea to read complex texts. You can also try learning new languages, as these introduce you to etymologies that help to put natively spoken words into context. 

Don’t just read the dictionary and try to remember everything. That doesn’t work for most people. 

Spatial Reasoning

You’ll also want to work on your spatial reasoning, something that research suggests people can develop over time. Being good spatially is helpful for many computer-based puzzle games because they take place in 3D environments. Portal and Portal II are excellent examples. 

How you approach spatial reasoning depends entirely on the skills you want to practice. For instance, you can practice mental rotation problems in your mind using visual tools and cues.  You can also play real-life 3D puzzles, like the Rubik’s Cube. Understanding how to solve it helps you understand how objects relate to each other. 

Pay Attention To Detail

Another tactic is to pay attention to detail when training. Being a careful observer is also critical for problem-solving and puzzle games. Developers will often only give you subtle hints and expect you to solve complex problems using minimal assistance. (The less help you get, the more challenging the game). 

Start with visual search puzzles. These can help train your brain to look for outliers. 

You also want to practice active listening, since many games also contain audible clues. Don’t glaze over when someone in the game is talking. Pay attention to what they are saying and why they might be saying it, given the wider context. Try to understand the story’s thread if there is one. That can help you understand problems later.

Wrapping Up

Getting really good at puzzle-solving games takes a long time, but some people manage to achieve it. The trick is to be patient and enjoy the process. Learning a new game shouldn’t feel like a chore or something you “just have to get through.”

Don’t worry if you make a mistake: that’s where learning happens. The more you can understand your errors, the less likely you are to make the same mistakes in the future. 

So, what are you waiting for? Start practicing today and show off your skills.