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Games, Puzzles and ADHD

I never play video games. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy playing video games, but because it’s the kind of thing where if I started I know I probably wouldn’t be able to stop.

Games and puzzles are a natural fit for the ADHD brain. I’d guess games and puzzles are especially likely to lure out the ADHD brain’s ability to hyperfocus.

To start with, these activities are associated with an imminent, well-defined reward: winning the game or solving the puzzle. Everything you do is a step toward getting that reward.

The prGamesocess of playing a game tends to be stimulating, requiring constant mental activity and providing continuous novelty. In many cases, a style of thinking where you jump around and consider different possibilities is helpful. All of these are also pluses for the ADHD brain.

Although I don’t play video games, I’m a big fan of “analog” games. I’m always up for a board game, and I enjoy a good crossword puzzle.

Chess is a game I’ve gotten into in the past few years. I play on my phone sometimes, and if it’s “speed” chess with a nerve-wrackingly short time limit, all the better.

Apparently, I’m not the only person to think there might be some sort of an affinity between games like chess and ADHD, because some researchers have tested chess training as a way of improving ADHD symptoms.

I don’t have high expectations that chess will turn out to be a miracle cure for ADHD, but overall I’m a fan of “chess therapy” because even in the worst-case scenario, you learn a fun game. I will say, though, that the one way chess isn’t a good fit for ADHD is that it’s a game where one inattentive mistake can ruin the entire game – as I’m often reminded!

Puzzles of any kind, from crossword puzzles to escape rooms, are a good example of a type of game where inattentive mistakes aren’t so costly. Here, impulsively running through different ideas, even nonsensical ones, only helps – if they turn out to be incorrect, nothing lost.

One more thing I like about games is that they’re a great way of filling up those little bits of empty time that are anathema for boredom-averse ADHDers. It’s the classic doing a sudoku on the bus or playing a game on your smartphone in the waiting room.

I think games are one of those things like music that just make life a little more fun in general, and I’m sure I’m not the only person with ADHD who feels that way. If you have some favorite games, leave recommendations below!

Image: Flickr/Sally Longstaff

Games, Puzzles and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Games, Puzzles and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2019
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