We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Doctor explains 5 ways Warhammer 40k is good for your brain

Wargamer's resident psychiatrist lays out how wargames like 40k and Age of Sigmar can aid cognitive function, creativity, and social skills.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing a colorful brain, with images of miniatures and dice surrounding it

Tabletop games can be good for you – and there’s science to back it. Whether it’s catching up with friends over a fast-paced game of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k or using mindfulness in a miniature painting session, there are a ton of ways to make your hobby time good for your brain. My name’s Dr Joe, Wargamer’s resident psychiatrist, and I’m going to dive into five of them!

If you’re not up to date on every Warhammer 40k codex, can’t name every variety of Space Marines, and haven’t learned all the Warhammer 40k factions, don’t worry – these mental benefits don’t require lore knowledge or tactical mastery, only playing and engaging with the games.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing tabletop games materials and letters spelling out Learning

Playing to learn

Playing games can be educational (he says, looking at the hours clocked up on his Steam library…), and this idea isn’t new. From the days of early educational psychologists like Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, learning has been seen as an integral part of playing. Modern work on Game Based Learning has looked at games created to help learning, from Medical Education to social sciences – but the benefits don’t only kick in when the learning happens on purpose.

Beyond memorising stat lines for Space Marines, playing Warhammer 40k familiarises you with statistics, probability and risk management. The humble D6 feels simple, but in order to know your plucky Astra Militarum trooper isn’t about to enjoy his conversation with a Tyranid Carnifex, you have to follow quite a complex probability tree.

To hit, to wound, save rolls – there’s a three stage tree, complicated by numbers of shots and special rules, followed by distance, 2d6 probability spreads and charge rolls. To calculate that for one unit, let alone an army? Let’s just say if math exams were about dice games, I’d be confident about my odds. More confident than I am about my charge rolls, at least…

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing a Genestealer cults miniature with a huge brain, and a blackboard covered with complicated mathematical equations

Cognitive boosts

Tabletop games can help boost cognitive function. In this paper, 10 separate studies were analysed, and the authors found significant improvements in global cognition and executive function in older adults who played tabletop games.

A meta-analysis of games in education also showed boosts to memory and problem solving from tabletop games. Not just formal tabletop roleplaying games, but all tabletop games with narrative and roleplay aspects (because what game of 40k would be complete without a thrilling backstory) can increase creativity, with boosts to creative thinking and uniqueness in imaginative tests.

We know tabletop wargames can tell the best stories, and research suggests that the more narrative you inject into your matches, the more beneficial they may be.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing a cartoon brain and letters spelling out Community

Social interactivity

The earlier study on cognitive function also showed increases in social interactions. Being social, talking to friends, and spending time with other people (the horror) is good for you.

Even in the competitive scene, huge volumes of work can go into the narrative behind list building – and this lore only comes into its full power when it interacts with another force. It’s in the interaction that the stories come to life, not when the models are stuck in a storage case. What’s even more fascinating, is that a ‘fluffy’ list might actually get a game of Warhammer closer to the simulation of Wargames used by the military to train soldiers…

Designing games for social connectedness is hard, so when we know how important connected communities are for our wellbeing we should take advantage of the social aspects of our hobbies. A 2021 study (and many others) have showed tabletop games can boost social connectedness, confidence and skills, and we know socializing is a huge boost to our wellbeing, mental health, and quality of life.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing a hand painting watercolors onto a page

Painting minis as therapy

Warhammer is about more than just the game – the models have to come from somewhere! Science proves model building helps generate and visualise your ideas, and Art Therapy is a well established intervention for mental health and wellbeing.

The process of painting miniatures can be calming (despite edge highlights), relieving stress and creating flow states – that wonderful point where hours fly by without you noticing, while fully absorbed at the painting table. There’s reason to believe art therapy might even prevent cognitive decline as we age.

More research strongly suggests that the boosts to self-esteem from the creative process seem to transcend the actual method – and artists have been shown to gain in self-esteem and confidence through their art.

Though yes, we all get imposter syndrome when we see the pictures from Golden Demon. Unavoidable.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing lots of human faces in profile, with different colors

Social change through gaming

Here’s where we get a bit optimistic (or hypothetical, or speculative, or “Joe, you can’t publish that”, as my editor likes to call it). Warhammer 40k isn’t designed to be anything other than fun to play; it’s not a machine for social change, education or anything more than rolling dice and playing with toy soldiers.

Game design, however, gives us a few small opportunities to change the world for the better – studies looking at the board game Catan as a base for Global Warming education, or health related games improving actual bio-markers for your physical health, give me hope that games can have an impact far beyond the tabletop.

Whether it’s creating space for exploring complex issues, helping civic engagement or tackling climate change, games can do so much more than be entertaining. The Warhammer community can be very fond of vigorous discussion, which shows real passion amongst fans – but even though studies show Warhammer players prefer narratives where everyone wins, we have to remember that the way we represent our imaginary worlds can influence how we view moral decisions in the real one.

Warhammer 40k is good for your mental health - stock image showing a Genestealer Cults character on a therapist's chair during a session

Is there a space to improve the real world while spending time in a Grimdark one? Or are these the kind of thoughts that will get me a visit from the Warhammer 40k Inquisition? It’s up to you.

For more scientific wargames reading, check out my features on why Tyranids are scary and how to beat hobby burnout. Alternatively, for the latest GW updates, bookmark our Warhammer 40k news page and follow Wargamer on Google News.