IT IS A FACT, not widely known, that IQ scores in modern media-based societies have been rising year on year over the past five to six decades, and the rate has been accelerating during the past 15 years. This phenomenon, known as the 'Flynn effect' (named after New Zealand-based political scientist and intelligence researcher James R Flynn), turns on its head the widely held view that popular culture has been dumbing us down. The largest gains have appeared in test scores for fluid intelligence - the ability to deal with complex factors and work out a solution to a problem. In other words, to create meaning out of confusion. It is this kind of problem-solving skill that modern video games tend to sharpen, the experts say. Video games encourage perception and lateral thinking by inviting players to make sense of an unusual and challenging environment without providing an explicit set of rules. In his 2005 best-seller, Everything Bad Is Good For You, author Steven Johnson argues that video games, violent or not, are making our children smarter. Today's games are a far cry from such early computer games as Solitaire. Marc Prensky, founder and chief executive of Games2train, a company that specialises in games-based learning, says these 'complex' games require much effort and hours of focused attention to master. Complexity matters, Mr Prensky says. 'Today's complex games are something else - a new species of game. It is a new animal,' he says. Examples of complex games are Sim City, Civilization III and Rise of Nations, in which players build bigger and more complicated cities or civilisations; Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, where players confront increasingly challenging enemies; and big-shot, entrepreneurial games such as Airport Tycoon, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Cruise Ship Tycoon and Mall Tycoon, in which players manage all aspects of different businesses. In these complex games, Mr Prensky says, players must make decisions at every level. They must first decide on the game character they want to be, which usually entails choosing a race, a profession, a religion, a gender. They must also decide whether they are on the 'good' side or the 'dark' side. All choices go into determining the type of game experience the player will have. Then there are the ethical dilemmas and choices. Players must think hard about such matters as the consequences of their actions, which side to take, and whether a direct and aggressive route is preferable to a circuitous or stealthy one. Children enjoy immersing themselves in these complex games because they get quick feedback on their decisions and have full control over their environment, something that is often missing in their daily lives, in which the adults are usually telling them what to do. The computer age has opened the the way for creating games of a high level of complexity and packed with what-if scenarios waiting to be developed. Advanced technology has also allowed for something called 'adaptivity' to be built into the games. A complex game can have compelling attractions for educationists. For example, children intent on being heroes and saving the world may not realise that they are also learning about history and society while having fun. Video games are opening the way for new types of learning and teaching things such as systems thinking and experimental problem solving.