The continued battle of the “games are good” “games are bad” war plays on with a recent article in Discover Magazine that examines the growing body of research suggesting that video games exercise the mind similar to the way physical activity exercises the body.
Laparoscopic surgery, also known as keyhole surgery or band-aid surgery, involves manipulating controls/joysticks to control a fiber optic camera and surgical tools to perform minimally invasive surgery with only tiny incisions in the person’s body. Laparoscopic surgery has been around for many years now, but doctors have only recently begun to notice a stirring correlation between the top surgeons and video gamers.
Surgeon Butch Rosser, directory of minimally invasive surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, read a reporter’s comments about one of his procedures that referred to him as a “Nintendo surgeon”. This started his thinking that perhaps his apparent gift among many of his peers was because he was a gamer.
Rosser set out to see if there was a correlation by using a standardized laparoscopic training exercise called “Top Gun” to test laparoscopic surgeons that had never played a video game and those that were gamers. “The results were really astounding,” he says. “First of all, if you played video game [at any time] in the past, it was found that you were significantly faster and, more importantly, you created fewer errors than people who had no previous video game experience. Then when we looked at whether you were a current video gamer, we found that if you played video games currently, you were over 30 percent better — faster, and created fewer errors — than someone who did not play video games at all.”
Alan Castel, psychology professor at Washington University of St. Louis, performed another study where people from different groups are given a series of standard visual tests looking for a particular object (e.g. a letter) among a group of other objects on a computer monitor. “Video game players had faster reaction times on the order of 100 milliseconds, which might not sound like a lot but in this domain it’s quite a strong finding,” says Castel. “And you can imagine, when driving, a difference of 100 milliseconds could really help you avoid accidents.”
The research showed that gamers used the same search patterns as non-gamer, “but video game players were faster and more efficient when carrying out this search,” says Castel.
“Previous research has shown that video game players have more attentional capacity and can carry out search functions in more efficient manners,” says Castel. “Our research was interested in examining whether there were differences in how video game players and non-video game players search the visual environment, how they carry out visual search. We were interested in whether video game players would carry out visual search in a different way relative to people who don’t play video games.”
Castel suggests that not only are video games good “practice” for many mental tasks around activities like military flight training and surgery but that they may also be a good tool for rehabilitation of people recovering from brain injuries.
The mental improvement from video games is clearly there. However, Rosser does point out that surgeons perform better with just three hours of video game play per week. Rosser goes on to say to kids “That Butch Rosser would not be here in this capacity if he played video games and did not have good grades, did not develop perseverance. And I would say to that child out there that thinks that they got a free pass to play video games carte blanche, I say ‘Nooo, sadly mistaken.”
With the current talk from politicians, trying to get “airtime”, of banning video games, imposing regulations beyond other entertainment mediums such as books or movies, and the “detriments” of video games, the work of organizations like the International Game Developers Association, who advocate for a more balanced and fair look at games, is needed more now than ever. Research has shown the positive effects of playing video games and has shown very mixed results of any ill effects.
Those in positions to regulate the video game industry need to take a fair look at the studies in the area before attempting to impose any unfair requirements on the industry. With that said, not all games are appropriate for all ages. Parents need to know what their kids are playing. The industries ESRB ratings are a great first step for this, as are many of the review sites online.
To the kids out there, do you homework, but please play your video games. You may be the one operating on me one day…