The next time you want to yell at your kids to get off the couch and stop playing all those video games, you might want to hit the pause button. Action video games are actually proving to enhance decision-making abilities that carry over into real life.
Recent research performed at the University of Rochester in New York shows that playing action-oriented video games can strengthen a person’s ability to process sensory data and quickly translate it into a decision. And those decisions were found to be extremely accurate. Move over, Neo!
The study involved one group of young men who reported playing action video games at least five times a week for the previous year and another group who reported playing no action video games whatsoever during the same time period. The participants averaged 19 to 20 years old. Those who regularly played action video games were able to sort out visual and auditory information coming their way much more efficiently. The gaming group responded substantially faster than the non-video game players at every level of difficulty, while also maintaining just as much precision as their slower counterparts.
Apparently these results only hold up when playing video games of the violent variety, with names like Call of Duty and Shellshock. It’s not the blood and gore factor that makes the difference; it’s the ability to handle avoiding enemy troops, zombies, or alien invaders rushing at you in an onslaught from all angles and use your skills to take them out before they get you. The fast-paced action and split second timing involved are what hone these skills. Research has shown that playing video games in which you are helping a character achieve a goal does not provide any of the same benefits — other benefits maybe, but not quick decision-making skills.
Men and women both seem to gain the same decision-making proficiency when playing these action video games, but far fewer women choose to spend their free time sitting with a controller trying to annihilate their adversaries. Perhaps at some point video game manufacturers will be able to create a new genre of games that can adapt the same skill sharpeners to a somewhat less violent activity.
But in the meantime, these shooting games are proving their worth for on-the-job training. Most obviously, they are beneficial to those in the police force or military, for whom the aptitude for quick thinking and accuracy are absolutely essential. Another, perhaps more surprising group shown to have improved work skills from action video gaming is surgeons. A study that took place at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City found that the doctors who were video game players had better surgical skills than their non-playing peers. Those who spent at least three hours each week playing action video games made approximately 37 percent fewer mistakes in laproscopic surgery and performed the surgery 27 percent faster than their colleagues who did not play video games. The same ability to make quick decisions and move hands and fingers accordingly are needed for both surgery and action video gaming.
Numerous studies have proven a link between playing video games and improved hand-eye coordination. Even in an everyday situation such as driving a car down a street, the eye-hand coordination is better in those who play video games — helping them to notice the child darting in front of the car and swerve out of the way just in time.
But hold on, it gets better.
While the benefits we’ve talked about so far make perfect sense, less expected is the research that shows that playing video games can improve your eyesight. Logic would suggest that you might end up with eyestrain from all those hours of staring at a television or computer screen, but that’s actually not the case. It appears that playing action video games can enhance your contrast sensitivity, which is the ability to detect slight differences in shades of gray. This is especially beneficial to people who suffer from amblyopia or have trouble driving after dark. Not only do action video games improve the brain’s ability to process visual information, but the benefits were determined to last for months after the participants stopped playing the games.
So does that mean that letting your kid play violent video games for hours on end each day will guarantee him the presidency of your country? Considering how many kids do play video games, the answer is probably yes — that a number of the world’s future leaders will likely have honed their skills on video games. But that’s not the most frightening thing. I am more concerned about the Twitter-trained president who won’t be able to sign a bill longer than 140 characters.