Games in Education

FWD News: Acquiring Life Skills through Video Games

Image of a Brain's Prefrontal CortexWhile video games often get a bad rap, in many cases they transmit valuable skills, sometimes without our noticing it. To better understand this trend, some experts have focused their efforts on uncovering just how games bring these skills to light.

Action games in particular are found to promote greater hand-eye co-ordination, faster reflexes and quicker reaction times, in addition to requiring a number of complex mental tasks. For example, shooting and driving games have been shown to improve a person's ability to monitor more objects in their visual field and to do so faster. Read More...

Indeed, researchers at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences of the University of Rochester, NY have found that gamers who play action-packed titles tend to be better at making quick decision and have a more acute attention span than non-gamers.

Published in fall 2010 in Current Biology, the study argues that this finding is due to the fact that gamers develop a stronger ability to infer results based on probability, which allows them to make decisions more rapidly. More specifically, they can process visual information more quickly and track 30 percent more objects than non-gamers.

In comparing gamers to non-gamers, the study came up with two sets of experiments—one using visual cues and the other audio. Both tasks required the accumulation of clues, which were not immediately obvious. The researchers determined that self-declared gamers were much quicker at coming up with the correct answer than non-gamers.

"We found that in both tasks, video game players made their decisions much faster than non-video game players, but with an equivalent level of accuracy—thus showing that the video game players weren't just 'trigger happy', which would have led to a decrease in accuracy," said Dr. Shawn Green, the study's lead researcher.

Similarly, Canadian researchers found that extensive video game experience prepares the brain for increasingly difficult hand-eye tasks. The study, published in fall 2010 in Cortex, uncovered a particular reorganization of the cortical network of the brain in young men with extensive video gaming experience. This reorganization gave them an advantage not only in gaming, but also in performing a variety of more complex hand-eye co-ordinated tasks.

The study compared 13 young men in their twenties who had been playing games for at least four hours a week for the last three years to 13 young men who had not. They each completed a series of progressively more challenging visuomotor tasks, such as using a joystick to look one way while reaching in a different direction, all this while having their brains scanned using fMRI.

Gran Turismo 5 can Teach You how to DriveGran Turismo 5 can Teach You how to DriveBy measuring the active parts of the brain, the researchers were able to determine that more experienced gamers had more activity in the front part of their brains, possibly linked to increased control of the spatial attention required for complex visual-based tasks.

In another instance, researchers from the National Taiwan University found that playing video games can contribute to more than academic success, but also to spatial perception and agility of movement in students. The study establishes a link between playing video games and fine motor skill development.

"Humans were once hunters," said game designer Michael Ooi. "To be a successful hunter, you have to keep fit. While doing exercises isn't fun, doing sports is and it is a form of a game. So while you play, you're actually training your physical skills, such as reflexes, speed, stamina and strength. Games are tools that make repetitive training tasks enjoyable and motivational."

Video games can also contribute to improving children's abilities to reason abstractly and to solve problems, according to a study from researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2011.

With benefits lasting at least three months, puzzle games that work a child's ability to retain information while solving problems can contribute to sharper cognitive skills, the authors found. In a study of 62 elementary and middle school students, just over half were trained for 15 minutes, 5 times a week, using an adapted version of a working-memory game originally designed for adults. The other children practised general knowledge and vocabulary tasks.

In their findings, psychologist Dr. Susanne M. Jeaggi and her team determined that only the children who had played the brain-training games had clear improvements in abstract reasoning and problem solving abilities, which carried on three months after the training ended. Particular characteristics of the game were that it required total concentration and the need to block out distractions.

Interestingly, the power of video games to transmit valuable training skills has also been harnessed by Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nissan, who in 2008 launched what they call the GT Academy. The project aimed to prove the theory of Kazunori Yamauchi, creator of the Grand Turismo driving simulation series; namely, that you could turn a video gamer into a real life race driver.

Spanish student Lucas Ordonez did just that. The self-described Gran Turismo 5 addict won one of the GT Academy competitions and was selected by Nissan to compete in the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Not only did he finish, he even earned a spot on the race podium, his team finishing ninth overall and second in their class.

"Gran Turismo is a practical learning and training tool as well as a game," said Ordonez. "And even now, as a real racing-car driver I still use it prepare for races and sharpen my reaction speeds, just as Formula One drivers do. For example it's great to help me familiarise myself with tracks, corners, when and where I need to brake and when I need to hit the accelerator."