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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Video Games May Help Critical Thinking

Some Video Games Might Be a 'Worthy Vehicle of Learning,' Researchers Report
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 18, 2008 -- Some video games might deserve more credit than they get, and could be a good teaching tool.

So say researchers including Constance Steinkuehler, PhD, assistant professor in the educational communication and technology program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

They studied nearly 2,000 posts in an online forum for players of the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft.

Not a player? "The game is set in a fantasy world in which players of various classes... wander the environment hunting, gathering, questing, battling, and crafting in order to strengthen or 'level' their character in various ways," Steinkuehler's team explains.

Most of the posts -- 86% -- were "social knowledge construction," defined by the researchers as "the collective development of understanding, often through joint problems and argumentation... solving problems through discussion, knowledge sharing, and debate."

Those posts were full of reasoning, in some cases backed up by mathematical predictions. Few posts -- 8% -- were purely social chatter; the remaining 6% defied classification.

"While virtual worlds may seem 'torpid' to a non-gaming older generation... this interactive medium might well be a worthy vehicle of learning for those who value intellectual and academic play," the researchers write in a paper to be published by the Journal of Science Education and Technology.

The findings were presented yesterday in Boston at the American Psychological Association's 116th annual convention.

The convention also included a presentation by William Stone and Douglas Gentile, PhD, of Iowa State University's Media Research Lab, on the positive and negative research on video games.

On the bright side, Stone and Gentile note that laparoscopic surgeons who play video games at least three hours per week may do their surgeries faster and with fewer errors than their non-gaming colleagues. But they also point out that violent video games have been linked to worse, more aggressive moods in adolescents.

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