May 28, 2003 -- Even violent video games aren't all bad. A new study shows that playing action video games improves several key visual skills.
The games that do this trick require a player to keep track of several changing objects at one time. These games also mean responding to separate tasks happening in rapid sequence. Forget Tetris, the old game where a person manipulates one geometric shape at a time. Today's action games -- such as Medal of Honor and Grand Theft Auto 3 -- move fast and call for rapid and complex visual processing.
They also tend to be violent, although that's not what University of Rochester, N.Y., researchers C. Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier, PhD, studied. They looked at whether the games change how much, how fast, and over how wide a field a person can track visual objects.
Green and Bavelier tested people age 18-23. Those who played video games were significantly better at all of these tasks than those who did not play the games. Games played included Grand Theft Auto 3, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Crazy Taxi, Team Fortress Classic, 007, Spider-Man, Halo, Marvel vs. Capcom, Roguespeare, and Super Mario Cart.
Was it really playing video games that made the difference? The researchers got people who didn't play video games to learn to play two different games: Tetris -- the one with the geometric shapes -- and Medal of Honor, an action game in which players assume the role of a WWII agent who must fire weapons and elude enemy soldiers.
After playing the games for an hour a day for 10 consecutive days, the newly minted video gamers underwent visual tests. Those who played Medal of Honor had greater improvements in their visual skills than those who played Tetris.
"Although video-game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attention processing," Green and Bavelier write in the May 29 issue of the journal Nature. "By forcing players to simultaneously juggle a number of varied tasks (detect new enemies, track existing enemies, and avoid getting hurt, among others), action-video-game playing pushed the limits of three rather different aspects of visual attention."
SOURCE: Nature, May 29, 2003.