Bone Up at Video Game U
Tired of telling Junior to stop playing Madden '06 on that PlayStation? Perhaps you should join him. Despite the controversy about the violent content of games such as Grand Theft Auto, more and more studies are showing that games are good for you.
The benefits to the brain could reach well beyond the improved hand-eye coordination that video games have long been thought to encourage. According to Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You , many games force players to learn complex rules, follow dozens of variables in real time, and prioritize among goals. Sounds like an intense day in the real world, right?
Multitasking. Even more so. "It's rare that you're ever going to need to track six objects at once or find a target that exists for a few seconds at a time," says C. Shawn Green, a University of Rochester graduate student who coauthored a 2003 study that found that video games do improve attention to visual detail. Still, the skills honed with virtual games could have literal uses. Green says that video games could help people recover from strokes or train police officers and soldiers. Indeed, some U.S. military units already customize video games for training.
Who knows? Those shoot-'em-up skills could even save lives. A 2004 study of doctors at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center, done with the National Institute on Media and Family at Iowa State University, found that gamers might have an advantage in the operating room. Thirty-three doctors were tested on three video game tasks that measured motor skills, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and other skills essential to performing laparoscopic surgery (in which a small video camera is inserted into the patient and maneuvered by a joystick). Doctors who once played video games for more than three hours a week were 37 percent less likely to make mistakes and finished the procedure 27 percent quicker. Which leaves more time to play video games, of course.
This story appears in the December 26, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.