Article by Jonathan Imberi
I don’t know about you, but just that title makes me feel even better about all the quarters I stuck into arcade machines in the 1980’s!
There have been several research projects done lately on how playing video games can have a positive effect on one’s health. According to researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, the results of combining biofeedback (a mind-over-matter technique) with the hand-eye coordination of video games may actually improve and protect a player’s mental and physical health.
“Thirty years of biofeedback research has shown that by training specific brainwave changes, or reductions in other abnormal physiological signals, people can achieve a wide variety of health-enhancing outcomes. With this new technology, we have found a way to package this training in an enjoyable and inherently motivating activity,” said Dr. Olafur Palsson, assistant professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA.
In a nutshell, they attach sensors to the player’s head and body that relay signals through a signal-processing unit on the game’s joystick or other control device. The joystick becomes easier to control as the player’s brainwaves produce a more optimal stress-free pattern. This encourages the player to produce these signal patterns in order to win the game. In other words, the less you run Mario into a Goomba, the better you will feel.
Using this new method, recreational video games have the potential to help both children and adults with health problems ranging from concentration to physical stress. This new technology can easily be adapted to today’s most popular games and even old classics. “This technology could be in homes all over the country within the next two or three years,” according to David Shannon of Langley’s commercialization office.
I can just see it now: we’ll have the HealthStation and the Nintendo Sic-No-Mor.
Not only can playing video games make us healthier, action video games can boost cognitive and attention skills according to a study by Shawn Green and Assistant Professor Daphne Bavelier of the Centre for Visual Science at the University of Rochester in New York. “Therefore, although video game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attentional processing,” the researchers wrote.
“The games teach players to keep several attentional windows open, and this is a type of training that can be generalized to other training,” commented Professor Pene Sanderson from the Cooperative Research Centre for Interactive Design.
The US Researchers used several experiments to demonstrate the benefits of playing video games. Their first experiment was to test whether playing video games increased the capacity of the visual attention system. They also performed a test to see if players could concentrate outside their playing area.
In a separate experiment, they tested to see if the pressure to act rapidly on several items would alter the player’s ability to process tasks over time. The result found that video game players possessed an enhanced attentional capacity and have an enhanced capacity of visual spatial distribution compared to non-players.
Thinking their results might be skewed because people who generally play video games do so because they are good at it and those who don’t avoid the games because they may lack these skills, the researchers trained a group of male and female non-players to play “Medal of Honor” for one hour per day for ten days and then tested their abilities. As predicted, the group trained in this game had a greater performance over those who did not play the game at all.
In the end, all those years of playing “Gauntlet” was actually forcing us to juggle a number of varied tasks (such as detecting new enemies, watching for food, and of course avoiding getting hurt, etc.) and preparing us to handle the multiple tasks of everyday life.
Remember how everyone was so worried when game consoles came out that we would become anti-social kids, sitting in dark rooms by ourselves playing video games all day? New research proves them all wrong. The Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia (TEEM) has discovered that playing certain video games will sharpen the skills kids need to do well in school and future jobs.
The findings reveal that specifically in simulation games where kids are in charge of constructing and controlling the forces that affect their simulated environment, they are actually developing strategic building and planning skills. They also found that adventure games can help to sharpen problem-solving skills. The best part of this whole study is that it proved that kids prefer to play in pairs or small groups, which contradicts the prevailing notion that gaming promotes solitary and anti-social behavior.
A word of warning: their findings do not apply to all video games. Playing “Grand Theft Auto” is not likely to improve your child’s grades or social skills.
But wait, there is more! Video games are not only healthy for you; they are also being used to improve our hospitals and medical facilities. It has been found that children who play video games on a Game Boy in the operating room before undergoing surgery are more relaxed than those who were given tranquilizers or just held Mommy’s hand. Dr. Anu Patel, an anesthesiologist at University Hospital in Newark, NJ, found that by giving children a few minutes to play their favorite game reduced their anxiety until the anesthesia took effect. Dr. Patel said, “We find that the children are just so happy with the Game Boy that they actually do forget where they are.”
The study was conducted on 4 – 12 year olds divided into three groups of 26 children each. All of the children had their parents with them in the operating room until they were anesthetized. The children in the first group were given a tranquilizer, the ones in the second group were given a Game Boy to play, and the third group had only their parents to comfort them. Using a 100-point scale for measuring preoperative anxiety, the three groups had their anxiety levels tested. On the average the Game Boy group had no increase in anxiety levels before surgery, whereas the tranquilizer group jumped 7.5 points, and the parents-only group increased by 17.5 points.
According to Dr. Erin Stucky, head of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Hospital Care, if a larger study produces the same results, video games should be used more widely in hospitals. She went on to add, “This is great because this offers a wonderful ability to have the child’s attention immersed elsewhere.”
Children are not the only patients benefiting the use of video games. The Virtual Reality Medical Center has used video games to treat more than 400 people with anxiety disorders. Patients use the video games as a way of facing their phobias. For example, people who are afraid to drive play “Midtown Madness”, a racing game; those with a fear of heights play the “Unreal Tournament” shooter game using a custom-crafted level featuring a playing field of sky scrapers 50 stories tall.
Dr. James Rosser, who heads the Advanced Medical Technology Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, knows exactly how he would like to see video games used in hospitals. Dr. Rosser has been using video games like “Super Monkey Ball” for Nintendo’s GameCube to train doctors in laparoscopic surgery. Dr. Rosser found that students who had played video games more than three hours in a one week period, even if it was only once, had 37% fewer errors during the surgery and preformed it 27% more quickly. “If you played in the past, or are currently playing, you’re significantly better than the non-players,” Dr. Rosser said. “Video games were the determining factor -- more than years of experience, gender, dominant/non-dominant hand, all of that.”
Dr. Rosser is convinced that it is only natural that video games would help doctors with laparoscopic surgeries (this refers to surgeons who use a tiny camera with joystick-controlled tools to perform an operation). Dr. Rosser says this type of surgery is about as close to gaming as surgery gets.
So the next time you’re about to go under the knife, make sure to ask the surgeon about his latest score in Super Monkey Ball.
The moral of this article?