Action video games help gamers learn visual and memory tasks better

Playing action-packed video games can make you better at some new tasks. New research reveals that these games help by teaching players to learn faster.

“Imagine taking an American and doing some physical training to improve his athleticism,” says C. Shawn Green, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies how people learn. “If you then ask them to try and play rugby for the first time, they might not look so good. After all, even a good athlete entering a rugby match for the first time will have to learn a lot of new rules. However, their increased athleticism means that they will tend to be in a slightly better position initially than less athletic people, and thus learn to play rugby faster.

This idea is similar for action video games – usually those of a genre called first-person shooters – in which players are rewarded for following and reacting quickly and accurately to game features that appear and fall. move quickly.

C. Shawn Green

“If you increase the athletic equivalent for perceptual cognitive abilities – like visual attention or processing speed – it should allow you to learn faster when you have a new task that calls on those abilities.” , Green explains.

The findings will help researchers understand how the game – which is used to train laparoscopic surgeons and drone pilots, and to help people with amblyopia (sometimes called ‘lazy eye’) and deficit disorder attention – creates some of its well-documented positive effects.

“Games are really powerful and complex experiences,” says Green, whose work is supported by the Office of Naval Research. “We know they produce interesting behavior changes, but their level of complexity makes them difficult to study.”

The study also shows that not all training activities are created equal. Certain types of practice can make you perfect, but only for one thing. The types of training that allow trainees to quickly learn to perform a wide range of tasks – or at least several – have clear advantages.

“If you have people who are new to a basketball court only shoot free throws over and over again, they’ll probably get a lot better shooting straight from 15 feet,” says Green. “But then if you get them to shoot from somewhere else on the field, they’re probably going to come back to where they started. We call this a transfer failure or a generalization failure.

In a pair of experiments recently described in the journal Communications Biology, 25 participants at the University of Rochester in New York, then 52 participants at the University of Geneva in Switzerland were divided into roughly equal groups assigned to 45 hours of action video games (like those in the series Call of Duty) or other popular video games that take place at a different pace without relying too much on visual attention and reaction speed (games such as Sims and Zoo Tycoon).

Before gamers began their gaming tasks, they were tested with tasks that measured their visual perception and working memory abilities. Visual perception tasks asked participants to use a brief glance to determine the direction of movement of an object or the orientation of stripes crossing a shape. Working memory tests were more difficult, requiring players to listen to and monitor pairs of letters read aloud and shapes appearing in different places on a screen, and to report when one matched a sound or at a placement a number of laps back.

The two groups came out relatively equal in the initial tests. But after their contrasting gaming experiences, action game players were different.

“They had a slight advantage right away after playing the action games. But the most important effect was that they improved faster at these orientation and memory tasks than people who played other games, ”says Green, who collaborated on the study with researchers. of Rochester, Geneva, New York University and University of California, Irvine.

The tests were chosen because the simple movements and orientation of the basic shapes engage parts of the brain involved in very rudimentary visual processing and working memory. “Constantly having to deal with new things versus old things as information comes in” is a common factor in managing new tasks, says Green.

Taking advantage of the important aspects of complexity will help future game designers who focus as much on training as on entertainment.

“There are issues with action games – they tend to be violent, for example, and it’s unlikely to be necessary to cause the effects we want to see in gamers,” Green said. “Before you can start designing games to maximize benefits, you need to know what helps you and what doesn’t.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (EY020976, EY001319, EY017491 and 1K02AG054665) and the Department of Defense (N00014-14-1-0512 and N00014-17-1-2049) as well as the Foundation National Science Foundation, the Shanghai Natural Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

John C. Dent

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