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Games 'Help Us Make Right Decisions Faster', Study Shows
Games 'Help Us Make Right Decisions Faster', Study Shows
September 14, 2010 | By Simon Parkin

September 14, 2010 | By Simon Parkin
More: Console/PC

Video games could provide a useful and effective training tool for speeding up reactions in real-life situations according to a study published in the journal, Current Biology.

Authors Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green report that games increase sensitivity to our surroundings, a benefit that improves a wide variety of skills in general life, including multitasking, driving, navigating, keeping track of friends in a crowd and even reading small print.

Researchers from the University of Rochester tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily game players. Subjects were split into two groups. The first played 50 hours of the fast-moving first-person shooting games Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, while the second group played 50 hours of the comparatively slow-moving game The Sims 2.

Following the training sessions, each subject was asked to make quick decisions in several auditory and visual tasks designed by the researchers, for example, estimating whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average.

Players in the action game group were up to 25 percent faster at reaching a conclusion and answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game playing peers.

"It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate: they are just as accurate and also faster," Bavelier said. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference."

However, it appears that these benefits of video games stem primarily from action games, which almost always means "shooter games, where you go through a maze and you don't know when a villain will appear," Bavelier said. "It's not exactly what you'd think of as mind enhancing. Strategy or role-playing games were not found to have the same effect."

The scientists suggest that reason for such broad improvements in performance may be that action video games don't have a clear 'answer.' but are inherently unpredictable.

"Unlike standard learning paradigms, which have a highly specific solution, there is no such specific solution in action video games because situations are rarely, if ever, repeated," the report concludes. "Thus, the only characteristics that can be learned are how to rapidly and accurately learn the statistics on the fly and how to accumulate this evidence more efficiently."

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Mihai Cozma
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Well, it's hard to put The Sims in the "strategy" games category, but it's definitely wrong to generalize that strategy games don't have the same effect. Play some rounds of Starcraft 2 on and you will take more decisions than you can take in any shooter for the same playing time. RTS games force you to take decisions all the time, at micro and macro level, and a single mistake can be your downfall, while shooter games are way more forgiving in this sense.

Dorica Prostel
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The Sims is a strategy game now?!

But of course nea Cozma is right, real time strategy games can be just as hectic as a FPS, and it's more likely that the slow nature of the Sims (which is still not a strategy game) and TBS doesn't really lend itself to quick decision making and reflexes.

Martin Oddy
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I don't really understand the conclusion of this study.

Of course your reactions are going to be 25% faster if you've been doing an activity for a prolonged period of time that requires fast reactions, compared to one that doesn't.

Daniel Boy
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I would like to see a study comparing the effects of playing Modern Warfare, table tennis, watching tv and reading.

Dave Endresak
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I have to wonder whether or not the researchers are actually game players and, if so, exactly what games they actually play.

The Sims as a strategy game? Well, okay, but then every game is a strategy game, including FPSes, because all games require players to develop some form of strategy.

RPGs do not require fast decision-making? Well, for one thing, there are many, many different forms of RPG, and most importantly, there are significant differences between the way the RPG genre is viewed in Western markets versus how it is approached in Japan and other East Asian markets. That being said, modern RPGs are really losing their "roleplaying" element in favor of focusing on "action" instead. In fact, even hugely sucessful and popular franchise entries like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion have been accused of being nothing more than a fantasy FPS by some who wish to roleplay a character rather than test their own abilities. Trying to find turn-based RPGs today (which are far more roleplaying oriented than real-time RPGs) is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, except for titles that have been out awhile such as Xenosaga.

Also, there is actually a category of gaming called "action games" which includes platformers such as BloodRayne and older titles such as Valis, as well as games such as Silent Hill. The latter is extremely slow-paced, but is still an action game.

Finally, many games are hybrid products of several genres. Deus Ex is a famous example, but really even recent releases like Dragon Age or the various MMOs are hybrids.

I certainly agree with the general conclusion that gaming and simulatiions are excellent pedagogical and training tools. In fact, that's part of the focus of my own academic pursuits and research, and something I have argued to various faculty who are simply not game players. However, I think I want my own research project to be a bit better founded than this one seems to be so that the conclusions can be offered with some real strength to them as far as getting academe to pay attention and become aware of the enormous learning potential they are currently missing.

Jamie Madigan
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You all are getting too hung up on the strategy genre thing. The main thing is that fast paced games requiring more attention created the effects. The guy chose his words poorly in the quote.

Personally, I wonder how long the effects lasted. Whenever I hear about this stuff wonder if temporary psychological or emotional states are responsible, but they fade quickly and certainly don't make any permanent improvements in ability. Like how listening to classical music makes you do better on math tests taken immediately afterwords, but doesn't actually make you smarter.

Martin Redford
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It is ok to think that video games are a nice hobby. But let's be honest, which true gamer actually spends only FIVE hours a week playing. The problem is not that you do not get anything positive out of the video games, it is more about that you could be using that time in other things which can reap even bigger benefits and require less time. Let's use a simple example, read a book and you may boast about it for the rest of your life. These studies probably talk about short term effects that probably fade with time.

Jonathan Jennings
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I agree 'Martin while I do feel like gaming does offer positive effects and cab be beneficial that's certainly not why I play games, it's just a nice bonus. In all honesty when I am sawing a locust in half within gears of war I am doing it because I want to saw a locust in half , not because I want to increase my understanding of extraterrestrial biology.

John Gordon
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This study doesn't use the best of methods. There should have been a third "control" group that didn't play any games.