Sep 292003
 
Authors: Christiana Nelson

Five-year-old Melody Brunswig plays GameBoy and computer games

for fun and thinks that when she grows up there will be only one

benefit to her playing habits.

“They make you so you can feel right,” Brunswig said. “They make

you so you are happy.”

Yet, action video games could provide vast future benefits to

players by sharpening visual skills and increasing visual

attention, according to a study released by the University of

Rochester in May 2003.

The study, conducted by Daphne Bavelier, found that playing

games such as “Grand Theft Auto III,” “Counter-Strike,” “Crazy

Taxi,” “Halo” and “Super Mario Cart” increases visual information

processing, the ability to localize a target object in a cluttered

environment and the ability to keep track of more objects at

once.

“Our findings are surprising because they show that the learning

induced by video game playing occurs quite fast and generalizes

outside the gaming experience,” Bavelier said in an e-mail

interview. “This stands in sharp contrast with studies on

perceptual learning that perceptual learning tends to be

specific.”

The experiments compared a category of subjects ages 18 to 23

who played varying amounts of video games in the six months

preceding the study. One group played action video games for at

least one hour four days per week, and the other group had not

played video games at all.

Carol Seger, assistant professor of psychology at CSU, said that

all of the study’s research experiments were simple and common

tests used to measure visual modification.

“I’ve seen all of the tasks they used in the study before,”

Seger said. “They were all reasonable choices.”

The flanker compatibility test, one experiment used in the

study, was an experiment used to determine whether video game

playing increased attentional capacity.

Researchers asked participants to pay attention to how many

squares they saw in a briefly flashed display, finding that people

who played video games reported seeing a higher number of

squares.

Despite the study’s report that video games increase attentional

capacity, Jessica Berthod, a freshman business major, believes

video games can have negative effects.

“They are kind of a distraction,” Berthod said. “I know that a

lot of guys play ‘Halo.’ They don’t even go to school; they just

play ‘Halo.'”

As a “Halo” player, Zach Deitrick believes that video games have

cognitive benefits. The sophomore engineering major started playing

Nintendo when he was 6 years old and continues to play about two to

three hours of video games per week.

“I think that video games can help with eye-hand coordination

and help with thinking and reasoning, particularly problem

solving,” Deitrick said.

Still, Deitrick is hesitant to say that playing video games

helps him in school.

“Video games do have benefits, but I would say that it would

decrease my GPA before increasing it because it is a distraction,”

he said.

The study concluded that not only do avid video game players

exhibit better visual skills than non-players, but also that if

non-players were trained to play video

games for as few as 10 hours they increased their visual

skills.

Megan Thorburn, a sophomore chemistry major, has never played

video games and believes that gaming would hurt her rather than

help her educationally.

“It seems like a waste of time,” Thorburn said. “It doesn’t

excite my mental pathways and it would probably be a distraction to

me and would make me a worse student.”

Yet, Thorburn seems to be in the minority, as two-thirds of

college students play video games and many use it as entertainment

or as a social activity, according to Wired News Online.

Mark Myers, a senior computer science major, said he played

video games as a child and believes the benefits of video games are

debatable.

“There could be some truth to video games working on a cognitive

level,” Myers said. “It definitely has a value, but it depends on

how much value you place on things like sports, being outside and

interpersonal relationships.”

C. Shawn Green, a graduate student at University of Rochester

and the first author of the study, said that despite the benefits

of video games, students should maintain a balance between gaming

and education.

“I played a lot of video games throughout college but always

kept it in check so that it didn’t come before schoolwork,” Green

said in an e-mail interview. “I realized in adulthood I would need

food and shelter, etc. and that video game skill probably wasn’t

going to provide for those necessities.”

Maintaining a balance and realizing the negative and positive

effects of playing video games is an important issue to CSU’s

Seger.

“The study does show that the attention system is more

modifiable and plastic than many people think,” Seger said. “You

just have to figure out what the value of this is. There are

trade-offs; many of the games are violent and that could keep this

issue controversial.”

The study did not address the violent side of video games, but

Bavelier emphasized that visual enhancement does not result from

playing all video games.

“The effects seen are specific to games that require monitoring

the screen for new objects that may occur at any location and any

time,” Bavelier said. “For example, Tetris does not lead to any

changes in the visual skills tested.”

Bavelier believes the findings could provide benefits for

individuals in careers that require greater attentional

capabilities than normal or for military personnel who must process

multiple objects simultaneously, but she warns that students should

not interpret the study to impact education.

“Our findings have nothing to say about improving test scores,

IQ or helping children with academic challenges,” Bavelier said.

“We certainly don’t mean to convey the message that kids can play

video games instead of doing their homework.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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