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
“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
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
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
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,”
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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
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.”