May 29, 2010

Video Games May Improve Vision and Brain Function

According to research presented Thursday at a New York University conference on games as a learning tool, playing video games might help improve vision and other brain functions.

"People that play these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention and better cognition," said Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester.

Bavelier was a presenter at Games for Learning, which is a daylong symposium on the educational uses of video games and computer games.

The event was an indication that electronic games are gaining legitimacy in the classroom.

President Barack Obama recently identified the creation of good educational software as one of the "grand challenges for American innovation," and the federal Department of Education's assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, attended Thursday's conference.

Presenters discussed how games can be engineered to be even more educational.

"People do learn from games," said J. Dexter Fletcher of the Institute for Defense Analyses.

Sigmund Tobias of the State University of New York at Albany said an Israeli air force study discovered students who played the game "Space Fortress" had better rankings in their pilot training than those students who did not play the game.

He said that those who played "pro-social" games that promote cooperation were more likely than others to help out in real-life situations, like intervening when someone is being harassed.

Bavelier's research has particularly studied so-called first person shooter games like "Unreal Tournament" and "Medal of Honor," in which players fight during World War II.

"You have to jump into vehicles, you have to crouch and hide," Tammy Schachter, a spokeswoman for game developer Electronic Arts Inc, told the Associated Press.

According to Bavelier, playing the kill-or-be-killed games can improve peripheral vision and the ability to see objects at dusk.

She said that she believes the games improve math performance as well as other brain functions.

"We are testing this hypothesis that when you play an action video game, what you do is you learn to better allocate your resources," she told AP. "In a sense you learn to learn. ... You become very good at adapting to whatever is asked of you."

Bavelier said that she believes the games will eventually become part of school curriculums, but "it's going to take a generation."

According to Schachter, the purpose of "Medal of Honor" and other games is to have fun, and any educational benefits are a plus.

"Through entertainment, these games test your memory skills, your eye-hand coordination, your ability to detect small activities on the screen and interact with them," she told AP.

Bavelier said games could be developed to harness the positive effects of the first-person shooter games without the violence.

"As you know, most of us females just hate those action video games," she told AP. "You don't have to use shooting. You can use, for example, a princess which has a magic wand and whenever she touches something, it turns into a butterfly and sparkles."


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