It’s a cheap way to learn about the necessary driving skills needed in the real world

The next time somebody tells you that you’re wasting your time playing so many hours of Call of Duty or Forza 6, offer them this simple response: “I’m improving my hand-eye coordination.” They’ll probably roll their eyes at you, or worse, laugh hysterically at such a ridiculous statement. Only the statement is not as ridiculous as they think, at least not according to a research that was published in the Psychological Science journal that says that playing action games helps improve “abilities in coordinating incoming visual information with motor control,” or in layman’s terms, hand-eye coordination.

A sharpened version of such a skill goes a long way in improving driving skills and according to a research team lead by University of Hong Kong psychologist Li Li, playing video games allows gamers to hone those skills, thus improving their reaction times and ability to quickly process information with their eyes. The research specifically singled out how exposure to action gaming creates these skills that are necessary for driving.

To get the answers they need, the researchers conducted a series of experiments which required the involvement of 12 action gamers, or those who spent a minimum of five hours per week in the last six months playing games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty and another 12 non-action gamers who preferred slow-evolving games like Sims. All 24 participants were then tasked to steer a virtual vehicle down a straight lane at a speed of 33 miles per hour in the confines of a light proof booth. The experiment revealed that the action games drove more accurately than the non-action gamers.

In a separate experiment, the research team split 16 gamers into two groups, including an action group that was made up of gamers who would play a first-person shooter game (Unreal Tournament 2004) and another group that would play a life simulation game (Sims 2). All players were given 10 hours to play the games and while both groups showed an ability to adapt to the nuances of their respective games and improve their scores, it was only the action group, or those who played Unreal Tournament, that showed marked improvements in hand-eye coordination.

The findings of the experiments were strong enough to convince the authors that action video games have the ability to be “cost-effective training tools to help people improve their essential visuomotor-control skills used for driving.” So again, the next time somebody tells you that you’re spending too much time racing in Forza 6, refer to this published experiment and remind them that you’re simply improving your hand-eye coordination and your real-life driving skills.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Why it matters

Say what you will about the documented perils of playing too much video games, but it must be said now that there are benefits too. As a veteran of countless hours of Counter-Strike and the plethora of racing games over the years, I can attest how playing these games has sharpened my own reaction times.

It is interesting though how the study went about getting the results of its tests. Pitting action game players against non-action game players is a good way to tell the difference. And since I’ve also spent some time playing games like the Sims, I can tell you that there’s plenty of downtime in those types of games. That’s probably why they didn’t test as sharp as those playing games that required them to be quick on their hands lest they be killed by a landmine or worse, by strangulation.

I know that despite the results of this study, the thought of playing too much video games still has its disadvantages, especially when the hours spent in that element could be done for something a lot more productive like doing working, doing chores, or going to the gym. That’s a given and no amount of tests and studies will change that. There are a lot of things that people can do that will yield them more beneficial results than improved hand-eye coordination.

But let it be said that playing video games, especially those of the action and high-paced variety, also has its benefits. It may not be evident on the surface, but the next time an avid racing gamer instinctively avoids hitting another car in a potential real-life road accident, part of the credit for that quick reaction should at least be given to a lot of those car racing games.

Source: Psychological Science

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