Video gaming has emerged in recent years as a major industry and source of entertainment for millions. Fast, action-packed games involving player-versus-player competitions now dominate the charts as some of the most popular games on the market. Many people who are unfamiliar with gaming tend to reject these games as a waste of time and money, yet new research has revealed the potential mental health benefits of playing action-packed games. Specifically, games can improve vision, attention, and maybe even driving abilities.
Our perceptions change the way we see the world. For avid video game players, the world may appear just a bit different thanks to changes in contrast sensitivity. A crucial aspect of vision, contrast sensitivity allows us to detect small changes in different shades of gray; it’s necessary for detecting the edges on objects and the differences between the background and the foreground of an image. Contrast sensitivity normally gets worse with age, making it more difficult to drive in low light. Good contrast sensitivity is especially helpful for driving at night.
In a recent study published in the leading scientific journal Nature, researchers trained a group of people to play action-packed games for fifty hours. In later tests, those participants showed improved contrast sensitivity and outperformed another group who had been trained to play non-action games. Further experiments have demonstrated that gamers can distinguish small visual details even when an image is crowded by other distracting clutter. Better perception can also translate to greater safety on the road.
Staying Safe on the Road
Many driving accidents are caused by poor attention rather than weak eyesight. In 1982, researchers developed a test to predict possible driving accidents among the elderly. In this test, an object flashes onscreen at the edge of the participant’s peripheral vision. The object is barely detectable amidst an image cluttered by distracting objects. Beginning studies have shown the benefits of action-packed gaming experience on this test. These results seem to hint that, if gaming does improve a person’s attention to things at the edge of his or her field of view, then gamers would carry less risk of having an accident while driving. It’s too early to say for sure, and more studies are needed, but it appears that playing action-packed games could improve driving ability.
Studies have shown that gaining knowledge and learning new skills can enhance certain brain areas. In light of these results, it’s not too far off to suggest – or to hope – that action-packed games are more than just a source of entertainment.
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