Video Games As A Life Saver

I remember watching the television show Scrubs semi-religiously in high school. It would have been around 2004-07 when I saw an episode where a a character who is a surgeon talked about playing video games more to increase his speed in in a specific surgery.

Years later, I still remember that scene. That scene inspired my research this week on video games and surgeons.

Apparently, the writers for Scrubs had been doing their research. A scholarly article published in 2007 by a group of surgeons and researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center titled The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century argues that “video game play contributes to performance excellence in laparoscopic surgery,” (Laurie Cuddihy, MD; Douglas A. Gentile, PhD; Jonathan Klonsky, MD; Paul J. Lynch, MD; Ronald Merrell, MD; James C. Rosser, Jr, MD, 2007).

While the social dimensions of gaming are not the highlight, the authors juxtapose the perceived problems of gaming in children with the specific benefits of gaming and it’s relevance to surgeons performing specific types of surgeries.

The authors use previous studies to support claims that video games have sometimes detrimental effects on youth, stating that the detrimental effects can “include lower grades in school; aggressive thoughts, emotions, and actions (including physical fights); and decreasing positive prosocial behaviors. Excessive game playing has also been linked to childhood obesity, muscular and skeletal disorders, and even epileptic seizures. Other physical findings have included increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones (norepinephrine and epinephrine),” (p. 1, par 2).

The surgeons used a program specific to laparoscopic surgery known as Top Gun to measure the differences in speed, agility, number of mistakes, and precision to guide their research. In the end, the gamers won.

Surgeons who had a history of playing video games for 3+ hours a week, recorded 37% fewer errors, 27% faster completion, and an overall Top Gun score that was 33% better than those of their non-gaming colleagues.

So what were the benefits of gaming for the surgeons?

The article states, “…positive benefits of video game play include increased performance on eye-hand coordination tasks and neuropsychological tests and better reaction time, spatial visualization, and mental rotation. A recent study assessed video gaming enhancement of visual attention (eg, increased ability to process information over time and an increase in the number of visual items that can be apprehended) and its spatial distribution (eg, enhanced allocation of spatial attention over the visual field). A positive correlation was found between video gaming and visual attention processing, and a correlation with competence in analogous tasks was suggested,” (p. 2, par. 2-3).

These factors were found to directly influence skill in laparoscopic surgery, despite the subject’s years of experience in surgery.

That is amazing. Several younger surgeons still in residency were outperforming their colleagues with years of experience.

One thing that this study illustrates is that video game play can span settings and social constructs in their practical application and usefulness.

The article also makes note that, “Over-the-counter video games may constitute a training resource, not as simulation but as a gradual path of analogous or parallel skill acquisition,” (p. 2, par. 4). For example, the military has used video games to train special operations personnel, (Cuddihy, et al, 2007).

This article made me wonder at what other skills can be influenced by video games in professional settings. Obviously, training simulations exist in many forms used in law enforcement, aerospace training, and military training. But are we just at the cusp of realizing how an enjoyable interest can translate or aid in becoming better at something that people wouldn’t be able to see an immediate correlation? If so, what?doctor-650548_1920

In case you’re wondering, the games used in the study were Super Monkey Ball 2 on Nintendo Game Cube, Star Wars Racer Revenge on Playstation 2, and Silent Scope on Xbox.

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