Can video games help improve hand-eye coordination? Can they help train your brain and improve your cognitive abilities? WIRED Senior Editor Peter Rubin tests his skills against a pro sports gamer to find out if gaming can improve your brain and body.
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Testing Gamer vs Non-Gamer Brains: How Do Video Games Affect You? | WIRED
if you grew up playing video games like I did you've probably heard lots of conflicting information some save too much gaming will ruin your vision and rot your brain while others claim it improves your hand-eye coordination and can even make you smarter so what exactly does gaming do to our brain and our body to find out I visited doctors and researchers were seeing brain activity and different frequencies tested my hand-eye coordination against a pro-gamer you can't catch up somehow ended up in a sub 200 degree cryo chamber I'll to answer the question how do video games affect us the stakes are higher than ever the industry is booming these sports have gone mainstream there are college leagues parents are even getting video game tutors for their kids and thanks in part to smartphones and free games like fortnight gamers are playing more than ever before so given that we can play virtually anywhere at any time how is all this gaming changing us physically let's start with the excuse I used to give my mom when I was trying to get a little bit more time on the Atari it's making me a better athlete to find out if that's actually true I headed to the Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks California for amateur gamers and eSports pros trained under the same roof as traditional athletes this is pro gamer Matt Higginbotham I'm known online as a KD in between training and casual gaming Matt please 8 to 10 hours a day people say you know it improves hand-eye coordination it improves response time kind of what have you seen in your own life if you only play League of Legends that's like your only activity with no physical exercise in my opinion you're just gonna get out of shape in terms of positives yeah maybe it may be cognitive it would increase the things you're gonna use in the game we actually do things quickly making decisions quickly so is he right let's find out if being an avid gamer actually makes you sharper we're gonna be taking a bunch of cognitive tests one after the other now Matt is a pro gamer I am very much not so we're gonna see exactly how our results break down the first test is my new arch nemesis the Dynavision board which tests pure reaction time your job is to hit the when it lights up right okay it's gonna move pretty quickly okay so you're gonna want to rely on your periphery okay I can use either hand right you can use it oh this is going to be a mess I can already tell now Matt's calm and he's making it look easy but this is way way harder than it looks yeah there you go I just heard a whole test damn it I'm gonna walk you over tonight okay yes let's leave this far behind yeah I'll see you in hell dine aboard the next one test what's called in cognitive processing under love it's also a reaction test but unlike the Dynavision board there's a voice telling you to do the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do okay there's going to be a voice in your headset now this is not my brain yeah it's tiring right so was the brains crazy the last test measures your ability to track multiple objects at the same time we had to keep tabs on certain spheres as they floated around in a 3d space kind of like trying to win two games of three-card Monte at the same time for seven three in five six and eight I got better at it I feel like he does them no they bounced off each other no moment of truth let's see how I did hope you got some good news for me where's always these tests are built to really push your cognitive processing but but at the same time give you measurable results and and immediate feedback Matt outperformed you in the more complex tasks so as tasks got more complicated and had a significant amount of distractions and opportunity for the brain to start thinking about something that wasn't primary to the task he outperformed you pretty significantly at those tasks if we were to compare both your scores to a normal population of which we have data he's in the 98th percentile and you're probably the 60 or 70 percentile so are we talking about self selection here is it that people who are good at this stuff are playing or is there proof that games can actually improve your cognition in that way no I think for sure games can help improve your cognition playing video games can be very high speed can create a lot of chaos create a lot of multiple environments where you have to make decisions and all of these are forming skills in the brain so no I think in general just like in every capacity of human performance we all start with some baseline based on genetics but the opportunity to train cognition I think is really powerful ok so a pro gamer who's 20 years younger than me beat me at a few cognitive tests I mean of course he did but what does science have to say about all this video games is a hugely broad category and we know for sure that the impact of a game has to do with what you're asked to do so because of that different games will have different impacts on on the brain you know you wouldn't ask what's the impact of food on your body you don't to know the composition of the food right and so the same is true of video games so you know depending on what we would call the mechanics the dynamics content of individual games that is what would predict how the games will affect your brain action games like counter-strike overwatch and Fortnight are some of the most popular with consumers these days and Greene and his colleagues look the games like those to find out what their impact is there are a subtype of games action games that have been linked with positive effects and perceptual and cognitive skills these are games that have lots of fast motion in them lots of objects to track simultaneously an emphasis on peripheral processing so items first come at the edges of the screen the need to make quick and accurate decisions under time pressure based on 15 years worth of studies researchers have found that action games biggest positive effects were on perception how our senses interpret external stimuli like sights and sounds spatial cognition which helps you orient yourself in and navigate 3d environments and top-down attention the ability to focus on one object while ignoring distractions how far that generalizes I think is a pretty open question so my expectation is that there are plenty of people who show pretty exceptional anti coordination with the joists that might not be able to catch a baseball very well right and so it's certainly the case that in a perceptual motor skill development in one area won't necessarily generalize to all areas I'm curious about thoughts that you have about the thresholds between benefits gained from action games and where those diminishing returns might kick in you will get more learning gained from smaller sessions spread out over time than one big block with respect to perceptual and cognitive skills we've either seen a positive impact or a null impact we haven't seen any area that has been damaged where there is worse performance so those are the positive effects of playing action games but what if you could develop games that specifically harness those cognitive effects that's exactly what researchers are attempting and UCSF neuro scape lab our goal is to bridge technology and neuroscience to improve the function of your brain the reason we focus on cognitive control is because we look at it as a very sort of base of the pyramid that all other aspects of cognition like memory or reasoning decision-making all the way up to things like wisdom are dependent upon it if you can't pay attention everything from us right you can't build any of the higher order cognitive abilities they're custom designing games that could one day be prescribed as a kind of digital medicine for patients with conditions like ADHD so where pharmaceutical medicines deliver molecular treatments we think of this medicine as a digital medicine that delivers experiential treatments the videogame is essentially like our pill they hooked me up with an EEG cap so that I could see my brain activity in real-time while playing a steering game called project evoke responding to it and there are signs so that game is now in the FDA approval process to become the first-ever subscribable video game what we have frequently found is that we're able to get transfer of benefits from gameplay to other aspects of attention that are very different than the game neuro scape is also experiment with virtual reality because VR can utilize your whole body as a controller and may well be able to compound the benefits for things like attention and memory a lot of data has shown that physical activity even devoid of cognitive challenges has positive benefits on your brain especially the aging brain so we asked the question what happens if you give physical challenges that are integrated with cognitive challenge and create a sort of integrated approach will you have even more cognitive benefits if you're moving your entire body bodied challenges as opposed to playing that same game just sitting there just moving your fingers and we're testing that right now now despite your findings and despite the fact that you've been able to replicate this you're in Phase three trials there doesn't seem to be consensus in the medical community there are a lot of other scientists who say well no I mean any any positives that you can derive from games are kind of mild and transitory at best how do you respond to that it's a complicated field than it's still early days I'm at least cautiously optimistic based on what we've seen over the last ten years that we're really on to something that's going to be very positive of people using video games and therapeutic and if these games are prescribed one day to improve brain function there are still questions about what the dosage should be it is important to make it fun but it is also critical to think of it as something that's dosed and played for a limited time and not interfering with the other important activities in your life okay now for the bad news avid gaming can lead to injuries I see many people have repetitive motion injuries from gaming extensively you know many gamers will gain from 8 to 16 hours a day six or seven days a week so my goal when I'm talking to them find out how much they game which games that they're playing and what are their injuries so the injuries are the following often finger injuries wrist injuries elbow injuries shoulder injuries neck injuries it's the wide gamut of the human body really dr. Harrison also sees something he calls gamers thumb and this is an issue whereby someone will have tendonitis the back of their thumb as well as on the volar aspect of palmar aspect of the thumb so they'll have pain the back of the thumb in the front now that I've only seen what gamers when they present with that they have really abused their bodies their thumbs are really on fire when this bad boy is down then you got a problem so I'm here I'm your patient yes P I don't have big problems yet but I want to prevent problems let me show you like yeah let's say five basic stretches so you're gonna go down and then bring your fingers up you feel that I'm gonna loosen up your joints as well as for your wrists just to start opening up everything and you get everything moving really nice in and out with the thumb right then down this is one of the fundamental stretches that every gamers should do council base keyboard base Mouse whatever that is if you want to have a healthy thumb you do them for five to ten minutes twice a day not difficult I think video games are are great moderation is the key if you overdo it there are always issues that will be attached to that look there's no question the gaming can wear you out some gamers of the Sports Academy even subject themselves to cryotherapy after long sessions the jury's still out on its effectiveness but some players swear by it so I decided to give it a try all right so there's freezing cold gas it's dry go through this for two two-and-a-half three minutes when you come out which I can only hope is going to be sometime sometime soon when you come out and your body starts to warm up again your blood that starts to recirculate and it goes back out your extremities so what have we learned here other than the fact that I'm a masochist gaming can be good for your hand-eye coordination and perception it can help with the focus attention maybe even memory just how all that translates into the real world still up for debate we also know the repetitive gaming can take a toll on your body so a little bit of moderation goes a long way when it comes to my own experience I've played games for more than thirty years never suffered any gaming related injuries while I may never know of gaming helped my brain I dunno it didn't destroy it so take that mom