I knew it. I just knew it. We gamers are better than the common folk at driving. We have to be, especially us action gamers. Of course, it hasn’t really been tested per se, but once we get past those pesky human subjects research ethics, we can do some really funky testing. Oh well, for now, cognitive metrics it is. Not as fun, but interesting results nonetheless, as long as it proves that we gamers are clearly superior. Don’t be salty.
Before I continue, the study uses the term ‘action gamers’ for people who play such games as “Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, and Team Fortress” regularly. So, anything rated T through M by the American ESRB system (that’s 12-and-up and 17-and-up respectively for Europeans in the PEGI system), really. So anyone who can actually show off their l33t skills of the “360-no-scope” may actually be a good driver, it’s too bad that they’re usually annoying griefers who don’t have cars anyway because they’re just a bunch of ragey little 12-year-old loser mother-
The landscape of this research has found that a lot of why action gamers may be better at driving could have to do with the cognitive demand these kinds of games place on the gamer. They have to consider a lot of things that are on the screen and may even have to think about what’s going on off-screen, particularly those who play first-person shooters (FPS). The whole ‘hand-eye coordination’ thing has been known for a while, yes, but there’s also reaction times, sensitivity to contrasting colors, visual searching, and “motion-detection discrimination,” which mainly sounds like being able to track whether something is moving and to what degree. However, these studies don’t really test how well it transfers to driving skills, and that makes a lot of sense since it’s going to be hard to assess a few people’s driving skills directly based on how well they play video games (since there’s a lot of bureaucracy that you’ll have to deal with thanks to human subjects research and you can’t just hook up electrodes to see what their brains are like when they’re performing cognitive tasks after video gaming THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT RESEARCH AND YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO KEEP US GAMERS AWAY FROM OUR BIRTHRIGHT OF SUPERIORITY YOU-
So Li et al. wanted to see how playing action games affected visuomotor control – essentially hand-eye coordination (specifically things like response time, accuracy, and so on), and if it could be trained or affected by the kind of games they play. It’s your typical control-treatment study, and samples (names in italics are not official, that’s just what I’m calling them) and what they played for 10 1-hour sessions:
- Driving-control: Rollercoaster Tycoon 3
- Driving-treatment: Mario Kart (for the Wii, but which one?)
- FPS-control: The Sims 2
- FPS-treatment: Unreal Tournament 4 (mouse and keyboard)
Naturally, all groups got better at the games they played. The actual test was a visuomotor control task, essentially using a joystick to keep a red light on target (see, not actual driving). Typical of your control-treatment studies, they wanted to see if the action conditions (the treatments) are better than control (which means the treatment does something) or are equal to it (in this case, action games don’t really help).
So what happened? The Mario Kart players (Driving-treatment) saw improvement in their response and accuracy to the visuomotor tasks, but not the driving-control players. Interestingly, some of the Mario Kart players were called back and found that their skills had stayed at the high level after gaming. They didn’t call back the driving-control to see if their skills stayed low compared to the gamers, though.
Does the type of action game matter? Doesn’t look like it; both FPS groups got better at their respective games, but the FPS-treatment group was more accurate in the task than FPS-control. The authors did put in a caveat – the action game training appeared to improve their reaction time but not so much their response time, which I took to mean that even though they could see movement of their target faster than the control condition (or improved it over time, so pretty much this too), there wasn’t much improvement in doing something about it. There’s still some lag between what they see and what they do, but it can be trained. After all, the test subjects were not actually gamers. They checked their demographics to be sure that they weren’t already into video games to be sure that any effect could only be caused by the video games they were playing in the study (and that’s how you do control-treatment studies). I wonder if there very well could be a lot of effect if they test it on, say, professional Counter-Strike players…
OK, so it’s not clear how it translates to driving yet, maybe if nothing else they’re going to be whiz-bang accurate when piloting Predator drones against a moving target, but we just need ways to assess when scaled up to actual cars. That’s going to require not just a different skills test, but perhaps a different level of cognitive theory than this study. Of course, even if they are good drivers, they’re probably still going to be selfish and run us over because they think they’re better than us because they got x’s and clan names on their handles all showing off their K/D ratios, the hypertensive angry sh-
Featured article: Li L, Chen R, Chen J. (2016) Playing action video games improves visuomotor control. Psychol. Sci. doi:10.1177/0956797616650300
Featured image credit: StickertimeGraphics. Etsy page.