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Video games have benefits

By Edward Chiao

March 3, 2003 9:00 p.m.

Avid computer gamers may be pleased to know the countless hours
they spend playing computer games can actually help them perform
better in school.

A study released from the Children’s Digital Media Center
at UCLA found the cognitive skills developed from playing computer
and video games can help people in areas of science and

The study, titled “The impact of computer use on
children’s and adolescents’ development,” found
that avid computer gamers showed higher levels of visual attention
and spatial representation than non-gamers ““ skills necessary
in today’s science and technology world.

“Computer imaging is used tremendously in science
today,” said Patricia Greenfield, a professor in psychology
at UCLA and co-author of the study.

And there is no better way to develop the visual skills
necessary for processing computer images than by playing computer
games filled with intense graphics.

Popular computer games like Counter-strike and Quake III require
players to have developed spatial representation skills in order to
compete with other players.

Spatial representation involves the spatial visualization of
objects, or the ability to deal with 2-D images seen on a computer
screen and interpret them in a hypothetical 3-D space.

Spatial skills help players “read” the information
on the screen, and repeated practice can enhance these spatial

In one study, Greenfield had one experimental group play action
video games which had them aim at specific targets, while a control
group played Jeopardy. The results indicated the group that played
the action video games had improved spatial skills over the control
group, which played a word game.

Aside from increased spatial skills, computer games can also
improve visual attention among frequent game players.

One study mentioned in the report used college students as
subjects and measured their response times to two events of varying
probabilities at two different locations on a computer screen.

The study concluded that expert game players had faster response
times than novice players.

Expert game players also showed better developed attentional
skills, or the ability to keep track of events occurring at
multiple locations on a computer screen ““ important in many
first-person action games.

But despite these findings, there is no conclusive evidence that
links video game playing, attentional skills, and success in
academic performance or specific occupations, according to the

But this news doesn’t phase Yee Loera, a fifth-year
psychology student and avid gamer who says he sometimes plays for
five or six hours straight.

Loera, who goes by the screen name “Iceman” in many
computer games, says the appeal of playing computer games has
always been the escape they provide to daily life.

“I just slip on my headphones and step away from
everything,” he said.

The same goes for Nicholas Sun, a fourth-year computer science
and engineering student, whose favorite game is Warcraft III
“because of the strategy involved and the competitive

Sun estimates he spends up to 30 hours per week gaming.

Loera and Sun represent a smaller group of hard core gaming fans
who have developed and maintained their cognitive skills with years
of intensive game playing.

“They probably have really great spatial skills,”
Greenfield said amusingly.

For most occasional gamers, there is no conclusive evidence that
spatial representation and visual attention skills stay with them
after a prolonged break from game playing.

But these skills may be regained quickly. The report found that
subjects whose spatial skills improved the most after a series of
tests were the same ones who started out with the worst spatial
skills in pretests ““ most of them being females.

Much of this may lie in the violent nature of video games, which
are more appealing to males.

“Most of today’s computer games are geared toward
guys,” Loera said. “I think if girls were exposed to
more video games, they’d have more interest.”

While some girls are avid players of first-person action games
like Unreal Tournament, for the most part, Loera still believes
action video games will be predominantly dominated by male

“The only games my sister plays are role playing games
with deep story lines,” he said

But cognitive skills aside, males and females will continue to
play computer games for one simple reason.

“They’re a great way to kill free time,” Sun

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Edward Chiao
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