Gaming may lead to visual benefits

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 10:08 PM

Those who spend time playing video games might see more than non-gamers do, according to recent research conducted at Duke University.

The study compared people who play action video games a lot with those who don’t play at all, said Greg Appelbaum, one of the study’s researchers and an assistant professor in the Duke School of Medicine.

Researchers found that although gamers don’t retain information for longer than non-gamers do, they do get more visual information from what they’re looking at, Appelbaum said.

“The information doesn’t stick around longer, but there is more in there from the start,” he said.

According to a press release, participants were shown a circular display of letters for one-tenth of a second. After a delay, an arrow was displayed that pointed to a space where a letter had been. This arrow showed up after delays ranging from 13 milliseconds to 2.5 seconds. Participants were asked which letter had been in the spot the arrow pointed at.

“For the shortest delays, (gamers) had better performances, and that benefit was the same across all delays,” Appelbaum said.

Appelbaum said that visual sensitivity happens ahead of other visual activities like identification, which suggests that improved visual sensitivity might benefit other visual skills — like being able to identify a friend or enemy, or being able to find a target.

The study, which is published in the June edition of the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, was given grants by the Army Research Office, the Department of Homeland Security, DARPA and Nike Inc, according to the release.

Appelbaum said the study could allow researchers to hypothesize about possible distinctions between Transportation Security Administration officers who play video games and those who don’t, when it comes to scanning bags. Duke recently published a study on TSA officers, which did not focus on gaming status.

Appelbaum emphasized that video games cannot be conclusively linked to visual benefits because it’s possible that the gamers were simply people who had visual benefits before they even began playing.

Jim Brown, lead level designer at Epic Games, a video game development company based in Cary, said that scientific discoveries of this sort have caused the gaming industry to hire professionals in the cognitive science field.

Traditionally, he said, video game developers mostly cared about turning their ideas into games. But now, developers recognize the larger applications games can have.

“We definitely look at brain processes and things like that quite frequently when considering designs,” Brown said, adding that most game designers don’t have scientific backgrounds, but that they do have a general awareness for games’ scientific uses.

He said that, over time, Epic Games realized that the game engine they developed — called the Unreal Engine — could be applied in various ways.

Randy Brown, manager of the Virtual Heroes division of Applied Research Associates, Inc., said Virtual Heroes has used the Unreal Engine technology to develop various gaming programs for the military and medical fields. Virtual Heroes “Serious Games” are immersive games meant as educational and training tools.

Although Virtual Heroes develops games for a broad audience—including people who might have never touched a video game—Randy Brown said the Duke study may help company designers decide how to display visual hints in games, perhaps making it simpler or more challenging to succeed in the game.

“Any type of research on game development or game play content is invaluable for us,” Randy Brown said, adding that it’s unusual to find a study that isn’t done solely for the advantage of a particular game.

He said that immersive games allow professionals to practice tasks in the game that might help train them to do the task in real life. He said Virtual Heroes is involved in ongoing development with Duke University Medical Center on a medical training platform that involves single-player and team settings.