Join the Army, Play Video Games
By: Nate Nelson (Contributing Writer)
In what could most charitably be described as a thought-provoking use of taxpayer dollars, the Office of Naval Research described preliminary results last week of an ongoing study to determine whether gaming provides an advantage for potential soldiers. Early indications are that video games can help adults process information much faster, increase short-term memory, and improve reasoning and problem solving abilities.
The study concluded that gamers perform 10 to 20 percent higher in perceptual and cognitive ability when compared to non-gamers. The ONR did not indicate which games their test subjects were playing, but noted their specific purpose was to “develop… training methods to improve performance on the battlefield.” Odds are good it was not Dance Dance Revolution, in other words.
Although the ONR’s study is general in nature, the implied findings that video games can help make soldiers more efficient killing machines is not likely to be ignored by those opposed to escalating violence in video games. The conclusions do not address the influence of video games on the moral or ethical judgment of gamers, although it is clear that playing games does have a neurological impact. Whether right or wrong, it would not take much to extrapolate some controversial presumptions about the effects of this study.
A final piece of research will be determining whether the positive benefits of gaming translates to real world tasks. Everything has been conducted in a controlled laboratory environment at this point, although program developers at the ONR are looking to incorporate gaming elements into future military training, including simulators and virtual environments. The ultimate goal, according to ONR program officer Ray Perez, is to blur the distinction between training and operations.
The ONR’s results were good news for civilian developers, who have already announced a new slate of specialized training games: Super Sales Call Challenge, World of Inventory, and Middle Management 2010. Okay, that’s not true (at least, I hope not), but it is not difficult to imagine a game like Tetris enhancing a person’s spatial reasoning, thereby improving their ability to load a delivery vehicle or pack the back of their SUV for a vacation. Is that good news? I would say so. At any rate, the message is clear: keep gaming, gamers.