Can videogames save your life?

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If you’ve played action-oriented videogames to any significant degree in the past, this new study will confirm what you already know.

Playing shoot-‘em-up, action-packed videogames strengthens a person’s ability to translate sensory information quickly into accurate decisions. This effect applies to both sexes, say psychologist Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester in New York and her colleagues, even if females generally shun videogames with titles such as Dead Rising and Counter-Strike.

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Action-game players get tutored in detecting a range of visual and acoustic evidence that supports increasingly speedy decisions with no loss of precision, the scientists report in the Sept. 14 Current Biology. Researchers call this skill probabilistic inference.

“What’s surprising in our study is that action games improved probabilistic inference not just for the act of gaming, but for unrelated and rather dull tasks,” Bavelier says.

About ten years ago, during a dusk drive across rural Pennsylvania, I hit a deer. It must have been hidden in the high grasses of the median; one moment I was cruising at 75 mph down an empty country highway, and the next, a sizable land mammal was crashing through my windshield. While the speed of the car sent the deer over rather than into my vehicle, it was still a pretty good surprise.

As I navigated a speeding car with no windshield, covered in glass shards and surrounded by papers and toll tickets blowing wildly around the cabin, I was completely calm. My past years of playing driving-oriented videogames prepared me for the moment. I’d developed the reflexes, situational awareness, and steadiness of mind to get me through the event safely.

P.S. Yes, I felt terrible about the deer.  

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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